Category Archives: Type and Design

About type, typography, typefaces, printing and book and general design.

We’re With You, Ray!

The poster in the background of the Martin Johnston photo (in the window of Exiles bookshop) was a silkscreen poster I made in support of prison escapee Ray Denning. Silly me. Oh well: it was a good design, based on a motto I saw on a back fence in Glebe, Sydney, in 1979.RayDenning

A more useful Main Site


Encouraged by a visitor who just couldn’t find any poems on my Main Site, I have made the design of the Homepage a little less obscure and I hope much plainer and more helpful. You can find a direct link to it (and thus to hundreds of poems and so forth) near the top of this page, behind the link labelled “My Main Site”.

The top right corner of my Main Site homepage now looks like this:

Death of a Pressman

Death of a Pressman, by Fritz Swanson: A remembrance of Tom Trumble, letterpress pressman, and a meditation on preservation and nostalgia

In 2010, there were more than 200,100 printing-machine operators working in the United States, a modest growth from the 140,000 pressmen and their assistants employed in 1975. The increase precisely mirrors the population growth over the same period. But absent in the numbers is the fact that over that time, letterpress printing has gone from being a declining but still important technology to a virtually extinct practice. Once, letterpress machines were at the center of the printing industry, their care and use taught in high schools across the country. Today, the majority of the pressmen who run monstrous web-fed offset presses would see a clacking Gordon-style jobber press as, at best, a quaint toy; at worst, an irritating and cumbersome relic.

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Pi in the Sky

Many denizens of the San Francisco Bay Area and Silicon Valley noticed a long series of cloudy numbers in the skies around noon on Wednesday, September 12. No, their coffee wasn’t spiked with hallucinogens.

The ephemeral event, known as Pi in the Sky, utilized five aircraft with dot-matrix skywriting technology to write out a thousand numbers of the beloved mathematical constant pi (3.14159..) at a 10,000-foot altitude. If that wasn’t impressive enough, the numerals of pi written in the sky each stood nearly a quarter-mile tall, stretched for a 100-mile loop, and undoubtedly caused mass inspiration and confusion all at once.

Quoted with thanks from: C|Net’s Crave site. Photo credit: Bradley Bozarth.

Only in San Francisco…

A font just for lawyers

Suzanne Labarre has an interesting blog post about a new typeface named “Equity”, designed just for lawyers. “Just for lawyers?” I hear you cry. That’s right, and it’s based on one of my favourite fonts, Ehrhardt, from the 1930s. Here (below) is a comparison between “Equity” (left) and good old Times New Roman (right).


On her blog Suzanne Labarre writes:

Only the legal profession would be so anal-retentive as to prescribe typographic rules, and only the legal profession would be so unimaginative as to set the default at Times New Roman. Here to introduce a little flair to the world of court filings, contracts, and legal memos is Matthew Butterick, who has developed Equity, a typeface “inspired by legal typography and the needs of legal writers.”


Matthew Butterick

Butterick is an attorney in Los Angeles. He is also a typographer, having graduated from Harvard with a degree in visual and environmental studies. After college, he worked as a digital font designer and engineer for type legends Matthew Carter and David Berlow on projects for Apple Computer, Microsoft, Ziff-Davis, and others. Last year, Butterick combined his two professional interests in «Typography for Lawyers», a field guide to fonts for legal professionals. Designing a new legal typeface was the next, if not immediately obvious, step. “If you had asked me 12 months ago, I would’ve said ‘lawyers should use one of the many great text faces that already exist,’” Butterick tells Co.Design. “But earlier this year I had the ‘aha’ moment where I figured out how I could make something useful and novel.”

A word on attorneys: They read and write a lot. They are also prolific self-publishers: They design layouts and print and deliver their own work. “Often, these documents are typographically complex and have to come together on short notice,” Butterick says. What’s more, court filings have to adhere to regulations about typography, layout, and page limits. As a result, Times New Roman, a narrow, mousy little font that allows you to squeeze in more words per page than your average font, has become the industry standard. But “TNR has no special magic,” Butterick says. “In fact, there are very few situations where it’s actually required.” (The Supreme Court even forbids it.)

So Butterick designed Equity, a serif typeface, to be every bit as space-efficient as TNR, but eminently more readable — and a tad sexy. “I wanted Equity to be like a navy-blue Armani suit: a classic updated with contemporary virtues,” Butterick says.

