Perpetual

Prosit Neujahr! While working on something new, progressing with 3D, I got heavily sidetracked by a realization; “My knowledge of typography is insufficient for what I’m aiming at.” I’d already spent quite some time studying people like Müller-Brockmann, Cullen, Samara, Spiekermann, and Kane to improve my layouting and typesetting skills, but it still wasn’t enough. To be humbled, I spent the two weeks of holidays doing little other than research and learn about type.

What came out of it was not only a manically eclectic, boiled down assortment of professional and commercially ready typefaces, libre, open-source, and bought, but also enough information to feel like I could, given the effort, try to build a variation myself. Sensibilities towards everything written, additionally, have further increased drastically. I’d never actively noticed how sloppily text is being set on many everyday products, even the premium variety. Especially consumables and literature. It almost makes me want to bin half my library. Finally, this excavation has instilled in me much respect for the work of typographers, many of which fulfill multiple roles in the design and advertising industry.

“But why alter what already works perfectly fine?”, something I’ve found myself thinking when questioning why anyone should even bother to learn more than the fundamentals of utilizing type. Massimo Vignelli’s famous selection of not-ugly typefaces had already been hailed as the be all end all in that regard. This is something I’ve seen in other aspects of the game as well. Things differ, when compared to art, in that a problem ultimately needs solving, and as such practices can be more mechanical, even predictable. You’d think there is a formula to derive from all the present knowledge about the harmony of shapes and colours. One you could then stick to for the best in all viable design solution. No need to remake the wheel, after all.

But roads change eventually. A conlcusion I’ve come to, at least so far, is that nothing stays useful. Technology keeps eating the world, and with her we evolve. What may have worked splendidly while printing newspapers and posters in the 60s may simply not translate to a computer monitor sporting measly resolution. And still, resulting problems are often the very same ones older generations of typographers also ran into. Things change, but never entirely. Many of the holy-grail-typefaces are affected by this, which is why they are being continuously renewed, rediscovered, and revived by modern, fully digital foundries. Realizing this was a pain to me, being an admirer of faces such as Baskerville and Garamond, which can easily be troublesome on screens and won’t work in their delicate traditional forms. Many are overflowing with affection for the classic Swiss and German typefaces, Univers, DIN 1451, Futura, Helvetica, and Optima among them, which people enjoy criticizing for their ubiquitousness and conservative connotations. Web developers stray even more safe, in order to ensure usability. I do not have a real stance on this yet, but while I agree there is a certain no-nonsense standard for design work you’re getting paid for that needs to be upheld, it also seems to me that it is part of the job to make sure things don’t get too stifling, because nobody wants a boring product. Even if you can afford to pay for the quality fonts, using them to produce good work is another discussion altogether. That being said, I’d love to own Walbaum, Heldane, and Maelstrom. Didones are a personal pleasure, so is the ludicrous. Be it Neville Brody’s punk attitude, or the utilitarian conviction of Italian design, like language, typographic newness isn’t going anywhere.

Ken

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