Panel: History of Typography

In typography there is a fundamental relationship between the physical image of the text and the visual apparatus of the reader. For more that two thousand years of making and re-making, the breeding of the Roman letter has been under way.

Traditional type sizes are the product of a lengthy accumulation of human attention. In words of Sumner Stone, “Like a star crystallized out of the heavens, like a species of creature, each size of type is relatively absolute. It represents a reduction, a cooking down of the reading and writing experience of many generations.” Desktop publishing has lifted type to the meta-level of digital media. Type is now cut off from its physical origins, the roots that determined its shapes: handwriting and letterpress. The return of features like ligatures and old-style figures, the revival of monospaced fonts, and the use of ‘rough’ grotesque types for text demonstrate our emotional desire for tradition, rooted in limitations and a certain characteristic imperfection.

By tradition, good lettering demands three things: 1) Good letters; 2) Good design in all details; 3) A good layout. The designer of letters, whether he be a sign painter, a graphic artist, or in the service of a type foundry, participates just as creatively in shaping the style of his time as the architect or poet. Stanley Morison wrote: “Lettering is a precise art and strictly subject to tradition. The ‘New Art’ notion that you can make letters whatever shapes you like, is as foolish as the notion, if anyone has such a notion, that you can make houses any shapes you like. You cant, unless you live all by yourself on a desert island.”

Graphic communications rely on the interaction of words and images to convey a message that is almost always dependent on language and its cultural context. As a consequence, the hearth of our practice is typography—a set of historical conventions that allow us to represent, however crudely, the rich inflections and rhythms of spoken language.


Image courtesy of Nancy Stock-Allen

Event Details

Date: 18 June, 2012
Time: 16:30–17:30

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