Akko—interview and commentary

William Berkson's picture

Paul Shaw with an interesting interview of Akira Kobayashi on his new face Akko, and Shaw's comments on it.

Indra Kupferschmid's picture

And he is so right about the ligatures.

J Weltin's picture

So, it’s not a must to include these useless ct and st ligatures in every new OT typeface?

William Berkson's picture

The ligatures are pointless, but harmless, as they are options. What I really like about Akko is that it manages to have some strength along with softness.

We have being experiencing what I like to call the "attack of the soft sans", with cuteness and friendliness being the goal. These are both worthy goals, but the results have appeared to me often as weak or cloying. Although cuteness can be wonderful, it has a limited use, and for a few words in display.

Rounding often leads to an obese "jelly bean" look in heavy weights, and weakness in the light weights.

Here by having the strokes more stiff and square, with more humanist proportions, to me the result has some strength. I can see the inspiration in the Japanese examples he shows—I also heard his talk at TypeCon—and I think the result is something fresh, which is pretty rare. I think the bolder rounded weights are most attractive, and I hope will be used.

And indeed, the general inspiration, Cooper Black, is one of the few very rounded serifs that has strength along with its friendliness.

Is there another very square sans with rounded terminals? Here it seems he's introduced a new style, and executed it very well.

J Weltin's picture

I agree with you completetely about the overall design. I just can’t see those ct and st ligatures in new sans designs any more. They are not default, so no harm.

hrant's picture

As I explained in my Thessaloniki talk of 2004, ligatures don't
have to be affectations - they can nicely help diverge boumas.

It doesn't matter where something is coming from, it matters
where it's heading. Just like chirography in type design.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

Hrant, as I have said before, I don't think the lower case roman has problems of differentiation. Certainly the s and c and t are highly differentiated, and I don't see that they need any further help. Also while the ct ligature is historical, as far as I know the "st" ligature is an anachronism. The original ligature was the historical long s and t.

I suppose that someone can use them playfully to good effect in the right context, but personally I find the st and ct ligatures distracting and irritating.

In a cursive, connected script, I don't have any objection to them in principle, but I do for roman text type.

hrant's picture

Of course the Latin lc has differentiation problems, especially when it comes to boumas (as opposed to letterwise decipherment). Mainly there's too much action in the muddy x-height and not enough in the extender space. This is why ligatures that use the extender space are valuable.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

I see your point about ascenders and descenders. A few more might help the alphabet, but not a lot, as I think in the fovea we can see the x-height quite well. Anyway, this is a moot point, as it's not going to change. Those ct and st things are not the way I'd look for improvement, a they seem to muddy things up, to use your language. And as they aren't that familiar, they're positively distracting rather than helpful.

Nick Shinn's picture

Is there another very square sans with rounded terminals?

Very many.
Unit Rounded has been quite successful.
My take: Alphaville

And somewhat earlier (Caslon, 1830s):

hrant's picture

> it's not going to change.

Never say never.
Remember, there wasn't even a lc once!

hhp

William Berkson's picture

Thanks, Nick. I don't see Unit as all that square. Your Alphaville is futuristic, as the name indicates, rather than humanist. To me the Caslon thing has the jelly bean awkwardness. I guess that I should have said squarish with humanist proportions and rounded corners. Kobayashi's Euro Candy is square and wide, with rounded corners. And, as I think Shaw says, not nearly as successful a design as Akko.

Hrant, I don't expect change, as I don't see where it's going to come from. When there were scribes, there was a continual evolution of letter forms. But since printing eclipsed the scribes, I guess by about 1500, I don't see changes in the skeletons of the letter forms. The dropping of the long s was about the biggest thing, and that was dropping a form rather than inventing one.

hrant's picture

> I don't see where it's going to come from.

From all around, right now, but especially in the future.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Your Alphaville is futuristic, as the name indicates, rather than humanist.

The name refers to the movie, in which Alpha 60, the computer which runs the city, quotes from Borges' New Refutation of Time. The intention was to recontextualize type with a little bit of something from many generations of letter technology. The upstroke in the face is informed by calligraphy, the modulation of stem thicknesses by metal type, and the squareness and geometric curves by vector drawing software. It's Postmodern, not futuristic.

John Hudson's picture

Bill: When there were scribes, there was a continual evolution of letter forms. But since printing eclipsed the scribes, I guess by about 1500, I don't see changes in the skeletons of the letter forms.

