The Loveliest Living Fossil

The ocean of ideas, teeming with words and numbers, is underpinned by a vast tectonic plate that’s powerfully transforming the language. It’s the force that gives rise to new continents of meaning, while it inters the remains of countless extinct species. We know its name, but we rarely think about it, and we certainly never visit. It’s just there, helping to clarify our words and numbers in an invisibly supportive way. But it’s one of the culture’s most unstoppable forces. It’s called Punctuation.

At its leading edge, punctuation is volcanically active, giving shape to concepts that move far faster than words. Anyone communicating today has seen #topics and #themes and #categories identified this way, using a symbol that was intuitively understood and replicated even before it was first called a hashtag in 2007. The symbol and its meaning are now universally recognized, transcending even the locality of language, but their use is scarcely a decade old — an astounding accomplishment for a bit of lexical fluff, when you consider that the newfangled OMG was first recorded in 1917 (and in a letter to Winston Churchill, no less.) Similarly meteoric is the rise of @, not only in its initial evolution from grubby commercial symbol to digital thingum, but in its latest metamorphosis, which has left it poised to become a bonafide verb. Formulations like “write in or @ us on Twitter”¹¹ I owe this cheeky example to Kory Stamper, a lexicographer at Merriam-Webster. You should read her blog. may seem casual, or may be arch, but since they’re easily understood by the initiated, they’re grammatical fair game. Punctuation FTW!

As it advances, punctuation leaves behind a sepulchral physical record, an ocean floor littered with the remains of creatures that didn’t make it. English-speakers who live with Imperial measurements can probably guess the meaning of ℔ from lb., but most have never encountered that symbol, and fewer still have run into a wild ℥, long since replaced by oz. (There may be pharmacists among us who know this one, but they are the same mysterous guild that traffics in ℞s and c̄s and other things that aren’t on the keyboard.) The ellipsis (…) drove out the asterism (⁂) to signal breaks in text, and the decimalized percent (%) eliminated the need for a permille (‰) — not to mention something called the “basis point,” also known as the per-ten-thousand, which naturally, and horribly, looks like this: ‱. As a typeface designer, I am not sorry to see these go. Drawing a character is one thing, but adding a character to a family that requires twenty-four variations, including an Extra Bold Compressed Italic, is another story. Especially if there are nearby lining figures and old-style figures and tabular figures to consider. So R.I.P., basis point. Or as a typographer would say, “.”

Between the symbols we live with and the symbols of yore is a third category, characters that are no longer considered ‘standard’ (by someone’s arbitrary standard), but are nonetheless still meaningful, and immediately understood. If you’ve ever addressed correspondence to someone in the care of someone else, you might have used ℅, a pretty hanger-on that I think has a place in the right kinds of typefaces, but one that should by no means be considered a typographic requirement. But the best and most active of these living fossils is a personal favorite: it’s the Numero, known to us by the monogram Nº.

Nº was the number sign before # became a number sign, and it refreshingly serves this one and only purpose. Compare the #, which when preceding a number is read as “number” (“#1 in my class”), but when following a number means “pound” or “pounds”²² If you’re curious what the # symbol has to do with the abbreviation lbs., here’s one possible missing link. (“70# uncoated paper”), leading to printshop pile-ups like “#10 envelope, 24# bond.” To programmers, a # can mean either “ignore what follows” (as in a Python comment) or “use what follows” (when referencing a page fragment, or a Unicode value in html.) To a proofreader, a # means “insert space,” so in the middle of a numbered list, the notation “line #” does not mean “line number,” but rather “add a line space.” Because of #’s resemblance to the musical symbol for “sharp” (♯), it’s a frequent stand-in for the word “sharp,” and often the correct way of rendering a trademarked term such as The C# Programming Language. The # is rapidly assuming musical duties as well, especially in online databases, leading to catalog collisions like “Prelude & Fugue #13 in F#.” How fortunate a designer would be to have a numero symbol, with which to write “Prelude & Fugue Nº 13 in F#,” or “Nº 10 Envelope, 24# bond.”

The Chicago Manual of Style unequivocally favors ‘no’ over ‘#’ when listing the issue number of a periodical: “When the issue number is given, it follows the volume number, separated by a comma and preceded by no.”³³ The Chicago Manual of Style, 15th Edition, §17.163. And this introduces an interesting complication for Russian language periodicals, or those published in any language that uses the Cyrillic alphabet, because Cyrillic does not contain the letter N. It’s for this reason that typefaces that include Cyrillic alphabets always include the numero symbol, which is why you’ll find them in both Whitney and Gotham.

