Current 03/2009

Staying In Touch

At the early stage of email you might even get a personal response back from your head of state or your favourite super star. That situation didn't last long. Soon, most emails one received were junkmail, or spam, unsolicited offers of every kind (mostly coming from the US) that were very rarely attractive and often bizarre like therapies to enlarge sexual organs. Electronic filters were needed to free us from receiving daily tsunamis of electronic junk. We also had to learn how to deal best with the new medium and not to respond immediately. Our mind needs time to formulate appropriately. Yet, many still nearly drown in their daily load of emails, which has also became a serious productivity concern.

Nevertheless, new social network software came to the market and were highly successful. The basic idea of the social networks is that you limit communication to the people that are part your circle. All the rest is more or less excluded. But the people within the circle will be given updates of mutations automatically. Facebook started as an electronic version of the traditional yearly printed overview of university students arranged per year and faculty. The electronic version was constantly updatable by each participant and all within one's network will be notified instantly of any change. Facebook has now over 175 million active users. Facebook is no longer alone, there are many others like MySpace, LinkedIn,Yammer, Friendfeed and the latest variation called 'Twitter'. Twitter has now the status email once had. (Surely not for long). It is cool to Twitter. President Obama twitters. Twitter brought instant messaging one step further into what is now called the 'Twittosphere'. In this universe you get the news first hand, the most powerful man on the globe send out many times per day his thoughts, what he does and questions or requests he may have, all forced into a very concise format. You can become a 'follower' of the president and be informed all the time of his messages on your mobile phone. Twitterers are now the first to report any important news event happening anywhere. A Twitterer closest to the event will release pictures and short textual comments into the community from where it travels further with the speed of light. Not only important events are worth twittering, the trivial is also most welcome when part of the twittosphere. When suddenly bothered with the hickups for instance you may expect to receive many remedies within seconds from your colleague Twitters when asked. As a Twitterer you never walk alone wherever you go, you always take your community with you in your pocket. Many are now part of various social electronic networks. A little bit like carrying a collection of credit cards. Maintaining a social network is an essential ingredient to a successful professional and personal life. Associations like the AGI could transform themselves into electronic social networks. Social networks tend to be a bit extended these days. They may easily count over 1000 contacts worldwide for the already well connected. Those 1000 or so 'friends' must be serviced electronically, there is simply no other way. Everyone carrying a mobile phone is a broadcaster these days with a rather large audience. Numbers are what counts, we have all become Americans: how much do you earn, how many hits you have on google and how many contacts in your networks. There used to be a rule that one was never be further away than a chain of 8 friends from a family member. I guess this number no longer counts in the global networks of today. What is extremely frightening though - for me at last - is how these networks are publicly exposed on the internet. It has become a normal routine to google a person's name before a first encounter. It is shocking to see how much information is provided about everyone under a certain age. And the information is getting more detailed all the time. Soon your whole life is traceable on the web, including all the follies of your youth. Bear in mind that everything released through the global digital networks - never mind the level of protection - is in the public domain and will stay there into perpetuity. Always remember that. We have created our own big brother - waiting to take scrupulous advantage of our own scrutiny by anyone who feels like it. The network software makers would never hesitate to stop to go even further for this reason. They won't; they're in business. Your exact location, your heartbeat, blood pressure or whatever other function, next to any blurb of mind or impulsive snapshot you release digitally will soon be updated automatically and will be archived forever. And where do you think those softwaremakers are located on the globe and those servers that keep these data ready to be 'mined' till our planet turns black ? Doesn't anybody bother ? Has the fear of solitude become pathological to stand in the way of any natural care for privacy? You're totally out of touch if not being in touch daily with hundreds or even thousands. Let's stay in touch. Yeah, sure.

 

The End of Economic Liberty

Curiously, the French gave the Americans the icon of what became effectively a world-dominating and Anglo-Saxon concept of economic liberty, and 'a special relationship' developed between the former colonisers and the colonised. The statue came to stand for the exceptionally successful model of economic liberty that made most other economic models almost disappear.

 

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The general attraction to the 'liberty' of the US has been merely the attraction to gain freedom by having more material wealth. First, the Europeans flocked in by the millions in an attempt to find a better, more prosperous life, later followed by massive immigration from Asia and specially from South-America. The influx from Europeans stopped when the fulfillment of the 'American Dream' was more likely to occur in Europe than in the US. Materialistic factors have made the US by far the most influential and powerful nation in recent history. The explosion of global trade in combination with an over-leveraged financing system has spread material wealth at a breathtaking pace, although also contributing to an extremely embarrassing steep widening in the division of wealth. The portrait of a wealthier humanity isn't automatically a prettier one.

