• Steven Heller

The Daily Heller: Maximum Information for Basic Communication

I will not pretend to understand what type designer and 279 Editions publisher Franco Cervi's current experiment is all about; it's a system he calls Low. Yet I find fascinating his continual journey (last reported on here) into exquisite realms of transformative communications. In fact, writing today's Daily Heller is my way of becoming better acquainted with, if not altogether comprehending, Cervi's intrepid thinking. So, let's begin with his own words:

"For some time I have been imagining a novel typographic form, able to communicate a maximum of information with a minimum sign," he writes in the independently-published (279 Editions) An Abstract Typographic Form. "I have analyzed various unconventional writing systems, from Masonic alphabets to those created for military use. Precisely in this latter group, I have identified the best combination of expressive impact and minimal form in the six-dot Braille code, derived from that of Barbier, which had been developed to encrypt military dispatches, making them legible in the dark."

With this paragraph I am definitely hooked. Encrypted languages—like the the Cherokee syllabary invented by the great Sequoyah in the late 1810s and early 1820s, or cryptography of all kinds used by secret societies and institutions—are all part of the Tower of Babel in which we live.

So, Cervi has developed a system of 63 signs built on a grid comprised of cells that includes letters, numbers and glyphs, incorporating typographic styles like boldface and italics, which he states are "Strikingly effective when touched, yet totally cryptic to the sense of sight."

Cervi continues: "My adaptation has been limited to the control of this sensory passage, augmenting the compactness of the graphic system as required for the reading of any printed text. The minimum unit of the Braille cell—the raised dot—is thus replaced by the area that contains it, to boost the contrast between full and empty zones."

Now, I'm in the weeds, so I'll leave the rest of the explanation to Cervi: "That’s all. But the variation of this single parameter suffices to alter the visual perception of the whole code, to the point of making it unrecognizable in relation to the original. I think it would be hard to beat the minimalism of this set of signs created in its original guise almost three centuries ago, and I am struck by its extraordinarily contemporary nature in terms of concept and form.

"I believe in the concept of limitation—economic, ethical or technical—as a wellspring of creativity. So in the era of the ideal technological palette composed of infinite colors, I move forward along my own path of subtraction. I call this project Low: low-def face."

While many type designers seek the perfect reading face based on classic proportions, others play with abstract, comic and novel display styles; Cervi follows a path that just may push language itself into a new dimension. I'll be watching …