Typographic printing fairly rapidly took book production out of the hands of scribes, but scribal culture isn't eclipsed by any means, and persists as invaluable to commerce, diplomacy, etc. until the development of the typewriter. During this time there are some interesting and telling examples of novel scribal developments in letterforms very directly influencing tastes in typography. I think the popularity of civilité types is the best example, and suggests to me the persistence of the idea -- long after Gutenberg followed textura manuscripts and Aldus and Griffo adapted humanist book hand and chancery italics -- that typographic culture should follow the lead of professional, formal document production. It also suggests to me why this idea declined in the face not of the eclipse of the scribes but the explosion of new scribal styles in the 17th and 18th Centuries: type founders and publishers couldn't afford to keep up with changing fashions of contemporary writing.

William Berkson's picture

John, thanks for the reminder that scribes kept going until the typewriter. That influenced Baskerville, as I learned from you, but those types don't change structure. I wonder if the dominance of type in visual culture, and its high readability crowded out other experiments. There were new forms of script from the pointed flexible pen nib, but what was adopted in type, Baskerville, is the humanist style redrawn with such a pen, rather than the florid style of Bickham. Maybe what's going on is just that the Carolingian Miniscule is so wonderfully readable, that other more florid styles could never get a grip as text type.

By the way, I'm rethinking the ascender-descender thing, Hrant. If you count the semi-ascenders like the ij and t, then there are 9 ascenders and 4 descenders, with the j having both. So there you have 13 letters, half the alphabet, with ascenders or descenders. Would say sticking a descender on the right of the n—the most likely candidate——really help? I suppose we can type some text with the eng, and see.

Ok, curiousity has got the better of me. Here's some of John's last post with the n replace by an eng:

"I thiŋk the popularity of civilité types is the best example, aŋd suggests to me the persisteŋce of the idea -- loŋg after Guteŋberg followed textura maŋuscripts aŋd Aldus aŋd Griffo adapted humaŋist book haŋd aŋd chaŋcery italics -- that typographic cultureshould follow the lead of professioŋal, formal documeŋt productioŋ. It also suggests to me why this idea decliŋed iŋ the face ŋot of the eclipse of the scribes but the explosioŋ of ŋew scribal styles iŋ the 17th aŋd 18th Ceŋturies: type fouŋders aŋd publishers couldŋ’t afford to keep up with chaŋgiŋg fashioŋs of coŋtemporary writiŋg."

Probably it ought to be a straight descender, to not fight with the g and y, but I kind of like it!

[Confession: I first tried the n descender as a teenager!]

John Hudson's picture

Bill: That influenced Baskerville, as I learned from you, but those types don't change structure. I wonder if the dominance of type in visual culture, and its high readability crowded out other experiments. There were new forms of script from the pointed flexible pen nib, but what was adopted in type, Baskerville, is the humanist style redrawn with such a pen, rather than the florid style of Bickham.

Yes, but I do recommend taking a serious look at the much earlier civilité phenomenon, which is something else entirely and, I think, represents the both a serious attempt to follow scribal fashion in text type and the ultimate financial case against doing so. The number of fonts of civilité type produced was significant, and it must have required considerable investment. I don't think we can say for sure that the subsequent dominance of the roman model is based on its 'high readability', or not on that alone. A variation on the notorious Emigre dictum seems apt: people want to read what they are used to reading. During that time when what a lot of people read on a daily basis was handwriting, there remained a tension between the conservatism of book typography and the greater variety of written styles. Every once in a while, some brave and brilliant type maker such as Granjon tried to resolve the tension by making type in the image of contemporary writing. As you say, in the 18th Century, the tension was resolved in a different way, by creating a new roman using the familiar structures but the characteristics of the pointed nib. But it was the writing masters who did this, not the type makers.

William Berkson's picture

Familiarity is no doubt a prerequisite for ease of reading, I don't think familiarity alone can explain the persistence of the Carolingian Miniscule as the dominant text form. After all, we have italic, which is arguably as familiar as roman lower case, but extended text is rarely set in it. And we read it more slowly. (I hope that's been confirmed by others aside from Tinker!)

John Hudson's picture

Bill, while the Italian humanist formal hand that is the model of our roman lowercase forms is directly descended from the Carolingian minuscule (note spelling), I think it is a mistake to refer to it as such. The Carolingian minuscule forms exhibit a number of differences from the later forms that are characteristic of the style, notably the absence of serifs, which the Italian humanist hand brought over from the capitals to the lowercase, surely one of the most important developments of the Latin script in terms of subsequent typographic tradition.