The American Dream recently evaporated for many. It has been a hard awakening for many living in the US, and even a tougher one for far more people living abroad. The only one that gained tremendously from this event was our beloved planet Earth. The unspeakable 'Masters of the Universe' may deserve a Nobel Prize. (Preferably delivered with a large speed on a soft spot).They contributed more to saving our environment than Nobel Prize winner Al Gore did by a long shot. The path of human civilization is ironic.

Anyway, our wake-up call was long overdue. The 6.7 billion living on the planet today will have to find another dream than the American one unless they're willing to wake-up in a graveyard some day. We are all still very reluctant to give up our old dream. We are still in the phase of denial. The Club of Rome (Limits of Growth) started more than 40 years ago to try to convince companies and nations to change economic course. In first instance, there was a higher awareness, but it was soon followed by a level of irrational exuberance of materialism the planet had never seen before. Material freedom was exposed and enjoyed at a perplexing level. A decadent 'Hummer' generation appeared. Limits of growth were assumed no longer to exist. Economic growth became our God.

The kind of freedom symbolised in the Statue of Liberty has come to a close. That dream has ended. The French lady may step down. Her days are gone. Economic growth of that kind is no longer benign but extremely malignant. Attempts to get our 'old' economy back will fail one way or the other. This is not to say that economic growth or rearrangement of wealth of some sort is no longer needed, it is, far too many still live below any acceptable poverty line. But we need another polar star to navigate us in that direction. A revolutionary change in our focus and behaviour.

We need a new symbol for a new kind of liberty. A liberty that excludes malignant growth. We unite in symbols that stand for complex doctrines, there is an urgent need for an empathetic symbol for sustainable economic activity; for another type of freedom; a healthier and more sustainable one. One that can be shared by all...

 

A Dutch Future

 

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In 1900, the Netherlands were already a densely populated country. For each Dutch person there was about 10,000 square meters of Dutch land mass available. The average Dutch household counted 4 members living in one house (apartment) of 40 square meters.

 

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In 2000, hundred years - and two World wars, many small and one big economic recession - later, the situation was quite different: the population had tripled (due for a considerable part to immigration), the average household had halved in size to two persons and these two were living in a house of twice the amount of square meters. Amsterdam for instance, more than doubled in size while losing 80% of its citizens. The amount of Holland available for each inhabitant was reduced to 2200 square meters. Holland became one of the most densely populated countries on the globe.

 

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In 2050, about 40 years from now, the situation is likely to be quite different again. The Dutch are moving into the direction of having only one person per household and if the current crisis don't last for too long, the amount of square meters per home is likely to rise further. And at the same time to be less occupied the year around. On the bright side, the Dutch population is trying to grow not as fast as in the past. Nevertheless, the amount of Dutch soil available for each person is likely to be less than is available today in the suburbs of the Dutch cities. An escape to the countryside within their own country will be no longer a realistic option for the Dutch. Daily commuting will rise to over 50 kilometers per person and Dutch holidays will become complete population exoduses to other continents. Already today, more flights than the amount of Dutch inhabitants are booked each year outside of the country to ever further destinations. The country is already visibly more empty on every of the many holidays the Dutch have per year.

Beyond 2050, the Low Lands can still grow as one big city-country. There will still be room. The city of Paris - within the belt road - has 100 square meters per citizen. Parts of Holland can grow to a density of that level. By that time, the Dutch landscapes shown on the 17th century paintings will have disappeared completely, while a few of these views can still be seen today.

The Dutch have to keep their dykes, though and even make them higher. Already half the country is under sea level and that part is growing at an accelerating pace caused by rising sea levels.

 

Typographic Travails 2

And we know that the conscious mind is not the only steering force behind our actions. For art and design, the actual (manual) doing is essential and the motivation (the ideas) behind the creative action are often an afterthought; a construct.

For hundreds of years type design and type production were closely related. So were the creation of new type styles or new technology and the craft needed for the production. Each matrice of each letter in each size had to be produced by hand. The eyes steering the hands that made the type matrices created in a natural way the most comfortable letters for the eyes that were later to read them. It was an ideal production method to ensure functionality, but it was rather time consuming. A skilled punch-cutter could produce no more than about 3 punches per day. The Industrial Revolution extended the human hands with far faster machines. The pantograph speeded type matrice production considerably, one needed only one 'master' to create in a simple mechanical way all other type sizes. Production speed benefited at the cost of reading quality.