But the place you’ll find the greatest concentration of numero symbols in our library is in the Numbers collection, where I insisted upon them simply because they’re delightful. The typefaces in this collection interpret many different traditions in lettermaking, including rubber stamps, cash register receipts, railway car numbering and street signs, and in each of these environments you’ll find the numero. Many of these styles trace their origins to the nineteenth century, when numbers were more commonly introduced by Nº than #; others in the collection never used this symbol, but their styles seemed ripe for decoration. We recently had this same impluse with the Inkwell collection, which includes pen-drawn numeros in all forty-eight of its styles.

It’s this desire to decorate that shapes expectations about what should be in a typeface. On your keyboard next to the return key are the brackets [ ], and atop these are the braces { } that are sometimes — tellingly — called curly brackets. In theory, braces exist to present things on an equal footing: in music they connect staves that are played simultaneously, in genealogy they relate siblings, and in drama they group characters that move or speak as a unit (such as a nobleman’s Attendants in Shakespeare.) But braces are graphic rather than typographic forms, seldom meant to be used at the same size as the type they enclose, making them a questionable member of the character set. Frankly, they endure because they’re fetching, a spicy alternative to the humdrum geometry of square brackets, and these days they’re almost always used decoratively. Designers love to use braces, and type designers love to draw them, and it’s this unspoken bond that keeps them in the character set. Like the braces, the Nº is a reminder that typography exists to serve readers, and that readers do not live by semantic punctuation alone. There’s a place for variety and richness in typography, for colorful and engaging creatures that live at abyssal depths. Bring them up for a closer look: they’re splendid to behold. —JH

Introducing Office Fonts from H&Co

Every organization should brand its custom collateral: the proposals, statements, presentations and reports through which it communicates the most. Office Fonts from H&Co can help: they’re specially designed for users of Microsoft® Word, Excel®, Powerpoint®, Pages®, Numbers®, and Keynote®, the business software that runs typography’s last mile.

You know this company: their logo’s in Gotham, their website’s in Gotham, there’s Gotham in their outdoor advertising and their television spots. There’s Gotham in the window of every branch, and inside, Gotham on the in-store displays and the printed brochures. And then the estimate you’re given from their sales associate will be in Arial, your sign-up contract in Times Roman, and your next two years of monthly statements in something someone picked at the lettershop. Typography can be the least expensive and most effective way of reinforcing a brand, or the quickest way to dilute it.

Meet Office Fonts.

Office Fonts from H&Co allow everyone who speaks for the brand to use the same consistent voice. They’re adaptations of some of our most popular typefaces, specifically created for use in the applications that generate personalized communications. They allow an organization’s branding to extend beyond the projects that designers themselves create, to include the reports, proposals, statements, and presentations prepared by non-designers — often the bulk of how any organization communicates.

How They Work

People use the fonts that are easiest: the ones that live in their font menus, work in their software, look good on screen, and behave in familiar ways. H&Co’s Office Fonts are designed for people who use word processors, spreadsheets, and presentation packages, allowing them to participate in the brand typography.

All Office Fonts from H&Co feature:

— Familiar Families. No one looking for “regular type” should have to choose between Book and Medium. In place of the more detailed palette of styles that can be confusing for both businesspeople and their software, H&Co’s Office Fonts are provided in the customary four-style arrangement of Regular, Italic, Bold, and Bold Italic. Bold and Italic styles are mapped to the standard keyboard shortcuts B and I, to avoid the artificially “smeared” and “sloped” romans for which office documents are notorious.

— Enhanced Clarity. H&Co’s Office Fonts have a larger lowercase, a more generous fit, and clearer gestures, making them easier to read both on screen and in print (compare the A columns, above.) They have a heightened contrast between regular and bold styles, to make boldface type unambiguous (A1), and are engineered with ScreenSmart™ technology to render crisp and clear text on Windows.

— Friendly Features. Only a designer should have to contend with old-style figures, lining figures, or tabular figures. Office Fonts from H&Co include one and only one set of numbers, built on a fixed width to ensure that columns of numbers align neatly (B). Numbers are designed to the same width across all styles in a family, ensuring that highlighting text in boldface won’t disrupt the grid (C). And all Office Fonts feature numbers that coordinate with both lowercase and capital letters, making complex syntax easier to read (D).

— Compatibility. Office Fonts from H&Co are produced in TrueType format, to support even the simplest (and oldest) business applications. The same font files can be installed on either Mac or Windows, making asset management and deployment easier.

