Ah,ha another old chestnut…

Graphic Designers, often like to assert their skill, training, taste and 'eye' by claiming moral high-ground in being able to identify and associate with 'better' cuts or digital versions of fonts. Two classic fonts that have become ubiquitous with the PC and Mac are Arial and Helvetica.

Some background information — provided by

Designed in 1957 by Max Miedinger, Helvetica’s design is based on that of Akzidenz Grotesk (1896), and classified as a Grotesque or Transitional san serif face. Originally it was called Neue Haas Grotesque; in 1960 it was revised and renamed Helvetica (Latin for Switzerland “Swiss”).

Designed in 1982 by Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders for Monotype (not Microsoft), it’s classified as Neo Grotesque, was originally called Sonoran San Serif, and was designed for IBM’s bitmap font laser printers. It was first supplied with Windows 3.1 (1992) and was one of the core fonts in all subsequent versions of Windows until Vista, when to all intents and purposes, it was replaced with Calibri.

In the 'soft copy' digital age, is this argument or plain snobbery redundant?


It is almost twenty years since Rick Poyner & Edward Booth Clibborn released Typography Now. A publication which has enjoyed several re-prints and certainly for a number of years was a source of inspiration to students of Graphic Design and typography.

The early 1990s represented the real emergence and integration of Computer platforms and software page layout programs into the design process. This new technology was stretched (as was some of the type of the era) in a spirit of unabashed experimentation and expression. The restraint of previous eras and the technologies they worked on, were challenged. INdeed many of the trades and crafts associated with page layout for printed outcomes were seriously challenged.

Some ten years after Typography Now Ellen Lupton summarised in her essay Fluid Mechanics: Typographic Design Now*, that as a society and specifically communications industry, we were in an era of 'soft copy'. An expression Lupton observed was defined
by Nicholas Negroponte and Muriel Cooper working at MIT’s Media Lab, as far back as 1978. “Soft copy,” referred to the linguistic raw material of the digital age. The bastard offspring of hard copy, soft text lacks a fixed typographic identity. Owing allegiance to no font or format, it is willingly pasted, pirated, output, or re-purposed in countless contexts. It is the ubiquitous medium of word-processing, desk-top publishing, e-mail, and the Internet.

This digital age has, we can see from recent developments such as the iPhone and iPad now become event further complex in terms of the nature of the soft copy now being able to be adjusted beyond the point of receipt by the end user. So in some sense, has the designer gone the way of the typesetter?

Is the designer's role being redefined, perhaps more closely akin to editors?

* published in Donald Albrecht, Steven Holt, and Ellen Lupton, Design Culture Now: National Design Triennial. New York: Princeton Architectural Press and Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, 2000.

Ah,ha the old chestnut…

So, here we go, how many typefaces should we work with?
How many is enough?
Want to hear
Massimo Vignelli's — seven minute — take on it?


I Love Typography

Returning from a recent trip to Berlin, I realise that, €36 lighter of pocket, I have once again indulged my compulsive obsession with typography. Three editions of Typographic Journal slanted in my bag, within three minutes — why?. Approximately 160 pages in each edition — 480 odd pages of stuff dedicated to type — I may never read all of them!
Is it for inspiration? Is it to inspire others? Some of the articles are in German, a language I can't get to grips with, BUT I can appreciate the careful crafting of individual letter forms in groups called words, in very close relationships with one another in sentences. This is something learned with metal and wood type in letterpress at Newcastle Polytechnic — in the first year when Mac SEs arrived and later at Central Saint Martins, at the time of Typography Now. Somehow this sense of crafting with type has remained intact through almost twenty years of digital based work.
Is it right for the new era?