Typography, love it or hate it? … a short history from Press to Digital.
Typography, love it or hate it, from a 120 words or less tweet, to a 30 metre billboard at Heathrow … we consume it every day with barely a whisper of a thought. As we reel towards an ever more image driven society, can typography hold its own?
Call me sentimental, but hey, we respond most to what is real, people, music, art… and beautiful type. The use of space versus line and curve, the nesting of one letter to another with the perfect amount of space between characters. Where do things fit now in our fast-paced, image-driven culture … how did we get here, and where to next?
The Printing Press
1440 – The arrival of the printing press by Gutenberg, spread type and print into the mainstream. Individual hand moulded letters were carefully placed in a matrix, and molten metal poured over them to produce a cast. This was cooled, removed and the newly-cast type was ready for print. Sounds simple, but it revolutionised the Western World with the mechanization of the printed word and books.
1886 – The arrival of the Linotpye typecasting machine, a complicated beast of a device. Instead of each individual letter being picked and positioned, letters could finally be picked by a keyboard – see where this is going? This completely changed typesetting, especially newspapers. If this has piqued your interest, take a look at the trailer to this film out next year http://linotypefilm.com/
1972 – Things moved on from here to phototypesetting, and metal casting was assigned to history. Cue … arrival of postscript and lasers (via a short era of paper tapes and glass discs). Text ‘marked-up’ with code, ‘ripped’ through a postscript device and lasered onto photosensitive paper. By now Linotype owned the rights to many of the classic fonts, centuries of work made available at the touch of a keyboard.
Screen to Press
1985 – The start of desktop publishing, and the arrival of the ‘Apple’. Together with its long time partner ‘Adobe’ the world of digital design underwent a quantum shift. Apple Macs and Quark Xpress took the publishing world by storm, typography and a range of fonts became available on a much wider scale. Typography continued its influence as an integrated part of graphic design, with added flexibility of use within the Adobe Suite for text based graphics.
1989 – With the arrival of the Internet, publishing started to move online. A limited diet of Arial and Verdana were not quite enough sustenance for an avid typographer. Until … the welcome appearance of web fonts, and the ubiquitous @font-face. At last fonts online, from Collaborate to the downright showy Lobster. Not perfect, but a vast improvement … and overall a big smile from designer/developers. With Font Squirrel and Typekit assisting the spread of web font technology, type online has vastly improved in the last couple of years.
Handheld devices – iPhone and iPad
2007 – So what next, faced with the next generation of mobile devices and tablets, can typography still hold its own. @font-face is supported on iPhones and iPads allowing fonts to be embedded as SVG (scalable vector graphic) fonts. Some of the more elaborate ‘hinting’ and refinement of pure TrueType fonts is lost in conversion to SVG but things are moving forward as we speak.
Web-type has a long way to go before the subtleties of print can be obtained. It occurred to me that, type allows you to observe and consume at your leisure, alongside more attention grabbing media. So its place is one of aesthetic appeal based on centuries of craft, and balance to our image driven culture.
What are your thoughts of typography, love it or hate it? What typefaces are you using at the moment?