Mr. Brown meets Mr. Aldus

dberlow's picture

So there is this video circulating from the Build conference where Typekit's Mr. Brown gives an absolutely heroic rational for not just picking font sizes with a dartboard app and its well worth watching and listening closely to, although I'm in a loud car on Amtrak now with Leon Russel's "I'll put a spell on you" blasting me along to a date with the brick maps of NYC.

Back in Tim's presentation, he shows one of Aldus' pages and points out how the type and illustrations match in intensity, by design. Well, I know they do, and the page Tim shows, shows this more than many of the pages of the same book. Is this truely a design choice, or is this a production issue?

e.g. I know, for sure, from my own era of letterpress and lithography, that big contrast between the largest and smallest areas of black is a serious inking issue that brings either a failure of blackness of large areas, an over-inking of the type, or addition cost from separate runs for each part.

This is after all why we love Figgins, n sleep with his book under the pillow. Anybody got any idears in this area? Is there a thread on this here?

Nick Shinn's picture

Here is an excerpt from a history I'm writing.
It discusses the popularity of Cheltenham in the 1900s.

A major concern was integrating the graphic quality of image, decoration and type. Linework was often the answer. “There is too, that quality in the engraved or drawn line which harmonizes with the varied linear quality of type and dominates the old bookmaking,” wrote Charles E. Dawson in the 1909 Penrose Annual, and it was for this reason that photo-engraved line drawings continued the traditional magazine illustration medium of hand-engraved linework for three decades into the 20th Century, during the era of historicist typography. However, the mechanical halftone screen, invented in the 1880s, was also widely used for illustrations and photographs, requiring a quite different harmony with type. For the halftone establishes a graphic area flat upon the page—as indeed do those other magazine design elements, blocks of colour and areas of mechanical tone—and Cheltenham, with its low stroke contrast, and lack of hairlines, tapered serifs or thinned joints, exhibits a NON-varied linear quality which plays to those layout elements. With its almost monoline construction and slab serifs, it has much the effect of the later modernist geometric slab serif types such as Stymie and Rockwell; with its simple linearity it is a pop-art version of what a serifed type looks like. It does not consist of part area, part line, as types with a pronounced contrast of thick and thin strokes and varied detailing do—suggesting depth and complexity—but may be considered as all-monoline or, at larger sizes and bolder weights, all area, so that it lies flat upon the page, and herein lies its modernity and suitability for use with halftones; either separate, or knocked out.

dberlow's picture

So, what you're presenting is another point along the line, based on another font, another printing technology and another time. I think there are enough points like this for a very interesting history of design according to the dance of font, technology and economics?

BeauW's picture

Thanks a lot for that excerpt Nick,
I recently read a quote from De Vinne talking about this subject of text and image ideally matching in colour, and I've been trying to push the idea through my brain into a real world understanding. Your explaination definitely helps.

dberlow's picture

But text and image of matching color is just one of the many of ways of designing things aesthetically pleasing. It happens to be a safe one, for those stuck in bad eras of production, or where limited imagination rules. Isnt it contrast, as opposed to a lack thereof that draws eyeballs in design today, and most of this century?

blank's picture

Isnt it contrast, as opposed to a lack thereof that draws eyeballs in design today, and most of this century?

Yes. And contrast isn’t the only change; the density of information within publication is increasing and notions about so-called classical designs with huge margins and the modernist hangup on tracts of whitespace are dying off. Ellen Lupton brings this up in the second edition of Thinking With Type; which, along with her book Graphic Design: The New Basics, provides a nice example of how a great deal of information can be packed into a relatively small book and still be a nice read.

This seems connected to the constant change in the function of the book. Those huge margins are no longer needed in world where people rarely use them to take notes; a publication with carefully considered even color on every page is not relevant in a world where few people will sit down to savor such an experience.

quadibloc's picture

@Dunwich Type:
Those huge margins are no longer needed in world where people rarely use them to take notes; a publication with carefully considered even color on every page is not relevant in a world where few people will sit down to savor such an experience.

And, too, uneven color doesn't cause printing problems for offset lithography, the way it did for traditional letterpress.

Incidentally, I think the reason Cheltenham is so generally excoriated these days doesn't have anything to do with its overall characteristics, but rather that the shape of certain elements in the letters - the rounded bowls in them come to mind - gives the face a quaint and out-of-date appearance.

Also, it combines elements of an oldstyle type with other design elements that were up-to-date when the face was designed; this kind of mixture is usually associated with faces that date badly, while faces that truly represent their era consistently live on (Garamond, Bodoni, Clarendon, Franklin Gothic, Futura). Although I think that Times Roman will be an exception to this generalization, as the problem depends on what is combined, and how.

blank's picture

I think Cheltenham also has a problem in that it’s really the only design to successfully use some of the features that it originates. Nobody else dares lift that stuff because it would be so obvious, but because nobody does Cheltenham will always stand out in the eyes of designers.

Nick Shinn's picture

@John: ...while faces that truly represent their era consistently live on…

Circular reasoning.

@David: I think there are enough points like this for a very interesting history of design according to the dance of font, technology and economics?

That's how I approach type history, but I don't know whether I'm up for tackling the entire history of type in that manner :-)

In a piece I wrote about hand lettering in the 20th century, I certainly related its rise to the practical and economic shortcomings of display type, and its demise to the development of photo-typositors: The Golden Age of Hand Lettering in American Advertising.

Té Rowan's picture

Classics: Pops that survived. Cheltenham is definitely a survivor, IMAO.

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