Legacy of Letters: An Italian Tour

So enormous are the contributions of the Italian people to typography that they often pass unnoticed. The words you are reading may be written in the English language, but they are rendered in the Latin alphabet, which comes to us via Roman ancestors. We celebrate these same ancestors in the name of our upright Roman alphabet, and we remember their country of origin in our slanted Italics. If you ever use our Requiem typeface, take note: taxonomically it is a Venetian Old-Style, its letterforms modeled on the work of a renaissance Roman calligrapher, who was inspired by the inscriptional lettering on a classical Roman monument, which was dedicated to a Roman emperor. The emperor’s name was Trajan, an Italian name you may recognize from your font menu; he is immortalized there alongside dozens of his compatriots, including Aldus, Arrighi, Bodoni, and Jenson.

Since Italy has remained a cradle of letters and literacy since classical times, it makes an excellent destination for any lover of typography. This June, design historian and calligrapher Paul Shaw will be leading Legacy of Letters, an eight-day typographic tour of some of Italy’s most typographic destinations. Including both Emilia-Romagna and the Veneto, the tour includes stops in twelve typographic capitals including Parma, Mantua, Verona and Venice. Registration is now open for a limited number of spaces.

Learning Typeface Design

Learning to draw letters is hard enough, but learning to create typefaces is something else entirely. For those with an interest in both, H&FJ’s Sara Soskolne will be teaching “Turning Letters into Type,” a week-long workshop at New York’s School of Visual Arts, July 12–16. Registration is now open, and seats are limited.

Soskolne, who has contributed to some of our most exhaustive projects (Verlag, Chronicle, Gotham) and some of its snappiest (Tungsten, Sentinel, Numbers) will introduce the tools and principles of digital typeface design by working with students individually on projects of their own invention. “Be it systematizing your own lettering, imagining a complete alphabet from a found fragment,” she says, “articulating that ideal set of forms in your mind, or reviving a non-digital typeface you love,” letters will come alive as type. The workshop will foster a critical eye for shapes and spacing, and a deeper understanding of how typefaces work, all skills critical to both type design and typography. Prerequisites include experience with Bézier drawing (know Illustrator?), and either lettering or typography. —JH

An H&FJ Lecture at the Cooper-Hewitt

Continuing its celebration of the tenth anniversary of the National Design Awards, The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum is offering a wealth of excellent programming this season. On display through April 4, 2010 is Design USA: Contemporary Innovation; if you’re planning a visit soon, make it next Tuesday evening, when you can also attend Thinking in Type, a lecture by Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones. Registration is required, and seats are limited.


Thinking in Type
Tuesday, December 8, 2009, 6:30–8:30pm

The Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum
2 East 91st Street
New York, NY 10128

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.

Teens, Typography, and Tim Gunn

“Designers…”

I knew I wanted to work with type by the time I turned eleven. Back then, my curiosity about letter-making could only be satisfied in oblique and solitary ways, most of which involved borrowed sheets of Presstype, and goofing off with the family typewriter. The Mac couldn’t have come soon enough.

Young typophiles today have more outlets for their enthusiasm (you are here), but next Monday will gain rare access to the profession as well: National Design Week begins October 18, when the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum will inaugurate the festivities with its 2009 Teen Design Fair in New York. Teenagers with an interest in design are invited to learn about type design — as well as graphic design, fashion, industrial design, and architecture — by chatting one-on-one with dozens of practitioners, including me. And Project Runway host Tim Gunn emcees the event! —JH


Teen Design Fair
Monday, October 19, 4:00-6:30pm

The Times Center
242 West 41st Street
New York, NY 10018

The Gerrit Noordzij Prize, Part 2: Incoming

Typeface: Gotham

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

Tobias Frere-Jones: An Exhibit at the Royal Academy of Art

Tobias is the fourth and current holder of the Gerrit Noordzij Prize, which was presented to him in 2006. Every few years, the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague celebrates an individual for his “unique contributions to type design, typography, and type education,” qualities which honor both the recipient and the prize’s namesake: Gerrit Noordzij, as an instructor, a designer, and a type designer, has influenced generations of typographers, and has been singularly instrumental in establishing typography as a realm for disciplined, critical thinking.

