Typography is an integral part of our lives. We know it. But, have you tried to connect with your favorite fonts? I was pretty surprised when I was digging into the history of Ampersand due to its legacy stories. It inspired me to dig more into the broader range of typography. This discussion will dive into the backwoods of our print world and move along the journey which has already been covered by our typefaces.
Remember, basically typography is white. It is the black space in between that changes its forms.
Helvetica and The New York City Subway
The New York subway system has always sported Helvetica over other fonts, which is reconfirmed by the popular 2007 documentary Helvetica. The film is a gift to graphic designers. It is full of riveting experiences about the extents to which a font’s history can go. See the image below for few interesting stills from the film.
Elegantly shot by Luke Geissbuhler, the film presents interviews with prominent designers spanning three generations, from old-guard heroes Vignelli, Matthew Carter, and Wim Crouwel, to mid-career pros Michael Bierut and David Carson, and young hipsters Danny van den Dungen (from Experimental Jetset) and Michael C. Place (formerly with the Designers Republic). Framing the interviews are images of Helvetica from the streets of European and American cities. We thus move rhythmically between the designer’s voice from inside the studio to the public life of the typeface on café signs, billboards, subway graphics, and so on. The two perspectives come together humorously toward the end of the film, when the Swiss publisher and graphic designer Lars Müller walks through London and points his finger, with deadpan sobriety, at various examples of Helvetica. –
If you really want to dive into the history of Helvetica and its emerging usage in New York City Subway system (as show in image above by Paul Shaw) then I highly recommend Paul Shaw’s overly lengthy (but amazing) discussion on the same lines.
The Pictorial Representation of “M” in Metro and “S” in Subway
Metro and Subways are something which are common throughout the world. You will not find the words Metro and Subway change forms anywhere in the world although the representation of “M” and “S” changes worldwide. Various countries showcase various logos with a different version of these letters.
As you can see in the amazing compilation of metro and subway logos from around the planet, typography can go a long way to design their own version of any typeface. You will notice how fonts are telling a story on every billboard, television advert and almost everywhere. We just need to observe.
Programming. Mathematics. Metafont.
Heard of Metafont? The reasons are explained in two lines by Donald Knuth, the father of Metafont, for those who answered no to that question:
Asking an artist to become enough of a mathematician to understand how to write a font with 60 parameters is too much.
Basically Metafont is a programming language which can be used to define vector fonts. The best part about Metafont is that it can be used to generate more fonts which are actually the result of multiple geometrical equations. Although most type face designers haven’t shown any interest in Metafont yet there is one crazy typeface designer from Germany, Hermann Zapf, who has held on to Knuth’s Metafont to experiment more with the unique style of font designing.
Some of the A-List typeface designers might not have given their precious time to Knuth and Zapf but it is true that their contribution shows up every now and then in our jungle of fonts.
Title Sequences and the Brains Behind Them
Title sequences are the method for presenting the key cast members of a film or a television program to the viewers. Kyle Cooper is one of the many title sequence designers that make this possible. Kyle came into fame after his design for the 1995 movie Seven. His design was critically acclaimed in Uncredited: Graphic Design & Opening Titles in Movies.
Kyle Cooper is part of that genre of graphic font designers who don’t live for publicity. They just work and let the world look for them. Kyle has worked for some of the best films and production houses. Wired once covered almost everything about Kyle Cooper and I highly recommend reading the article.
Some more of his work can be found on his portal:
Comic Sans was NOT a mistake
How can we forget Comic Sans when we are discussing fonts? Comic Sans seems to be the one font which has been part of the no man’s land since its birth. It cannot be used for official work and the not-so-officials have a lot of more exciting fonts to concentrate on.
Comic Sans was designed by Vincent Connare and officially released by Microsoft Corp in 1994. The usually casual font was actually an imitation of fonts used in old style comic books and was designed for informal documents. The font has received a lot of critical opposition due to (probably) its casual looks in some serious documents. Without stretching much, I request you to read Why Comic Sans by the creator himself. Also, do check the Helvetica like documentary for Comic Sans:
As I have said before, fonts are everywhere. We see them and enjoy them. But, we don’t seem to concerned or interested about how or why they were designed. Of course it isn’t our job, but sometimes it can really get interesting. You have any stories to share?
Salman Siddiqui is an alpha geek, design guru and seasoned WordPress critic. Writing, for him, started out of ego but it has become the most luring and enlightening career option of his life. He is walking that extra mile for his freelancing dream.