11 December, 2008
Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 12
I liked samplers as a kid. In the fictional account of my life, I could trace this affection to my dear great-grandmother Abigail, who spent hours embroidering by candlelight (when she wasn’t busy repairing uniforms for returning Union soldiers.) But having grown up in New York in the seventies, it’s more likely that I first noticed the style while watching Family Feud, and that a steady diet of Atari 2600 and NAMCO simply predisposed my developing brain to a sympathy for bitmaps.
Etsy is carrying a charming little bag that pays homage to the cross-stitch, a gusseted Canvas Tote silkscreened in orange or blue. At 11" x 14" (30cm x 35cm) it’s big enough for the usual junk that designers lug around, and is of course a sound alternative to grocery store plastic, whether you’re ecologically responsible or just self-righteous. Either way, be stylish. —JH
20 November, 2008
On the Death and 441-Year Life of the Pixel
The struggle to adequately render letterforms on a pixel grid is a familiar one, and an ancient one as well: this bitmap alphabet is from La Vera Perfettione del Disegno di varie sorte di ricami, an embroidery guide by Giovanni Ostaus published in 1567.
Renaissance ‘lace books’ have much to offer the modern digital designer, who also faces the challenge of portraying clear and replicable images in a constrained environment. Ostaus’s alphabet follows the cardinal rule of bitmaps, which is to always reckon the height of a capital letter on an odd number of pixels. (Try drawing a capital E on both a 5×5 grid and a 6×6, and you'll see.) Ostaus ignored the second rule, however, which is “leave space for descenders.”
I’d planned to introduce this item with a snappy headline that juxtaposed the old and the new — for your sixteenth-century Nintendo! — before reflecting on the pixel’s moribund existence. Pixels were the stuff of my first computer, which strained to show 137 of them in a square inch; my latest cellphone manages 32,562 in this same space, and has 65,000 colors to choose from, not eight. Its smooth anti-aliased type helps conceal the underlying matrix of pixels, which are nearly as invisible as the grains of silver halide on a piece of film. And its user interface reinforces this illusion using a trick borrowed from Hollywood: it keeps the type moving as much as possible.
Crisp cellphone screens aren’t the end of the story. There are already sharper displays on handheld remote controls and consumer-grade cameras, and monitors supporting the tremendous WQUXGA resolution of 3840×2400 are making their way from medical labs to living rooms. The pixel will never go away entirely, but its finite universe of digital watches and winking highway signs is contracting fast. It’s likely that the pixel’s final and most enduring role will be a shabby one, serving as an out-of-touch visual cliché to connote “the digital age.” —JH
21 October, 2008
Atoms & Aldus
Right: Ioannis Aurelius Augurellus, published by Aldus Manutius. Venice, 1505.
Last week I mentioned the atomic pen, which scientists used to construct some awfully tiny letters one atom at a time. These are small letters indeed: measuring two nanometers in height, they’re about 1/40000 the thickness of a human hair, which surely gives their inventor enough credibility to issue the casual throwdown that “it’s not possible to write any smaller than this.” But it is, of course, and the technique for doing so has been known to typefounders for more than five hundred years...Continues...
13 May, 2008
For Your Next Type-Themed Party
Apparently we're not alone in our love of ampersands: dig this lovely work by Dublin designers Conor Nolan and David Wall, now available as an A1 poster (23" x 33") from WorkGroup for the princely sum of €10. The WorkGroup site includes a quick process video that I take to be highly abridged! —JH