Note that I wasn't associating familiarity with ease of reading -- as you say, it is a prerequisite, but given how quickly we seem to be able to familiarise ourselves with new styles, I don't think it is a critical issue --, but with cultural preference. This seems to me an important factor in the relationship of writing and type during the long periods of overlapping scribal and typographic cultures, because if you look at the documentary culture in e.g. late 16th Century France and the Low Countries, or in late 17th Century England, you see the sources of tension that lead on the one hand to the development of civilité types and on other to the writing of roman forms with a split nib that provides the model for Baskerville. These developments occur, I believe, in response to the desire to create a unitary text culture or aesthetic, (unitary in the sense of bridging writing and typography, not in the sense of having a single style of letters: within this unitary culture, a lot of different styles exist and are used to complement or contrast with each other).

William Berkson's picture

You're right of course about the model being the humanist revival of Carolingian minuscule, not the original, which didn't have the serifs. Is there a simple name for the humanist revival, which added serifs, and became more upright?

I am skeptical about a unitary aesthetic. It seems to me likely that after the introduction of printing, the kind of formal hand that was used before for books, for extended reading, was no longer called for, even though hand written materials were widely used. So maybe what is going on is the acceptance of more cursive styles for hand written material, but for text type, the model remained the humanist minuscule.

Oops, this doesn't take into account the long battle over whether to use blackletter for text. So there's more to the story...

John Hudson's picture

The situation at the beginning of typography, vis à vis a unitary aesthetic, isn't what I was talking about. A unitary text culture exists by default whenever a script is reduced to typography, because the dominant formal book hand inevitably seems to become the model of the typographic book, followed by adoption of informal hands in secondary roles. We see this not only in the European situation, but repeated throughout the world. The tensions to which I referred, develop subsequently, as written text adopts new forms.

Also note that unitary text aesthetic does not necessarily imply particular styles or forms of letters in contemporary use in both type and writing, but modal harmony between type and writing. We see this in the 18th Century English experience, where there is a need to develop a form of roman type-like writing that harmonises with contemporary script styles, rather than with the obsolete broadnib italic.

By the way, having got a good picture through my research of the development of what I call the 'English Roman' by the writing masters and engravers, I am now looking at pre-Baskerville applications of the style in stonecut lettering. Again, this seems to me further evidence of the desire for a unitary text culture, in which people seek to surround themselves with a harmonious aesthetic of the written, engraved, carved and typographic word.

In the 19th Century, the text aesthetic begins to be influenced more and more by other aspects of culture and society, so one starts to see ‘industrial’ styles of lettering and then, as the scribal culture declines with the introduction of the typewriter, a stronger connection between text and design, particularly architecture.

typerror's picture

"revival of Carolingian minuscule, not the original, which didn't have the serifs"

Huh? Hello!!!!! Where did that come from William? It was done with a quill... hard not to have "serifs."

And the second thing William. the final stroke of the "s" is the TOP!!! So it is a natural draw to the upper right connecting with the "t" "h" "k" etc. Why do you, never mind! Once again, pick up a pen before you make these statements. I told you this in a previous thread. Why is this so hard for you?
Michael

typerror's picture

To wit, Harley MS 974AD.

I don't see the serifs either?

Michael

typerror's picture

Let me guess... you think "serifs" have to be horizontal with the baseline in order to be serifs?

John Hudson's picture

I tend to limit my use of the term serif to near-horizontal and bilateral terminals or to constructed terminals -- e.g. the triangular ascender terminals that require a secondary stroke --, and don't apply the term to all entry and exit strokes. My reason for this is that I also work with Greek and other scripts with a traditionally steeper pen angle, and while the entry and exit strokes of Carolingian minuscule are serif-like the same constructions in Greek are not. I like to be able to talk about entry and exit strokes independently of serifs for this reason.

I'm happy to accommodate the view that the entry and exit strokes of Carolingian minuscule are serifs, though, and amend my earlier point to say that the Italian humanist hand brought over the bilateral roman serif from the capitals to the lowercase.

William Berkson's picture

Michael, sorry, I should have explained more fully. I was concerned that someone would jump on this after I posted. I know about the serifs you have shown.

