Category Archives: Typography

Design: Split-flap signs

I’ve long loved the weird mechanical purring of those flappy-letter signs one sees (or at least used to see) in train stations & similar venues, but I haven’t felt like throwing down the better part of three grand to own a Vestaboard. Now maker Scott Bezek is working on an open-source project for making such signs at home, combining simple materials and code. In case you’d never peeked inside such a mechanism (and really, why would you have?) and are curious, here’s how they work:

And here, for some reason, are six oddly satisfying minutes of a sign spelling out four-letter words:

Typesetting Trains

Having a train-obsessed 11yo son who enjoys exclaiming things like, “Hey, that’s Cooper Black!,” this tour of railroad typography is 💯 up our family’s alley. (Tangential, but as it’s already on my clipboard: we’re keeping a running album of our train-related explorations along Route 66, and Henry’s been adding things like an atomic train tour to his YouTube channel.)

From the typesetting video description:

Ever since the first train services, a wide variety of guides have helped passengers understand the railways; supplementing the text with timetables, maps, views, and diagrams. Typographically speaking, the linear nature of railways and the modular nature of trains meant that successful diagrams could be designed economically by using typographic sorts. Various typographic trains and railways from the 1830s to present-day will be evaluated in terms of data visualization, decoration, and the economics of reproduction. Bringing things up to date, techniques for typesetting emoji and CSS trains are explored, and a railway-inspired layout model will be proposed for wider application in the typography of data visualization and ornamentation.

[Via Terri Stone]

Font Me, Amadeus

“The world’s first typeface you can hear and play” sounds (heh) interesting. Per DesignTaxi,

Visualizing the brilliance of Amadeus Mozart, branding agency Happy People Project has created a typeface to front communications for Peter Shaffer’s play, Amadeus, in Turkey. […]

14 numbers and letters were created in line with notes and octaves on the staff, so you could listen to them. In total, though, a massive font family of 574 characters was designed for the project.

Check it out:

Sic Transit Linotype

While camping at the funky Sierra Circles sculpture garden/pottery studio/winery, this past weekend, we came across an old Linotype machine hanging out in a field—one of 40+ presses that once existed there, before most were sold to China for scrap. Here’s a tiny gallery I captured:

This reminded my wife to share with me a cool two-minute portrait of America’s last newspaper still printed on the old gear:

New typographical brushes from Adobe turn paint into editable characters

I’ve long, long been a fan of using brush strokes on paths to create interesting glyphs & lettering. I used to contort all kinds of vectors into Illustrator brushes, and as it happens, 11 years ago today I was sharing an interesting tutorial on creating smokey text:

Now Adobe engineers are looking to raise the game—a lot.

Combining users drawn stroke inputs, the choice of brush, and the typographic properties of the text object, Project Typographic Brushes brings paint style brushes and new-type families to life in seconds.

Check out some solid witchcraft in action:

Typography: The super-fraught history of Blackletter/Fraktur

Man, who knew just how much cultural identity could be wrapped up in a style of printing?

This excellent 99% Invisible episode covers the origins of blackletter printing (faster & more reliable for medieval scribes), the culture wars (from Luther to Napoleon) in which it battled Roman faces, its association with (and revilement by!) Nazis, and more.

Bonus: stick around for a discussion of revanchist, Trumpian mandates around government architecture, featuring that delightful term of art, CHUD. *chef’s kiss*

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Sononym: Finding sound by similarity

This audio browser app has a clever idea, though I wonder if it’d benefit from the kind of rendering that a Google project uses to let researchers visualize thousands of bird sounds via AI:

The primary innovation in Sononym is something called “similarity search”, which enable users to find similar-sounding samples in their sample collection based on any source sound. Essentially, a bit like how Google’s reverse image search works, but with audio.

The initial release focuses strictly on the core functionality of the software. That is, to offer similarity search that work with large collections of samples. Technically, our approach is a combination of feature extraction, machine learning and modern web technologies.

Not entirely dissimilar: Font Map helps you see relationships across more than 750 web fonts.

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[YouTube]

Google’s new Sketch plug-in helps you pair harmonious colors & fonts

Old Man Nack would’ve killed for this back in his designer days:

As Design Taxi writes,

“Material Theming” effectively fixes a core gripe of the original “Material Design”: that virtually every Android app looks the “same,” or made by Google, which isn’t ideal for brands.

The tool is currently available on Sketch, and you can use it by downloading the “Material” plugin on the app. Google aims to expand the system regularly, and will roll out new options such as animations, depth controls, and textures, next.

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[YouTube]

SNL savages Papyrus font

Oh, I see you nervously shifting a little, photographers. 🙂 This take-down is as hilarious as you’ve heard:

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Bonus: CBS news caught up with the font’s creator to get his reaction:

“I designed the font when I was 23 years old. I was right out of college. I was kind of just struggling with some different life issues, I was studying the Bible, looking for God and this font came to mind, this idea of, thinking about the biblical times and Egypt and the Middle East. I just started scribbling this alphabet while I was at work and it kind of looked pretty cool,” Costello said.

