Sunday, March 15, 2009

Recent type questions — well, two but related

First a colleague asked me if I thought Century Gothic was an acceptable typeface for running book text. No. The typeface is a redesign of Sol Hess' knockoff of Futura, Twentieth Century Gothic, but even stiffer and more geometric. The art + design department did have some drawers of Twentieth Century in metal along with some Vogue which was also a Futura knockoff. They are all geometric sans serifs and you can set text in them, but you wouldn't want to have pages of it, and especially not Century Gothic since it is more geometric than the others. Short pieces of text are fine, but Futura works best since it has some very subtle modeling so the geometric quality isn't too oppressive.

A geometric sans is readable but takes some extra leading to be really comfortable and reading a lot of it is more tiring. And if you do set a lot of text in a geometric sans serif, later on in life you will regret having done it. I know because I did and I do. I once set an entire annual report in Herb Lubalin's Avant Garde typeface which was never designed to be a text face —despite the fact that ITC produced a text version — and is hard on the eyes after a short time. My only excuse is it was the 70s and it seemed like a great idea at the time. I also have an art book on Stuart Davis — one of my all time favorite painters — set in Avant Garde and I hate reading it. The pictures are nice though.

Another colleague asked me if there was a Herb Lubalin of today. After thinking it over the answer was "no." Lubalin was an extremely gifted designer who questioned the traditional rules of typography. His work is important because he did things you weren't supposed to do, like setting text all caps in an extra bold weight type with negative leading like this, and in doing so invented some different approaches which were quickly copied by other designers and became standards of the day. Some of his typographic manipulations also became design school projects, some still in use today. His typographic puns with headlines showed up in student work for years. But Lubalin wasn't doing any of this out of whimsy, he was very conscious of doing things that made the text more readable even if it was harder to read. Sometimes you would read the text just to see what was going on. His work was always exciting and that excitement drew readers.

Most young designers today are too trend conscious and most of them wouldn't know how to break any design rules because they don't know there are any. It seems like all the rules have been discarded to the point where few designers can produce something new and different. There is too much amateurish, thoughtless and pointless design work that exists mostly because it can.  And a lot of old ideas are getting rehashed by a generation of designers who don't realize these are old ideas because they slept through most of their design history class. And the internet has made it possible for designers all over the world to jump on the latest thing and overuse it to death within days where it used to take months or years for a new trend to run its course. The swirly curls that were popular — I hope it's "were" — lived on long after they were unique. Once someone had a tutorial online that should have made it clear this was a dead trend.

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