I’ve been noticing that many of the images that get tagged or labeled “type” on design-watch web sites such as welovetypography.com and sharesomecandy.com are actually some form of lettering. Many of these works are exquisitely crafted alphabetic confections, while others are more about letting loose one’s inner sixth-grader. There is some spectacular artistry out there, whether it’s calligraphy, hand-drawn characters, high-end graffiti, digitally constructed alphabets, or flamboyant Sharpie fests. A visit to the “type” page on Deanne Cheuk’s website, deannecheuk.com, reveals a mouth-watering array of made-from-scratch headlines and and lettering constructions. But is it type? And does it matter?
Deanne Cheuk for Tokion magazine.
Look, I’m a Type Maven. I subscribe to the rather rigid theory that typography is about readymade, reproducible families of letterforms. Vernacular hot-dog signs, handwritten wedding invitations, and space-age logos aren’t typography. A typeface is an abstracted system designed to accommodate any text you throw at it. Typeface designers create fonts, and typographers arrange them in space and time.
In addition to the extraordinary activity around lettering, there’s plenty to see on the web about typefaces. Alas, there is not much visual documentation about what designers do with fonts once they get them, especially past the level of headline typography. Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones’s website typography.com works hard to educate its users about the subtleties of implementing different styles of numeral, graded type families, and optical sizes. But most of what we see online stays at the level of headlines and logos, perhaps because text type just doesn’t show well in lo-res screen images.
Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones explain the fine points of typography for annual reports on typography.com.
I’ve been searching online for exciting new examples of typography—hardcore typography that deals with text, hierarchy, grids, column structure, and such. Here are a few treats I turned up on a recent hunt.
Layout from French magazine Amusement. Artistic director: Alice Litscher.
After paging through many, many screens of custom lettering and typeface specimens on welovetypography.com, I found these astonishing layouts from the French magazine Amusement, whose fearless capitalization and odd mix of weights and styles bring a fresh flavor to the Didone fashion magazine trope.
Spread by Maili Holiman, Walter Baumann, Wyatt Mitchell, and Scott Dadich for Wired.
I also turned up this typographic image on welovetypography.com from wired.com. Packed with fontographic variety, this enticing bonbon begs to be seen in print; online, it functions as an illustration but doesn’t truly become typography.
Quite a few examples of complex page layout appear on the addictive TypographyServed.com. Although the vast majority of entries focus on fonts, headlines, and custom lettering treatments, one can find pure typographic studies like this system for Solidarietà internazionale magazine, designed by Sezione Aurea. Alas, the size is too small to really make out all the carefully considered details. Perhaps my quibble is an old one: you just can’t view real typography online. Beautifully printed books and magazines are still the best resource for designers who want to know what’s happening in their field. Yet the design discourse is unfolding in real time on the web, and this is where students and young designers go to participate and be inspired. So I’m not giving up my search for typography shared on the web. Please send me some when you find it: elupton (at) designwritingresearch.org