He drew inspiration from Monotype Ehrhardt, a once-influential, early 20th-century typeface (created by Stanley Morison, the same guy behind TNR) that all but disappeared by the end of the letterpress-printing era 50 years ago.


Detail of a pencil drawing of Stanley Morison by Sir William Rothenstein, 1923

Plain old Times New Roman is ubiquitous, being installed on almost every computer system ever made. As the name implies the face was designed in 1931 by Monotype (under the guidance of Stanley Morison) for «The Times» newspaper in London, specifically for economy, legibility and wear resistance on high-speed newsprint presses in the 1930s. It wasn’t designed to be beautiful. Even Stanley Morison grew to dislike it. In 1953 he said, spraining his infinitives in his annoyance: “As a new face it should, by the grace of God and the art of man, have been broad and open, generous and ample; instead, by the vice of Mammon and the misery of the machine, it is bigoted and narrow, mean and puritan.”

More from Suzanne Labarre here.

What is Skeuomorphism?

The immensely useful and free encyclopaedia Wikipedia provides a clear definition of “skeuomorphism” (skeuos vessel or tool, morphe shape). A skeuomorph is a derivative object that retains ornamental design cues to a structure that was necessary in the original. Skeuomorphs may be deliberately employed to make the new item appear to be comfortably old and familiar, such as copper cladding on zinc coins, to make them look like old pennies, or computer printed postage with a circular town name and cancellation lines, meant to resemble the original circular stamps used by humans in post offices.

An alternative definition is “an element of design or structure that serves little or no purpose in the artifact fashioned from the new material but was essential to the object made from the original material”. This definition is narrower in scope and ties skeuomorphs to changes in materials.


The word is recently popular in English in 2012, I suspect because of the furore about Apple’s skeuomorphic designs for its ubiquitous computer software. See the little bit of torn paper just below the fake-leather strip across the head of the fake paper iCal calendar in the picture, just below the fake-embossed word “Year”? Torn paper? On a computer screen?!?! What were they thinking!?!?

But relax! The practice goes back to the birth of civilisation. Ancient Greek architecture abounds in skeuomorphism.

I like the Corinthian column, the capital (top) of which carries an ornate carved and originally painted stone representation of the acanthus leaf once used to decorate the top of the original wooden columns that long before had preceded the stone versions.



Egyptian columns, with their tops carved and painted to resemble plants abundant in the waters of the Nile — lilies or bundles of the lotus or the papyrus reed — were no doubt the inspiration for this later practice.

Wikipedia notes that blue jeans have authentic-looking brass rivet caps covering the functional steel rivet beneath; they further note that some digital cameras play a recorded audio clip of a conventional single-lens reflex camera mirror slap and shutter click. And so it goes.

Other examples:

I love these: they’re so silly! Tiny, non-functional handles on small glass maple syrup containers. The containers were once large earthenware jugs, which needed a handle. Not any more, but the handle still says “maple syrup”, even if the little bottle contains — yes, you need to take out your glasses and read the fine print — 99 per cent corn syrup.

Lost Things in the Garden of Type

Printing Press

I went to the South of France recently, to visit my Aunt Helene. She’s getting on now. When she was still a relatively young woman she gave up her typographic practice and moved to a retirement village, the Home for the Disappointed on the little island of San Serife, in the Mediterranean. The people in Bembo, the only town on the island, are mainly employed in the printing and publishing industries, so she feels at home there.

Aunt Helene has her own cottage, with a garden out the back: she calls it the Garden of Type. It’s a place for abandoned things, she says, and typefaces that have been lost and then found again. When the weather’s misty she wanders down there in her slippers and turns over the soil and kicks things around.

Nothing seemed to grow there now, and I asked her what the garden was for. ‘To remind me to remember to remember,’ Aunt Helene explained. ‘Soon I’ll be the only one left who remembers what metal type looked like, or what blotting paper was for.’

‘You sound like Henry Miller,’ I said. ‘I remember he wrote a book called «Remember to Remember».’

‘Miller? He remembered nothing. He made things up. Did you know that an ancient Greek invented the art of memory? Simonides. He’d write you a poem for twenty pounds. He wrote a lovely elegy for the Spartans who died bravely at Thermopylae — for a fee, of course. Poets composed and memorised their works in those days. But then someone went and invented paper, and the art of memory has been quite lost.’ She seemed pleased with the thought.

