Culture, Care and Typography Seth’s Blog

I’ve been fascinated by the way we set type since I did my first packaging forty years ago. It is a combination of technology, industry, system, culture and above all, deciding to try to get it right.

[This is a long post, it would have been a podcast, but it doesn’t really lend itself to audio.]

When airplanes first started flying passengers, labels were required. Labels for passengers and pilots. Wear a seatbelt while sitting. Why is it all caps? My guess is that in the early days of aviation, the machine that made the little metal signs only had the capacity to easily handle 26 letters and they chose all caps. Of course, labeling technology has gotten better over time, but we’re stuck with all caps because that’s what airplanes are supposedly To be good, though they are harder to read that way.

Typography is a sign not just a way of putting letters on a page.

Before mechanical type was set by pressmen in newspaper basements, type was handwritten by monks. As a result, we see the beautiful kerning of the letter with the ‘a’ placed below the ‘w’. It takes effort and as a result, it just looks right. It’s not right because your brain demands kerning, it’s right because cues are something we associate with confidence and care.

Once we see the magic of kerning, it becomes impossible to avoid how careless people who don’t use it seem…

Typography has had many golden ages, but in the 60s and 70s the combination of high-stakes mass production (in advertising and media) combined with innovations in typesetting meant that instead of using handmade metal type, marketers could simply specify whatever they wanted. Visualizing means that instead of one person working on a document, a committee will spend days or weeks agonizing over how the ad looks or whether its new layout is good or not. the time The magazine will send the right message to millions of people every week.

Pundits were convinced that the introduction of the Mac would destroy all this progress. Now anyone can set type, anyone will. So resumes ended up looking like ransom notes, Comic Sans became a joke that was taken seriously by few, and people like David Carson were on fire.

Instead, Mac and laser printers put forward the best examples of type quality. Once again, culture combines with technology to create a new cycle. Now, even small teams of people working on small projects can agonize over type. Now, as the availability and variety of beautiful typefaces increased, it became possible to set more types, more beautifully. If you work in an industry or department where the standard demands careful expression through type, this is possible and expected.

Better type, much more lazy type.

And then came the smart phone.

And type culture has changed in response. If you don’t have a mouse or keyboard, if your screen is the size of a deck of cards, you’re probably not paying much attention to typography. Whatever is built is what you use. People create so much content that there is no time for meetings, care, awareness. Text to speech, type with your thumbs, take a photo, hit send.

Culture changes. Now, the appearance of authenticity is more important than ever. And one way to do that is by not broadcasting with fonts that remind us of craft or kerning that reminds us that you took the time to do more than the automatic minimum.

And it won’t last, because the cycle continues.

They say you can tell a lot about someone from their handwriting. For my professional life, my handwriting has always involved a keyboard. I know that even if people don’t consciously know that they are judging our words by the way they look or sound.

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