Typography is alive and well and growing. Once made of lead and confined to shops filled with machines, type is now everywhere: for example, on your phone.
Once bound to printing, type has now taken on all kinds of letterforms: the messages in your car, on your music player, on the sides of trucks, on the tops of buildings. The designers of movie titles, the programmers for the web, the artists who make menus, all use fonts in the same formats. The word “type” has come to mean lettering everywhere.
There are three main currents in typography today.
It’s increasingly essential to create, market, and maintain your brand—with type. In the 1960’s, branding became an integral part of any company’s sales effort. It made you stand out from the crowd. “Corporate identity” meant logos, marks and style guidelines. But contemporary branding means “what people think about you.” And your direct connection to customers is often through media, using words, conveyed with type.
A driving force behind type branding is, the Internet of Things. Everything is connected and everything has fonts.
Companies, countries, and individuals struggle to find a unique identity, they are quickly learning that the design of their typefaces, and the typography of their user interfaces, their content, and their messaging is an essential part of their voice and personality. Their brand.
While type branding has been gathering force, the businesses, governments, NGOs and the media all have reached beyond national borders. They want to increase their influence, and their markets. They quickly found that they needed to communicate in more than one language. Fifty years ago, European companies operated with just the core Latin languages, and fonts were made with all the accents and marks needed for English, Spanish, French, and so forth. More were added for the Nordic languages and Turkish. And then it seemed necessary to communicate in Russian and then Greek. So fonts got bigger.
In the last two decades, as companies merged and industries consolidated, products had to be made that worked in Asia as well as the West, and that brought in the vastly bigger scripts of China, Korea and Japan. And then India, with 10 official scripts. And soon business people turned their attention to “smaller” countries, like Mynanmar, which had their own distinct alphabets and “only” 50 million people.
Microsoft and Apple localized their operating systems across Europe and Asia. Recently Google has ordered dozens of fonts for languages around the world. For e-mail and internal communications, these fonts are at least adequate, after nearly 30 years of effort. But if you want to combine the “globe” concept with “brand,” which companies like Ford are doing, then particular typefaces have to be matched, or designed from scratch. Global companies need global brands. And this has speeded the growth and globalization of typography.
None of this growth would be possible without the technology that has emerged in the last 30 years. The idea of digital type was novel in the ’70s. There was really only one company, URW in Hamburg, in the field. In the early ’80s Adobe brought out digital outline fonts for PCs and a page description language, Postscript, for laser printers. By 1981 the first digital type foundry was started—Bitstream.
Desktop screens came to be populated with simple digital fonts. s. All of this was possible with digital design tools. The first type design app, Fontographer, came out in 1988. Soon smaller one-person type foundries appeared, like Emigre and The Font Bureau (which I helped start).
Quickly the tools became more robust. Type design was automated, and the product finishing was handled by software. As in many areas, the designers are now also coders. Font design can begin with a line of Python, just typography may start in the CSS codes of HTML.
Code communities have gathered around tools like Robofont, Fontlab and Glyphs. Working on the same platforms has enabled type designers to collaborate around the world, in a way that has not been seen since the standard “type height” of metal era.
Automation has enabled a single designer big type families with dozens of “weights,” “widths” and “sizes” in a matter of weeks instead of years. And teams can tackle the CKJ fonts (Chinese, Korean, Japanese) in a matter of months, not decades.
The code base for type is itself becoming global. As most devices use HTML for their displays, the implementation of web fonts and responsive design is leading to programs where the fonts can be made aware of the user’s environment and behavior. Adaptive, or responsive fonts are around the corner.
Driving this development, are the demands of globalization and branding.
These are the themes of Typographics magazine. I’m looking forward to this proof-of-concept period, and urge you to contribute your comments and ideas.