Thursday, January 05, 2006

What's your type?

I think it would be hard to grow up around a printing shop, as I did, without an appreciation for typefaces. But what if you grew up as the child of a notable designer and scholar of typefaces? That was the fate of Matthew Carter. His response was to become a designer of typefaces that work on the web as well as they do in print (no small achievement).

It's too bad that Alec Wilkinson's wonderful feature on Carter in the Dec. 5 New Yorker is not online. Here's a clip from a snippet that somebody else posted; it's about the work of coming up with an online typeface for Microsoft.

"The heavy lifting begins when the alphabet is finished," Carter says. "I begin then to see how the letters go together to make words, how they line up next to each other, how they sit on the page or the screen, how they work with the punctuation and the symbols. I print up forty or so pages, and when I first see them I feel suicidal. Nothing is working. If it isn't working, I don't necessarily know why it isn't. It simply looks bad. Then starts the long process of going back and making changes here and there. You change something one day, and the next day you change it back, because you realize it wasn't the problem. Nothing gets better, you despair, until one day you're looking -- you've changed something small -- and you're looking at a typeface."

Here's Microsoft's page about Carter and the typeface called Verdana that he created for the company.

And here's another take on the New Yorker piece, with a link to a classic essay on typography, "The Crystal Goblet, or Printing Should Be Invisible."

All of which is by way of introducing Typographia's favorite fonts of 2005 (part 1).

Trivia question: What was the typeface of Jimmy Carter's 1980 presidential campaign literature?


Answer: Souvenir. I thought it didn't seem serious enough.

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