Typefaces: New Fournier BP

The image below is a text of page 218 from Oliver Bernard’s excellent translation of Rimbaud’s «Collected Poems» (Penguin, 1965). The poem has been typeset here in New Fournier BP, a face designed by François Rappo in Lausanne, Switzerland. The face is fully OpenType compliant — well, almost — and available in every variant you could wish for. I have used it above, for the title “Tranter’s Journal”, in the banner at the top of the page. More below.

The face is for sale on this website. The foundry says:

Francois Rappo

François Rappo

New Fournier BP is a contemporary translation of the equilibrium and elegance we find in the typography of Pierre-Simon Fournier. It possesses a particular dynamism and variety due to its pretension to rediscover the graphic style of 18th century France in a form that is both digital and contemporary…

In the spirit of Fournier’s “programme”, New Fournier has been developed into a very large family that includes three different designs corresponding to three specific sizes for the font’s use: book, adapted to continuous text and optimised for comfort while reading; big, optimised for continuous text but comprising a more historic and detailed design; and headline, in which the contrasts, graphic expression and details of the design have been optimised for composing titles. These three designs are further divided into two x-heights: New Fournier BP, with a normal x-height, and New Fournier BP Large, which has a high x-height. The two groups are complementary.

Below, a sample.


These 3 posts are about Fournier: 1. Barbou  2. Corundum  3. New Fournier BP

Digital Fournier, almost

The page offers images of a scan reproduction of a photo-litho offprint of some Monotype metal-set Fournier (Oliver Bernard’s translations of Rimbaud’s Collected Poems, Penguin, 1965), the same text typeset in digital Fournier (Adobe, designer Carol Twombly), and the same text set in Corundum, a recent typeface by the Joshua Darden studio in Brooklyn USA.

Thanks to the Darden Studio for rescuing this distinguished font for the digital realm.

The first image, below, is a scan of page 218 from Oliver Bernard’s excellent translation of Rimbaud’s Collected Poems (Penguin, 1965). It was originally set by Clays Ltd, Bungay, St Ives, UK, in Monotype Fournier metal. The proofs were photographed and printed photo-litho; this is a scan of that text.


The second, below, is a modern setting of the same text in digital Fournier. Note how anaemic the font appears (relatively speaking!).

Rimbaud text reset in digital Fournier

The third, below, is the same text set in Corundum, a font cut by Joshua Darden in Brooklyn USA. The font has issues with InDesign, serious issues, as it is not designed to conform with the OpenType font specification, but with a few kludges, it works. Note how the italic is (at last!) the same height as the roman.


The last image, below, is the three texts set in (l to r) Monotype Fournier metal, digital Fournier and digital Corundum. Click on the image to see a larger version.

Rimbaud text set in (l to r) Monotype Fournier metal, digital Fournier and digital Corundum.

Rimbaud text set in (l to r) Monotype Fournier metal, digital Fournier and digital Corundum.

Now, when are we going to find a fully OpenType compatible font based on Fournier, so that everyone can use it when they send their poetry manuscript to their publisher? Yes, it does exist… Stay tuned…

These 3 posts are about Fournier: 1. Barbou  2. Corundum  3. New Fournier BP

Barbou, the Font that Monotype Forgot

Fournier: Manuel Typographique
It’s hard to believe that Monotype, a successful company and a great font house with a history of brilliant design behind it, could cut two slightly different versions of a distinctive eighteenth-century font, and choose the wrong one to preserve; but such happened in the 1920s to “Fournier” — attractive enough, if a little plain — and its more beautiful sister “Barbou”. The great typographic historian Stanley Morison described what happened. (In his account below, the “typographical adviser” who was absent abroad was in fact Mr Morison himself.) One can well imaging the trembling teacups and curt conversations when he returned to find that Monotype had preserved the wrong font. Mr Morison was largely responsible for the design of the ubiquitous “Times New Roman” in the early 1930s.

These 3 posts are about Fournier: 1. Barbou  2. Corundum  3. New Fournier BP

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Show you care!


Show you care! When you find a chapbook you like, why leave the cheap staples there to eventually rust and stain the lovely creamy paper? You don’t believe that you’re going to be around in ten or twenty years’ time? Come on… It doesn’t take much to remove the staples and replace them with linen thread. Or any kind of thread. Then the chapbook will look nice and clean for future readers.

Tuxedo JacketAnd if you’re really picky, learn how to enclose your books in their own protective and elegant Tuxedo Jacket… I did.

Though maybe that’s going too far.

For the curious, here is Wikipedia’s article on bookbinding.