Today we’re introducing twelve families of Office Fonts, all of them available for purchase and download. Some coordinate with our best-known typefaces (which serve the world’s best-known brands), Office Fonts for Gotham, Archer, Whitney and Sentinel. We’re also introducing Office Fonts for some of our newest releases, including this year’s Whitney Narrow and Operator. Below is just a taste of what Office Fonts can do.

The Inspiring Everyday

Whether they’re typeface designers, graphic designers, web developers, or part of our business group, nobody at H&Co is immune to the charms of found typography, and we’re all compulsive sharers. Recently, our chief operating officer paid a visit to the garage to have her car serviced, and returned with a souvenir that made us smile: a paper tag left dangling from the rear view mirror, designer unknown, indifferently printed with a giant number in four inch block type. It prompted a conversation about the pleasures of anonymous typography, and how even the humblest bits of ephemera can suggest visual strategies for solving far more complex design challenges. So for those who take pleasure in life’s little typographic moments, we’re pleased to share a few of ours, today on Discover.typography. —JH

Made with Cloud.typography

Videri Chocolate Factory

A colorful and unexpected palette of webfonts helps three chocolatiers deliver their most piquant flavors online.

It was the shared dream of Sam, Starr, and Chris that brought about the Videri Chocolate Factory. From the historic Raleigh Depot in downtown Raleigh, NC, the three operate a retail storefront, a factory floor, an outdoor café, and now a website where an animated collection of webfonts from H&Co helps them tell their story.

Videri’s diverse font palette includes Landmark , Verlag, The Fell Types, and Indicia.

Finding a way to express the company’s personality with typography was a top priority for the the team at PRPL, the digital creative agency tasked with creating the site. “I wanted to create a type system that felt friendly and organic, but also would feel at home in a factory setting,” said George Kedenburg III, lead creative at PRPL.

Kedenburg chose a vivid collection of fonts for the project, relying not only upon hard-working ScreenSmart fonts for text, but some rare and unexpected choices for display typography. Verlag and Sentinel ScreenSmart are used throughout the site, while headlines feature a mix of our more exotic typefaces: the dazzling Landmark Inline and Dimensional, the textured Fell Types, and the rubber-stamped Indicia font from our Numbers collection.

At small sizes, Sentinel ScreenSmart keeps the text perfectly crisp.

PRPL assigned distinct roles to each typeface, and used the Cloud.typography character set panel to carefully control what each webfont includes. (The Indicia typeface is used for all the numbers on the site, from prices in the shopping cart to the digits of the company’s phone number.) Refining each font’s character set not only helps reinforce the site’s brand guidelines, but helps keep webfonts lean, and quick to download. “That’s something I don’t think we’ve ever done, or thought would be worth doing,” adds Kedenburg. —NW

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 16

“Modern Gaspipe” is the charming taxonomic name for this kind of letterform. We’ve explored the style in our Tungsten type family — itself a fine holiday gift, ahem. But for those with a hankering for decor, the always fruitful Three Potato Four has this unlittle item for sale, a huge handpainted wooden figure three (34" / 86cm), perfect for your living room, studio, or threearium. Thanks to Brian Hennings for finding this one: frankly I’m amazed that he hasn’t had his fill of these kinds of letters. —JH

Ask H&Co: Fonts for Financials

Typefaces: Sentinel and Gotham

Annual reports offer designers a marvelous opportunity to strut their stuff. In the hands of a thoughtful typographer, a dense volume of technical text can become warm and welcoming, its changing rhythm of introductions, statements, analyses, and disclosures calling for a beautiful typographic system to help organize the text. Financial data can be uniquely satisfying to design, offering an irresistible opportunity to work with large type families in intricate ways. There are tables both long and short, as well as charts, graphs, and diagrams, all studded with headings, footnotes, and legends that defy even the most ingenious grid.

Each of these details places a special burden on the fonts, making it especially important to choose the right palette up front. We’ve gathered some thoughts about choosing fonts for annual reports for our Techniques library, here you’ll find four things to think about when considering a typeface — and a collection of font families specifically designed to meet these unique challenges.

The H&Co Institute for Unapplied Mathematics

Typefaces: Gotham Narrow Book, Archer Book, Indicia, Dividend, Gotham Extra Narrow Medium, Bayside

We’ve received our share of intriguing questions over the years, but this one takes the cake. On Monday, a correspondent called from National Public Radio to discuss the implications of typesetting a number with twelve million digits.