He added, “I had no idea it would be on every computer in the world and used for probably every conceivable design idea. This is a big surprise to me as well.”

[YouTube]

Typography: Art Text 3 can create cool, non-cheesy 3D type

It makes me sad that after 10 (!!) years of having 3D in Photoshop, I can’t think of a single time I’ve created good-looking text in it, much less anything else 3D of value. Given that PS includes a whole 3D engine, I hope that someday it’ll include easy ways to make attractive text.

In the meantime, amidst sometimes literally cheesy results, Art Text 3 ($29.99) produces some rather impressive pieces. Maybe Adobe could just license & bundle it as a plug-in. Hmm… (No, I don’t know anything you don’t know.)

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[Vimeo]

Titles: A riot of “Stranger Things” goodness

Eric Demeusy & Imaginary Forces have created some terrific titles for the new retro hit Stranger Things: 

Want some insight into the inspiration & process? Check this: 

How cool this must be for 89-year-old Ed Benguiat, creator of the iconic typeface that bears his name. “We’re back in the driver’s seat together again!” he says in this short Fast Company interview. See also “The Typography of ‘Stranger Things.'”

Oh, and would you like to make your own version? Check out Make It Stranger, with which I busted out this:

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[YouTube]

Meet the new Google Fonts

It’s “a design geek’s paradise,” the Verge writes. Check it out:

The new Google Fonts is now in line with the company’s Material Design guidelines. It has both a new logo and a far easier way to test out new fonts, compare them with others, and change preferences on the fly while viewing sample text in a four-font grid. You can filter by categories like Serif and Handwriting, sort through trending and popular fonts, filter by language, and toggle between different degrees of thickness and slant. Each of the more than 800 open source fonts available now also contains bio information on its designer, as well as statistics on its usage and a list of popular fonts to pair it with. Google Fonts will let you either download the font or give you the code to directly embed it into your site.

The view counter to date might make even McDonald’s insecure:

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[YouTube]

Google Fonts meet Aesop’s Fables

This site features lovely details (e.g. your cursor becoming a stylized fox head, vainly chasing “sour” grapes) while presenting good font pairings:

There are over 640 Google web fonts available for free. Problem is, pairing typefaces isn’t easy. And, many of the fonts in Google’s library don’t work well when applied to typical webpage (desktop) layouts. Part of the 25×52 initiative, this collaborative, ongoing project helps provide typographic inspiration for using Google’s web fonts for web applications.

Adobe & Google team up on giant open-source font

Cool news. TechCrunch writes,

Adobe and Google today announced the launch of a new open-source font for Chinese, Japanese and Korean (CJK) languages that covers 65,535 glyphs, making it one — if not the — largest font to cover these languages. The font, which was optimized for both print and screen, is now available for free through Google Fonts and through Adobe’s Typekit, where it is included in the free tier.

My friend Caleb Belohlavek of Adobe writes,

The entire family rounds out at just under half a million total glyphs. Never before has a typeface family of this magnitude, development scope, and value been offered via open source — which makes it a no-cost solution for designers, developers, and everyday users who need a font supporting a broad set of languages…

This is a rather large undertaking for any type foundry, and we couldn’t have done it without Google as a key partner.

Way to go, guys!

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Clean design quotes in motion

Nice, understated typography for Adobe’s 99u conference:

Each year at the 99U Conference we feature a motion reel of inspirational quotes from our speakers that plays in a loop throughout the conference.

How do you create a reel that you don’t get tired of? We focused on telling a story.

In past years we relied on the use of depth of field and 3D effects moving on changing axes. However, this year we focused on very few elements and simple 2-Dimensional designs that could morph into each other seamlessly, making the objects not only design elements but ‘characters’ of the story. We drew a lot of inspiration from movie title sequences we love and to the master of it all: Saul Bass.

[Vimeo]

Can technology help you improve your typography?

Adobe’s Aseem Agrawala (whom you have to thank for tons of great Photoshop features like auto-alignment/blending of layers) & Aaron Hertzmann have been working with university researchers to apply crowdsourcing data to the problem of font selection:

Have you ever been overwhelmed by the huge menu of possibilities when choosing a font? A simple menu of fonts made sense when there were 20 fonts on our computers, but now we have hundreds and even thousands. Online font repositories have over 100,000 fonts. Our interfaces our based on the idea that fonts can be described with attributes, like “friendly” or “legible;” We use crowd-sourcing and machine learning to compute attributes for any font.

[YouTube]

Street typography

Who actually writes giant letters on your road? Tom Williams caught a couple of craftsmen in the the act early one morning:

[Spoiler alert: I was hoping throughout that these guys were very cleverly disguised graffiti artists out to insert some drolly subversive message into the world, but no such luck.]

[Vimeo] [Via Lex van den Berghe]