This Friday, the prize passes to the next recipient, an occasion marked by two festivities: Wim Crouwel will receive the 2009 prize, and the Royal Academy will open an exhibit of Tobias’s work. If it’s any indication of the scope of the show’s contents, let me just say that even I was surprised by some of the things Tobias pulled from the files; it is an exhibit not to be missed.

The exhibit opens this Friday, March 6, and runs through Saturday, March 28, in the KABK Galerie. —JH

Learn Typeface Design with Sara Soskolne, H&FJ

Hands-on instruction in typeface design is notoriously hard to come by. Those interested in learning the craft have either to content themselves with a one-hour workshop at a professional conference, or commit themselves to a year of graduate school abroad. But this month, the Book Arts Center at Wells College Summer Institute is hosting a one-week class in typeface design with Sara Soskolne, Senior Typeface Designer at H&FJ. The class is limited to ten students, promising a rare chance to work with a professional type designer one-on-one.

The facilities boast large classrooms dedicated to lettering arts and digital imaging (all blissfully air-conditioned), and those with broader interests in the book arts will find two binderies, two press rooms, and seven Vandercook proofing presses. Those with broader interests still will find Wells College handsomely placed on New York’s Lake Cayuga, suggesting post-typographic swimming and birdwatching, magnificent sunsets, and fireflies by the kilowatt. Bring your “Co-Ed Naked Intramural Kerning” t-shirt.

Registration is now open: contact Nancy Gil, Summer Institute Director. And soon! —JH

Letterror at the Graphic Design Museum

Photo: Erik van Blokland

When we first met at the ATypI conference in 1989, Erik van Blokland, Just van Rossum and I were branded the “young turks” of typography, presumably because we were fifteen years younger than ATypI’s next-youngest member. Erik and Just were already notorious for their Beowolf project, which hacked the PostScript format in order to produce self-randomizing letterforms; this mischievous bit of culture jamming was enough to endear them to me, and to a generation of designers who have followed their work ever since.

Beowolf (and its sister font, BeoSans) are now an established part of typographic lore, and both rightfully received attention in the opening exhibit of the world’s first Graphic Design Museum in Breda. The place is swimming in typography (like the Netherlands in general), but it’s especially gratifying to see that in this new installation, visitors can experience BeoSans’ two-dimensional letterforms with the benefit of the fourth dimension as well. The addition of a timeline makes the faces’ randomness seem as natural an attribute as size, color, weight, or width, hinting at a future in which our screen-driven civilization could come to regard mutability as an integral part of the typographic experience. As always, I’m curious to see where Erik and Just’s original thinking will ultimately take us. —JH

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

London Calling

Just a quick note to let Londoners know that the Editorial Design Organization will be hosting an evening of editorial typography, featuring Janet Froelich of the New York Times Magazine, and Jonathan Hoefler of H&FJ. Free to EDO members, £20 for non-members, £5 for students.

American Night at the EDO
Wednesday, April 9, 6:00-9:00pm

Rootstein Hopkins Space
London College of Fashion
20 John Princes Street, W1G 0BJ
Inquiries to Gill Branston, 020 8906 4664

Large Hats & Small Caps

Having begun the week with Senator Barack Obama’s typeface, it seemed appropriate to look back at the typography of campaigns past. Here’s a splendid piece of Americana that will be at auction at Christie’s next week: a carved polychrome and gilt political hat, dated 1872, from the collection of Marguerite and Arthur Riordan. It captures a number of quintessential period styles: bold sans serifs in caps and small caps, “catchwords” festooned with calligraphic flourishes, and two styles of lettering interrupted by medial spurs. Measuring 25" deep and 18" wide, it’s a perfect fit for the head of any 21st century politician. —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!

Eight Screenings; Five Degrees

The New York premiere of Helvetica sold out so quickly that Tobias and I almost didn’t get seats, and we’re in the film. So get your tickets now for the NYC cinema run, which starts Wednesday at the IFC Center in Greenwich Village. Director Gary Hustwit will be on hand for a few of the screenings, as will Tobias Frere-Jones and Michael Bierut — check the film’s calendar for the full scoop.

BREAKING — It’s through Helvetica that we’re connected to David Carson, through Addicted to Love that he’s connected to Matthew Broderick, through War Games that Matthew’s connected to Maury Chaykin, and through Where the Truth Lies that Maury’s connected to Kevin Bacon, bringing the H&FJ Bacon Number to a sizzling four. —JH

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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