10 March, 2009
The Gerrit Noordzij Prize, Part 2: Incoming
Type designers are accustomed to approaching the line between homage and parody with great care. It's especially daunting when its subject is a living colleague, as was the case last Friday when Tobias presented an award of his own design to Wim Crouwel, winner of the 2009 Gerrit Noordzij Prize. (In keeping with the tradition, the current holder of the prize designs the award given to its next recipient.) To design an award for Crouwel, a Dutch icon who is indelibly associated with a strong and recognizable personal style, takes great sensitivity: imagine having to design a business card for Piet Mondrian, or select a ringtone for Igor Stravinsky.
If there is anyone able to see past the obvious, it is Wim Crouwel. In the 1960s, Crouwel's fresh yet doctrinaire approach to graphic design earned him the pejorative nickname "gridnik," which Crouwel, with typical flare, adopted as a moniker, and later chose as the name for his best known typeface. In his acceptance speech on Friday, Crouwel described his decades-long disagreements with his friend Gerrit Noordzij — in whose name the award is given — and both men reflected gleefully on their continuing philosophical differences. This fruitful synthesis has colored both the study and the practice of graphic design, and it's satisfying to see it recognized. This is what awards should be for.
In keeping with the custom, Tobias designed an award that uses his own work but includes a nod to Crouwel's. In celebration of the pre-history of the Gotham typeface, Tobias arranged for the fabrication of a traditional enamel sign, featuring an abundant grid of Gotham's many styles (64 out of 66, to be precise.) Hearing Crouwel speak with such good humor at the presentation ceremony, I was almost tempted to reveal Tobias's original idea, which was to find a way to bridge the Dutch tradition of chocolate letter-making with Crouwel's arresting new alphabet of 1967. ("I probably could have done it with Kit-Kat bars," Tobias mused.) I am certain Crouwel would approve. —JH
20 October, 2008
The Neon Boneyard
Our own Andy Clymer has returned from a trip out west with some fine photos of Las Vegas’s infamous neon boneyard. A project of the Neon Museum, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the preservation and study of one of the nation’s great lettering traditions, the neon boneyard is of course located in the Las Vegas desert: an ideal climate for preservation, and convenient to the center of the energetic neon carnage of the 21st century.
Years ago I enjoyed a tour of the boneyard during a visit with Yesco, the Young Electric Sign Company, who are responsible for the haberdashery of a significant number of megawatts on the Vegas strip. It was with a combination of pride and horror that I discovered how many H&FJ fonts were being used on the new digital signs that were fast replacing the old neon: even today, Yesco’s own site advertises their digital abilities using a little Knockout. For a type designer with a love of signs, it’s a very odd feeling. —JH
9 April, 2008
Adventures in Kerning, Part II
Typeface: Verlag Book
A kerning table, which makes special allowances for characters that don’t fit together naturally, can reveal a lot about the personality of its designer. Every font pays special attention to the pair Va, but the font that includes Vr suggests a familiarity with French (vraie) or Dutch (vrou). Pairs like Wn or Tx hint at an even broader perspective (Wnetrzne, Poland; Txipepovava, Angola), and the designer who kerns the ¥4 has presumably spent some time thinking about finance. Including ÅÇ is the mark of someone who’s trying too hard: these letters don’t nest together naturally, but nor do they appear together in any language.
When I first learned about kerning, mystifying to me was the presence of Yq in almost every one of Adobe’s fonts. Adobe’s early faces sometimes neglected far more common pairs, or even whole ranges of the character set — many fonts didn’t kern periods, dashes, or quotation marks — but Yq was ever-present. When I met him in the early nineties, Adobe’s Fred Brady hinted at why: located in northern California, Adobe’s designers often had a thing for viniculture, and one of the world’s most famous dessert wines is produced by Château D’Yquem.
We’ve included Yq as a standard kerning pair ever since, though I’d never gotten to see it in action until yesterday. Here, in the window of Sotheby’s on Bond Street, is our Verlag typeface, Yq kern and all. There are kerns obscurer still that we’re waiting to see in public, though I don’t suppose I’ll be seeing the 9th century Old English word wihxð (wax) in the window of Sotheby’s anytime soon. —JH
2 April, 2008
Type Tour II
If you missed Tobias's Typographic Walking Tour last September, and weren't one of the 22 lucky callers to register for his 2008 encore performance, you've one more chance. Come to the 2008 FUSE conference, April 13-16 at the Chelsea Piers, where Tobias joins Malcolm Gladwell, Stefan Sagmeister, Debbie Millman, Chip Kidd and other sharp tacks for a three-day exploration of design and culture. The Type Tour begins April 13 at 11:00, and places are limited! —JH