The number in question is 243112609-1, which holds the title for World’s Largest Known Prime Number. Mathematicians have known since at least the third century BC that for many values of n, the formula 2n-1 produces a prime number. When it does, the result Mn is called a Mersenne Prime, after the seventeenth century French mathematician who calculated the first 257 of them by hand — quite something when you realize that M257 has 78 digits. (And, so very cruelly, it’s not prime.) The search for prime numbers, an esoteric pursuit that rivals typeface design for its cultishness, has continued ever since; these days it’s assisted by the Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search, a project that organizes the downtime of almost 90,000 volunteers’ computers into a collective effort to find the next great prime.

Continues…

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 14

Hot on the heels of my open question about artists and fives, I came across this marvelous photograph by Berenice Abbott featuring a pair of gorgeous fives in starring roles. Abbott is best remembered for Changing New York, her seminal collection of photographs that documents New York of the 1930s; it’s both an inspiration and a great resource for designers, especially typeface designers whose work is influenced by the public sphere.

For eighty years, the A. Zito Bakery stood at 259 Bleecker Street, a short walk from the H&Co offices. In a street now dominated by bar room neon and vacuform plastic, Zito’s window looked in 2004 much the way it did when Abbott photographed it in 1937. Bread Store is among a collection of Berenice Abbott Photographs now available from AllPosters.com as high-resolution Giclée prints, lovely not only for the glimpses they offer into a grander New York, but for some marvelous lettering as well. These barber shop windows (1, 2) must be tremendous up close, and the humble decals in Zito’s window above have long been a favorite of ours: our Delancey font is based on them. —JH

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 11

Typeface: Ziggurat Black

Picking up where we left off last year, we thought we’d round out 2008 with some holiday ideas for the recovering typophiliac in your life.

I’m intrigued by Jen Bekman’s 20x200, which every week produces small runs of small works on paper, at prices to match. Among their collection of prints and photographs is this limited edition print by Superdeluxe, the studio of designers Adrienne Wong and Karin Spraggs. The appropriately named Ziggurat 5 is a happy riot of color and type, featuring of course the figure five from our own Ziggurat Black typeface. (What is it about artists and fives?) The print is produced in three different editions: a small 8½" × 11" (22cm × 28cm) in archival pigments, a larger 17" × 20" (43cm × 51cm) that includes a letterpress impression, and the largest 30" × 40" (76cm × 102cm) which combines printing and silkscreening. Collect all three. Fives. —JH

Four Shortage Strikes Nation

The New York Times reports on crippling shortfalls in the nation’s strategic four reserve:

‘With regular gas in New York City at a near-record $4.40 a gallon, station managers are rummaging through their storage closets in search of extra 4s to display on their pumps. Many are coming up short… “Typically, we have a lot of 9s and 1s, and we had a shortage of 3s before we got a lot of 3s in,” Mr. Nair said.’

Welcome to the world of frequency distribution. The popularity of different letters is familiar to anyone who’s ever watched Wheel of Fortune, as well as anyone who’s ever seen a Linotype keyboard (where the confounding qwerty is replaced by the ranked-by-popularity etaoin shrdlu.) But numbers, counterinituitively, have their own frequencies as well: a simple example of this is to write out the numbers from one to twenty, and notice that while most digits are used twice, the two appears thrice, and the one appears twelve times.

Different applications have their own unique frequency fingerprints. North American area codes traditionally favor zeroes and ones, retail prices favor fours and nines ($49.99); Golan Levin and Jonathan Feinberg explored the topic beautifully in their Java applet The Secret Lives of Numbers. There’s also a lot of occult numerology in the background of our Numbers collection, in which everything from cash register receipts to monuments reveals something about the culture of numbers. Of course, gas pumps are in there too, fours and all. And fives. And sixes… —JH

Typographic Gifts for Designers, Part 8

The arrival of a new year means it’s time for a new Pentagram Calendar. We’ll forever be partial to the 2006 edition, for which Pentagram commissioned us to design twelve new fonts of numbers; we subsequently added three additional styles, anticipating of course the post-revolutionary 15-month calendar under which all earthlings will unite in observance of Hoefluary. (Reminder: font licenses must be paid in full by Tribute Day, Hoefluary 15.)

But until the revolution comes, enjoy your quaint 12-month ways with the stylish 2008 Pentagram Typography Calendar. 2008 looks like it’s going to be a vintage year, for this year’s edition is designed exclusively using the typefaces of Matthew Carter. Few things can make January more exhilarating than a brace of Galliard old-style figures, and the appearance of the scarce Walker typeface in February hints at many more treats throughout the months to come. —JH

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