H697 Week 2: Fonts

My final semester as an undergrad, I took a course on the history of the book, co-taught by the head of special collections and a professor in the English department. We started with early writings on clay tablets (and yes, I got to hold a little piece of ancient writing!) and carried forward all the way to a proof of a book by a poet who taught the occasional class at our college.

I bring this up because the historic fonts, and their creators, who show up in the first part of Ellen Lupton’s Thinking with Type are, in a way, old friends. Caslon and Didot, and of course Gutenberg and William Morris. I was aware that fonts changed over time, but not the theories behind them (humanist vs. modern, etc). That they were governed by aesthetic theory makes sense, and often seems to have been driven by the same impulses which drove interior design. It would be a fun exercise (for a real font designer) to create fonts based on some of the great interior designers. A Latrobe font!

The caveat in the last paragraph is due to the fact that I’ve discovered just how much work goes into creating a font or font family. If you want an idea of the thinking, criticism, and effort of a font, just watch Helvetica (2007). You’ll never see street signs the same way again. After this week of reading and learning about fonts, I’ve been analyzing every shop sign I see.