Fonts For The Web: Two Lectures by Jonathan Hoefler, November 2 & 14

What makes a good webfont? Before we wrote the first line of code for Cloud.typography, or lit the first pixel of our first ScreenSmart font, we began the search for a solution to this riddle. The answers are unexpected: a good webfont is more than just legible, and more than just attractive, and some provocative solutions come from some unexpected places. Webfonts can learn a lot from nineteenth century engraved maps, twentieth century dictionaries, and twenty-first century authors.

If you’re in New York this month, join me at Ampersand NYC this Saturday, November 2, or at a special lecture for AIGA/NY on November 14, for an exploration of what constitutes fine typography on the web. I’ll be sharing a behind-the-scenes look at how we brought our library of fonts to the web, and some new ways of looking at type that are useful for every cross-disciplinary designer. —JH

H&FJ: The AIGA Video

As part of the presentation of the 2013 AIGA Medal, the American Institute of Graphic Arts commissioned this short video about type designers Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones. In addition to offering an intimate glimpse at some recent works-in-progress, the video features an inside look at the H&FJ offices in a moment of rare repose.

Thanks once again to the AIGA for recognizing our work, and to Dan and Andre at Dress Code for presenting typeface design with such thought, care, and wit. —JH

The AIGA Medal

The American Institute of Graphic Arts has announced that Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones will be awarded the 2013 AIGA Medal, the profession’s highest honor.

“In recognition of their contributions to the typographic landscape through impeccable craftsmanship, skilled historical reference and insightful vernacular considerations,” the award celebrates the body of work created by the designers at H&FJ over the past twenty-four years.

Since 1920, the AIGA Medal has been presented annually to innovators who set standards of excellence for design. Past recipients have included Charles and Ray Eames, architect Philip Johnson, publisher Alfred A. Knopf, photographer Richard Avedon, and artist Saul Steinberg. Typeface designers to have received the award include W. A. Dwiggins, Frederic Goudy, Stanley Morison, and Jan Tschichold, as well as contemporary designers Matthew Carter, Zuzana Licko, and Rudy Vanderlans.

Eight designers will receive the 2013 Medal: John Bielenberg, William Drenttel and Jessica Helfand, Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones, Stefan Sagmeister, Lucille Tenazas and Wolfgang Weingart. The awards will be presented at a celebration in New York City on April 19.

Sure, I Guess That’s My Final Answer

Typeface: Whitney Semibold

I have a friend, an editor at a renowned university press, who is one of the world’s foremost authorities on the English language. He is my go-to man for typo-lexico-philological questions, like whether there’s an English word that contains the adjacent letters h and x (there is); he’s the sort of gent to casually drop the words “usufructuary” and “megaboss” in the same sentence. It was therefore with great temerity that I once challenged him to a game of Scrabble, which to my surprise and relief he declined. “I hope you understand,” he said, “I can’t. What would happen if I lost?”

This allegory was far from my mind when I agreed to captain Team C at “The Type is Right,” the AIGA/NY’s first-ever typographic game show. Join me and H&FJ designers Andy Clymer and Sara Soskolne, along with nine other nerds and nerdesses, as we go for the gold tonight in Brooklyn. The contestants’ range of interests and inclinations suggests a fun evening, probably one rife with withering embarrassments that you won’t want to miss. So come and join us this evening at Galapagos in DUMBO, and see which lucky typographer gets the chance to go all Kanye on the actual winner. —JH


The Type is Right
Monday, November 9, 2009, 6:30–8:30pm

Galapagos Art Space
16 Main Street
DUMBO, Brooklyn

Update: Team H&FJ clinches the vaunted title! Assisted in no small part by our fourth contestant, selected from the audience by random draw: typomaniac Ina Saltz. (Which is a little like learning that “one of the dads,” who has volunteered to fill in at a Little League game, turns out to be Barry Bonds.) Thanks to the AIGA/NY, emcee Ellen Lupton, host Matteo Bologna, puzzlemaster Paul Shaw, and all the other participants for making it a fun evening. And please never remind us that we mistook a line of Zuzana Licko’s Filosofia (1996) for a line of Giambattista Bodoni’s Manuale Tipografico (1788). Our only explanation is that the venue boasts very bright spotlights, and an enviable collection of pale ales.

What Was Next

Most of the talks that we’ve given are lost to the sands of time, but this afternoon I was happy to discover that one of our favorite presentations lives on. For the AIGA Design Conference in Denver, we were asked to meditate on the topic of “What’s Next,” for which we presented a study of typographic history — and why the ‘historical revival’ might be a twentieth century idea whose time has passed.

The AIGA has posted the audio of our talk, which tracks with the images above; it runs about 45 minutes, including some questions from the audience, in which Tobias reveals some of the unpublished developmental names of Gotham. Also keep an ear out for two provocative concepts: a French wine scholar offers a pithy gloss on experimentalism, and a certain type designer defines “the underpants-on-the-head school of revivalism.” —JH

Rocky Mountain Type High (.9186 inch)

A quick invitation for everyone who’s coming to Denver this weekend for Next: the AIGA Design Conference: Jonathan and Tobias will be speaking on Friday at 2:15, discussing how recent changes in the profession have brought about what might be the end of historical typography, and what this means for designers going forward. (They’ll also be offering a rare sneak preview of some projects that will debut in 2008.) A conference schedule appears here — come and join the conversation!

A Typographic Walking Tour

More than fonts, it’s lettering that contributes the dominant flavor to New York City’s typography. More often than not, these one-off inscriptions and signs, handmade by artisans in a variety of media, were rendered in styles unconnected with the business of typography, which refers only to the practice of creating alphabets for printing. But the advent of digital type has made it easier than ever to use a mere font for architectural lettering as well. Combined with the building boom that’s transforming the city faster than ever, the grand inscriptions and humble signboards that constitute our alphabetic inheritance are vanishing fast.

In preparing the Gotham typeface, which celebrates just one of New York’s unmistakable typographic themes, Tobias Frere-Jones assiduously photographed tens of thousands of signs throughout the metropolis. On Saturday, September 29 at 11:00, Tobias will be leading a typographic walking tour for AIGA/NY, which promises two and a half hours of the city’s most unexamined — and imperiled — typographic treasures. Space is limited, so book early. Don’t forget your camera, and a snack. Sold out! —JH

Update: Photos and more photos from type tour attendees.

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