Cyrus Highsmith interviewed by Mario Garcia

Reed Reibstein's picture

Newspaper design consultant Mario Garcia interviewed Cyrus Highsmith coming off of Highsmith's lecture "The Smell of Books":

Garcia: What is your favorite part of the type design process?

Highsmith: Lately, my favorite part of the type design process is drawing the numbers. The numbers (0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9) we use with the roman alphabet have their roots in ancient Hindi numbers. They migrated across the middle east, evolving along the way, and then were introduced into Europe during the Moorish occupation of Spain. They have very different structures than the Roman capitals. Our capitals tend to have structures that are symmetrical like the ‘H’ or ‘T’, or open on the right like the ‘E’ or ‘P’. Our numbers tend to be asymmetrical like the ‘4’ and open on the left like the ‘3’. I am simplifying of course but my point is that the numbers are interesting structures to work with and draw so they are compatible the capitals and lowercase.

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What are some of the challenges of designing increasingly for the screen? Specifically, readers of my blog would love to hear your views on designing type for the tablets.

When designing a screen typeface for text, you are limited by the resolution. This effects how much detail is going to visible. In print, 10 point Garamond can appear quite different than a 10 point Caslon, for example. The difference between these fonts set at an equivalent size on a tablet screen is much less. There just aren’t enough pixels to do it. From my point of view, this is very discouraging.

But more discouraging is the lack of typographic control and what happens to the fonts after I am finished drawing them. The tablet sized screen often forces the layouts to have columns that are too narrow, too much space between the lines, and terrible H&Js. Tablets are very advanced in terms of some kinds of technology but extremely primitive in other ways. I think it will take a collaboration between graphic designers, type designers, publishers, and tablet manufactures to figure it out.

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