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Harmonics, Patterns, and Dynamics [...]

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Frank E. Blokland's picture
Joined: 28 Mar 2003 - 12:31pm
Harmonics, Patterns, and Dynamics [...]

Since 2007 I am doing a PhD research at Leiden University, of which the title is Harmonics, Patterns, and Dynamics in Formal Typographic Representations of the Latin Script | The regularization, standardization, systematization, and unitization of roman type since its Renaissance origin until the Romain du Roi. Over time I have posted some info on my research on this forum, and now there is a dedicated blog with related fragments, mostly presented as ‘notes on’.

The question on which my research is meant to find an answer, is whether –and if so, to which extent– the harmonics, patterns, and dynamics of formal grapheme systems in use to represent the Latin script since the invention of movable type, are the result of standardizations and systematizations of the production process of Renaissance printing type (centuries before documented regularizations were applied on the Romain du Roi).

This research comprises some controversial aspects, because it questions the myhical ‘eye’ of the type designer. The skills of type designers have been mystified since the early days of punch-cutting. For instance Pierre Simon Fournier emphasized the role of the ‘eye’ in his Manuel Typographique from 1764–1766, when he criticized the attempts of Jaugeon and his colleagues to standardize the design of the Romain du Roi: ‘These gentlemen would have been well advised to a single rule which they established, which is chiefly to be guided by the eye, the supreme judge […].’ But my measurements of French Renaissance type from the inventory of the Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp seem to provide ample proof for the hypothesis that the structures and patterns of roman type find their origin for a large part in standardizations of the production process of movable type during the early days of typography.

My research also questions to which extent handwritten letters played a role in the development of roman type. Is it possible that the writing models currently in use to educate the basics of type design, which are often related to Edward Johnston’s ‘Foundational hand’, and used to prove that roman type finds its origin in the patterns and structures of writing, actually show a standardization that was the result of the production process of the archetypes by Nicolas Jenson and Francesco Griffo? If this turns out to be the case, then the writing models are used for circular logic.

Currently the site index contains:

1. Introduction
    1.1 Purpose and goals
        1.1.1 Notes on systems and models
        1.1.2 Notes on the ‘sum of particles’
        1.1.3 Notes on conventions
    1.2 Background
        1.2.1 Notes on lecturing
2. Perception
    2.1 Notes on perception
    2.2 Notes on the mythical ‘eye’
3. Movable type
    3.1 Em- and en-square
        3.1.1 Notes on the origin of (e)m- and (e)n-square
    3.2 Standardization
        3.2.1 Notes on standardization
        3.2.2 Notes on the production of movable type
    3.3 Unitization
        3.3.1 Notes on patterns and grids
4. Education
    4.1 Notes on writing as a basis for type design
5. Research
    5.2 Empirical testing
6. Parametrized type design
    6.1 Notes on the construction of letterforms
    6.2 Notes on the parametrization of type design processes
    6.3 Notes on the parametrization of creative processes


Nick Shinn's picture
Joined: 8 Jul 2003 - 11:00am

Guided not by the eye, but by the heart as the supreme judge, I would say — following the beat.
It’s easier to write to a steady rhythm, just as it is easier to create a mechanical system of interchangeable parts according to standardized units of measurement.
Perceptually, too, a regular grid provides a benchmark or matrix against which variations acquire significance.

These general considerations of regularity precede any deterministic effects related to specific technologies.

Richard Fink's picture
Joined: 25 May 2009 - 10:04pm

When I read or think about this, I cannot help but turn to two things: what I know about modern lingustics theory - Chomsky's notion of "deep structure" - and it's counterpart in musical tonality made possible by the twelve-tone "well-tempered" tuning system.
Bottom line: I might be missing something, but why would the "eye of the designer" lead somewhere other than the way the technology would ordinarly tend to evolve over time in the hands of technicians? Is there a mutual exclusivity that I'm missing?

Could it not be that the "eye" is not mythical? That it exists in the DNA of both designer and technician?