What happened, according to the lovely illustrated lecture I saw recently at the TDC, done by Sumner Stone, is this: in an effort to make the Carolingian minuscule more like the Imperial Capitals, in the 1400s they were fitted with more symmetric serifs, in place of the hooks and barbs that are more natural with the pen. And the strokes were made more vertical. The Imperial Caps were originally brush drawn, and serifs built up with more strokes than the Carolingian minuscule. So the humanist modification was an effort to harmonize a script that was a product of the pen with one that was product of the brush.

Sumner said his beautiful Magma was an effort to find another way to harmonize the upper and lower case.

quadibloc's picture

@John Hudson:
I don't think we can say for sure that the subsequent dominance of the roman model is based on its 'high readability', or not on that alone. A variation on the notorious Emigre dictum seems apt: people want to read what they are used to reading.

It is quite true that the current persistence of Roman types, versus other alternatives, is not in itself very conclusive evidence of how readable they are.

What amazes a naïve present-day individual, who assumes that Roman is more legible than Textura, however, is that text types persisted for so long before being displaced by Romans. Here, we can say that they persisted because "people want to read what they are used to reading", which explains why that form persisted for so long, and yet Romans eventually won out, proving they were superior.

Also, one can consult Typographical Printing-Surfaces, and get some objective data which might support a claim that Romans are more legible - overlapping the outlines of different letters, and counting the proportion of area that is different. Certainly, it strongly seems as though they are more legible than the typical Gothic writing style.

However, an alternative hypothesis is that text types declined along with the rise of the vernacular - so educated people who used to read books in Latin, set in Roman type, moved over to reading their books in the vernacular, and thus demanded these books in what they were used to. (On the other hand, reading a book in a second language is, of course, a more demanding task - and so the choice of Roman for Latin books again points to Roman type as being more legible.)

In moving from old-style typefaces to more recent ones, counters have opened, and x-heights have increased. To me, that says that despite people reading what they're
"used to", incremental improvements in the direction of higher legibility are possible, and they will be accepted. Of course, historically, these changes resulted from economic pressures to use smaller sizes of type to save paper.

John Hudson's picture

What amazes a naïve present-day individual, who assumes that Roman is more legible than Textura, however, is that text types persisted for so long before being displaced by Romans. Here, we can say that they persisted because "people want to read what they are used to reading", which explains why that form persisted for so long, and yet Romans eventually won out, proving they were superior.

Where are you talking about? Germany and its neighbours? There was the small matter of the Second World War that put an end to the use of blackletter, first by the Nazis who realised that it wasn't useful for communicating with most conquered peoples (cf. the notorious Bormann memorandum), and then after the War by the western powers because of its association with the aesthetics of Nazism. [Notably, blackletter remained more common in East Germany, since the Russians didn't really understand the Latin script controversy; something I learned when I was in Leipzig.] So there is nothing in this that proves that roman types are 'superior'; rather, it demonstrates that script preferences are predominantly cultural (cf. the relative prominence of roman types in Catholic Bavaria compared to other parts of Germany), and it takes a major cultural crisis to change them dramatically.

typerror's picture

William

I waited until this thread had died down, and I hope you find this in your travels.
The brush serif on the "wall" was a finish stroke (completed, I might add, by the cutter as opposed to the generator of the forms). Whether it was at a flat angle (as in that very Trajan) or a 35 degree angle (in the Carolingian or Chancery) makes no difference. IT IS A FINISH STROKE! I find it difficult talking to contemporary font designers because the have no "history" and or pen skills. Hence, they are clueless as to the origins of the forms they recreate. Your Caslon is the victim of drawings taken from scribal forms, drawn by those who "ruled/drew" forms instead of penning forms. Once again, take up the pen for a bit to understand my "agenda."

Best wishes
Michael

typerror's picture

P.S.

"The Imperial Caps were originally brush drawn, and serifs built up with more strokes than the Carolingian minuscule. So the humanist modification was an effort to harmonize a script that was a product of the pen with one that was product of the brush."

No, no no! The serifs (stone forms) were finish strokes supplied by the "cutter" and not the brush artist. Zapf's Optima was taken from a wall of carved forms... why no serifs in that instance?

And the serifs of the pen were a natural exit from the letter, rather than a copy of the stone cutter's efforts... no one likes an unfinished form, it is as natural as breathing. The cursive ethos existed way before, I might add.

Just like the Sans existed in 300 BC... OMG heresy :-)

It is all about the tool... get my drift?

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