 

TypographicTravels2
Above: screen representation (grid-fitting) has been given all concern (top), but the visual adaptation of type size hardly any.

 

Phototypesetting and digital type production didn't change much in a fundamental sense as far as dealing with type sizes is concerned. Only production speed reached eventually astronomical levels. Creating a complete 'new' set of type 'matrices' for a 'new' typeface, now taking only seconds. (Font piracy has become shockingly simple). Phototypesetting still depended heavily on the mechanical quality of production machines, digital production made everything a stream of consecutive mathematical formulas executed at the speed of light. Phototypesetting still needed physical masters, digital production no longer needs it.

Digital production made it possible to base the type design entirely on mathematical formulas. This kind of typefaces were created - although not by type designers - but this design method never made it to the mainstream. Making 'outlines' of each individual glyph in the character set - with the help of a scanner and/or illustration software - remained close to the 'traditional' way of designing type. For the rest, the digital environment changed everything else fundamentally. Typefaces can now become extremely complex pieces of software loaded with digital instructions and containing many thousands of individual letters. Using our publishing software we can now influence every aspect of the individual letter shape even up to absurd levels. The difference in 'output' of typography was a new phenomena: a typeface may appear on a screen with a resolution of 72 dpi or be produced for print with a resolution of 2400 dpi or higher. This large variety in output quality has been considered of great importance by the type community.

It is interesting to see that the adaption of type size, although quite important to create the highest quality typeface, has been of little or no interest to the type community. There are typefaces around that have extended their font families with variations to be used specifically for captions, running text and headings, but these typefaces are rare. One would expect that algorithms would have been developed that deal with these basic matters of visual perception automatically. Comparable kind of mathematical formulas were developed to help solve the problem of reproduction resolution. But oddly enough never for the optical adaptation of type size.

 

Typographic Travails 1

Type designers are rarely outstanding typographers. And graphic designers approach type design in a fundamentally different way - even with the easy-to-use type design tools available today. Most of the time they produce so called display type; too eccentric in shape to be used for running text of a publication (without risking a severe migraine attack).

Type designers tend to be a bit of a traditional lot. They stick to their professional mores and behave at times like freemasons cultivating secret ceremonies. They have issues letting outsiders in. The best known type design course is at the University of Reading in the UK. This is undoubtedly the most intellectually pompous design education on the globe, and this school must be the reason that all type designers end their correspondence with 'Cheers'. Technology has always been important to type design, so type designers are likely to be a bit nerdy and their natural love for detail frequently borders on the pathological. (In the Dutch language we refer to this kind of activity as 'ant-screwing'.) They easily get lost in the details at the cost of considering how their designs might be applied by their (graphic) design colleagues. In return (typo)graphic designers rarely give sensible feedback to type designers. Stronger even, most graphic designers struggle to produce decent typography. (And typography courses are in some graphic design schools entirely absent). The graphic designer's interest in typography is on average painfully superficial, although there has never been more excellent books about typography around than today.

Three samples to illustrate this peculiar phenomena.

 

Oversized Numerals (Figures)

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Small cap & Old Style numerals (Cartier)

 

Most numerals will be used in the running text. Since the start of moveable type numerals were therefore designed to match visually with lowercase letters. Today, we call this type of numerals 'Old Style' or 'Mediaeval'. Then came the Industrial Revolution and type became 'modern', which meant designed to be used on posters and billboards. For some reason this resulted in the numerals becoming part of the collection of capital letters in the character set. Curiously, never to leave this position ever since. That is quite remarkable since the use of numerals in cap-size is practically almost pointless. They are too big, for no sensible reason. Especially in the US, 'Old Style' numerals were considered old fashioned for mysterious reasons. Dutch type designers were the first to design 'Old style' numerals for sans-serif fonts. A logical and very sensible extension of the character set, but a blasphemy to the less liberal typographic design community. I remember that I wanted to use (around 1985) a typeface with a set of numerals in small-cap size for a identity commission of the Dutch Central Bank. This bank issues many publications piled up with numbers, so economy of space was important. It turned out that typefaces with smal cap numerals did not exist. Nowhere. So we asked a Dutch type designer (Fred Smeijers) to make an additional set for an existing typeface. One would expect that we would have set off a trend with the design of another sensible addition. Well, no, not really. If we did after all, it was a very slow moving one, even in the Low Lands. There are typefaces around today that include a set of small cap numerals, so there has been some improvement, but these fonts are still quite rare.

