22 February, 2008
All The News That’s Fit To Write
Photo: Scott Carney
The distance between handwriting and typography is at its greatest in the West. It's been more than five centuries since the Latin alphabet, as we experience it in type, looked anything like letters made with a pen; the very anatomy of our alphabet, with its stonemason's "serifs" and printer's "cases," has come a very long way from writing indeed. It can hardly be surprising that as type has come to represent the official, the sanctioned, and the eternal, handwriting has become an almost trivial appendix to our notion of what letters look like.
It's especially easy for Westerners to forget what a minority opinion this is. Most of the world attaches special significance to the hand-written, and lives with an intimate knowledge of its forms and an appreciation of its cultural and social dimensions. A Chinese businessperson of stature can be expected not only to admire the calligraphy in a colleague's office, but to correctly identify it as the work of Song Huizong, and to discuss its virtues with erudition. Contrast this with his American counterpart, who can go an entire career without needing to learn the name of his corporate typeface.
Both senses of the word "writing" remain united in the Arab world, where calligraphy and literacy are at times inseparable. Nowhere is this more evident than in the offices of The Musalman, a Chennai newspaper published since 1927, which has the extraordinary virtue of being the world's last surviving newspaper written entirely by hand. "We somehow manage to make ends meet," says one of the newspaper's four calligraphers (or katibs) who every day devotes three hours to a single page. "There's no monetary benefit for us, we are just here to learn Urdu."
The handwritten newspaper gained wider attention last summer when Wired dispatched photojournalist Scott Carney to document The Musalman's inner workings. Later this year, we may learn more about the paper's inevitable entanglement with digital typography, when Premjit Ramachandran releases his documentary film The Last Calligraphers. —JH
4 January, 2008
A Change We Made
Typeface: Gotham Bold
3 December, 2007
Aesthetic Apparatus Explained
I started a typeface called Feldspar in 1999, which I've yet to complete. After eight years, most such projects would have lost their inertia, but this one's moving steadily along, driven by a single, fervid dream: I am determined to one day see it in the hands of Dan and Mike at Aesthetic Apparatus.
Aesthetic Apparatus is one of those studios we love to see using our fonts. It's not merely because they're fans of our more American-inflected designs (above, some AA posters featuring Cyclone, Acropolis, Gotham, Knockout, Ziggurat, and Giant), it's because they put the screws to the fonts: they juice them for every last drop of flavor, and then come back to coax still more out of every design, creating new and unexpected textures that you wouldn't think possible. The driving philosophy behind the studio's work is — well, here: let's let Dan and Mike explain the process in their own words:
A transcript is not yet available. —JH
6 November, 2007
Fonts on Television
Thanks to a few well-traveled blogs, this clip has been getting some traffic lately: it's a segment about typeface design that ran on CBS Sunday Morning last summer, featuring us. Correspondent Russ Mitchell spent some time at H&FJ, and speaking with Steve Heller, to introduce non-designers to the strange world of font design.
Now that the clip is easily freeze-framed, a few designers have written to ask about the fonts themselves. (The opening montage features our Shades and Didot families, and the fonts created for People magazine are part of Verlag Compressed.) But two frighteningly hardcore individuals have outdone themselves, writing to inquire about the font shown at left. In this candid scene, which is definitely not staged at all, the camera captures Tobias and I discussing a font proof. Gentle stalkers, you are correct! What appears here is part of our work for The Nature Conservancy, and you'll find a more extensive look at it here. —JH