Font Anorexia

 

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Letterpress darling Bembo was confined to live as an anorexia patient for the rest of her life in offset print.

 

Around 1950 the traditional letterpress printing method was for the best part replaced by offset printing. Within decades letterpress would disappear altogether. The imprint of a letterpress typeface on paper is considerably different than the imprint of an identical typeface in offset print. The letterpress imprint is much more robust for obvious reasons. The difference is a bit like biting versus licking. Everybody knew about this phenomena, so one would expect that the type designs made for the new photo-typesetters would compensate the difference in imprint. Well, actually no, there was no difference, or there was a misconceived one that made matters worse. In most cases the old font designs were simply retraced (or photographed) for the new technology, font foundries were apparently in a rush and were hoping for the best. The type designers community collectively decided that photographic over-exposure, combined with the 'rounding' effect of the offset imprint was the most exiting professional challenge, so all type detailing was concentrated in avoiding this to occur. Making so-called 'ink traps' became an important issue at a moment when technology made it less important than ever. So inclinations in letter shapes were cut deeper than before. The body of the letter was losing material instead of gaining. The result was a collective font anorexia that lasted for about 20 years ! Most type was too thin, specially when printed in small sizes. Book typographers in Europe were so desperate that they escaped to the old letterpresses in Eastern Europe to get a pleasing result. We had to wait until deep into the era of digital type production to see that type design had found remedies to optimize the letter image for offset printing technology. Mills turn slow in the world of type design.

The Missing Arrows

 

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Adding a set of arrows to a custom corporate font makes a lot of sense.
 

Visual identity work for organisations has been the bread and butter for graphic designers since the 50s. If visual identity programs would become obsolete for some reason, the graphic design profession would be forced to ask for governmental bailout, if still available. What counts for graphic design counts just as well for type design, more today than ever before. Even middle sized organisations may benefit financially (avoiding royalty payments) by commissioning a type designer to design a custom typeface. One would expect that these typefaces would facilitate typical visual identity items like corporate signage for instance. Well, regrettably no. A set of arrows is still pretty rare in the character set of custom typefaces. We cannot blame the type designers entirely in this case. The signage design professionals have considered the design of the arrow a topic of extremely important concern that should be profoundly studied separately and not necessarily in relation to the typeface selected for the job. Well such an approach is not particularly helpful for what seems like an obvious integration in a corporate character set. This concern for the arrow as an isolated item may even be slightly overdone judged by any other functional criteria.

Professional collaboration between type designers and graphic designers is still much at arm's length. That is a pity.

 

Oscar for Film Titles

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The NYT article

Pink Panter sequence Response from Arnold Schwartzman I was interested to learn from the AGI newsletter of the NY Times article on the suggestion of creating an Oscar category for film title design. Following my Oscar win as a documentary producer/director in 1982, I was elected a member of the Academy and have since been much involved in the activities of the organization. As Chairman of the Academy's Documentary Executive Committee I lead the campaign to establish a documentary branch. Despite the fact that the Academy had given out the statuette to documentarians since 1941 we had no branch and were classified as members at large, but with perseverance in 2000 we finally prevailed.

My point is that the Board of Governors are anxious to prevent the increase in the amount of branches or the proliferation of awards. (There are 25 categories at present) However the decision-makers are not inflexible in embracing an legitimate claim. In 1995 I wrote a letter to the Academy President proposing that they consider giving a special award to Saul Bass for his contribution to the art of filmmaking. The immediate and positive response explained that, due to the prevailing rules of the Academy, they were not permitted to give an honorary award to a sitting governor, and informed me that Saul had at least one, and more likely four more years on the Board, ending with the suggestion that I re-present the proposal closer to the end of the century. Sadly Saul passed away the year following my letter.

So I do believe that a proposal for an Academy Award for film title design is not an impossible goal. There are a number of producers and directors in the Academy who have had their films enhanced by the likes of Kyle Cooper et al that I trust would champion the cause. I would therefore be happy to solicit these fellow members and to test the waters.

Arnold Schwartzman

 

Updates

Thomas Couderc work updates

Thomas Couderc has updated their work, see it here.

Clément Vauchez work updates

Clément Vauchez has updated their work, see it here.

Alexandre Dimos work updates

Alexandre Dimos has updated their work, see it here.

Yu Guang work updates

Yu Guang has updated their work, see it here.

Alan Chan work updates

Alan Chan has updated their work, see it here.

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