Please Explain: Typography

Friday, September 11, 2009

Our latest Please Explain is all about typefaces and typography. Typeface designer Jonathan Hoefler, type designer and president of Hoefler & Frere-Jones and Steven Heller, co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts and author of the VISUALS column for the New York Times Book Review, will explain how typefaces are created and why typography is important to communication and design.


Steven Heller and Jonathan Hoefler,

Comments [46]

George G from NYC

Jim, I agree with (9) Veronica & (44) Kai.

for you to say... "Technology makes communication more democratic. 30 years ago, a client would never conceive of creating something by themselves. Typography and millions of fonts are now accessible to the masses. " mean just becasue it out there anybody can do it!

Of course if you have MS Word, you can create a simple flyer or if you have a pencil you can write on a piece of paper.. No.

Talent and understanding of these tools give you the ability to create a visual appealing flyer or poster, to communicate an idea or even to draw amazing pictures.

Please do not underestimate the talent and creativity of art & design. We have worked hard to maintain a standard, and it is getting harder all the time, with fast moving technology.

You should be helping to promote your profession not diminish it. without it we are all robots!

Sep. 14 2009 01:52 PM
Bill Hendricks from Minneapolis, Minnesota

Thanks for the show! Set it up for my type students. After three weeks of class, they have the terminology to understand you and your panel's discussion.

Sep. 13 2009 10:37 AM

Jim you must be am outdated print designer, and despite 25 years of practice some how do not understand the breath and depth of the PROFESSION of design. There are many fields of design emerging with the advent of new technology and new demands that NEEDS people who are competent enough to design. Much of what is emerging on the horizon is not something a client can do themselves and need people who who have high level thinking and problem solving skills.
The problem with your comment is that you debase design down to picking out of a 1000 fonts and opening illustrator. That is a very narrow view and does not encompass the scope of the design profession.

Sep. 13 2009 09:23 AM

Helvetica or Arial quiz:

(Gosh, I really need to listen to this episode, already.)

Sep. 12 2009 12:31 PM
Hannes F. Famira from Berlin, Germany

Wonderful show, congratulations all around! As an aside, did Mr Heller get his facts wrong? Im Januar 1941 Hitler's secretary Martin Bormann issued the 'Schrifterlass' outlawing Fraktur typefaces as Judenletter. Roman type was mandatory and from that point on referred to as 'Normal-Schrift'. The reason behind this move was that Hitler, being very aware of the importance of propaganda had realized that nobody was reading German newspapers abroad. Please compare Hans Peter Willberg, 'Fraktur and Nationalism', in: Blackletter: Type and National Identity, edited by Peter Bain and Paul Shaw (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 1998)

Sep. 12 2009 04:21 AM
Francine from Central NJ

THANK YOU! What a great talk for my Typography class I teach at college!

Sep. 11 2009 05:56 PM
Grace from Oceanside

Excellent show! Judging by the comments, your listeners are lovers of typography. More shows like this, please.

Sep. 11 2009 04:27 PM

Chris [37] re: "One comment - please stop confusing typefaces with logos." I think the correct word is logotype. :)

Sep. 11 2009 04:03 PM
Kathy Olen from Clifton NJ

Great show! Please make it available as a pod cast. I teach typography and would love for my students to hear the discussion.

Sep. 11 2009 02:06 PM
Chris from Brooklyn

Great show! One comment - please stop confusing typefaces with logos. Although specific letters from typefaces are often used to create logos or sometimes logos are set in a typeface, they are often adjusted or redrawn to make the logo proprietary to the client.

Sep. 11 2009 02:01 PM
Craig Brown from West Orange, NJ

Thanks guys, Great show,

Sep. 11 2009 01:58 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Oh, yeah--your mention of italic reminds me that in Arial, it can be hard to tell that a word is italicized. I usually code for underlining instead if I want to emphasize something.

Sep. 11 2009 01:58 PM
Mary Sealfon from Monroe, Ny

As a young Art Director and designer in the 70's I loved using small (8 point) type so I could empasize the Headlines and visuals on the magazine pages I was designing. When my (older) editor complained, I grudgingly enlarged it to 9 point. Photo type was replacing hot metal. I had fun using the new psychadelic etc. faces that were possible. Today I am terribly annoyed when the type is smaller than 10pt as it is so difficult to read.

Sep. 11 2009 01:57 PM
Craig Brown from West Orange, NJ

Why are Tuscan fonts called that?

Sep. 11 2009 01:57 PM
Craig Brown from West Orange, NJ

Many typefaces started out only as logos, then were expanded later, Much of Ed Benguiat's work is like that, throuhg the help of Ken Barber at House Industries

Sep. 11 2009 01:55 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I'm the one who called in about "1s and 0s" looking like "is and os." I meant to add that the proofreaders would mark these so the magazine could change the font for the numbers in those specific instances to avoid confusion.

Sep. 11 2009 01:54 PM
Catherine from Brooklyn, NY

I would like to submit a new font design for circulation. I have been told for years that I should create it for use. How do I go about doing this? How shall I submit my design?

Catherine - Brooklyn, NY

Sep. 11 2009 01:54 PM
Craig Brown from West Orange, NJ

Do either of you want to explain the now-obsolete technology of Multiple Masters?

Sep. 11 2009 01:52 PM
Sharon from Fair Lawn NJ

Are there limitations in font design with regard to what can be read correctly by the postal service?

Sep. 11 2009 01:52 PM

To change the font that shows up in webpages, go to Tools, Internet Options, Fonts, How to ignore preset fonts.

Sep. 11 2009 01:52 PM
Joanne Jubert from Little SIlver, NJ

Other than HFJ's light in my type darkness I've lost my passion (eros as mentioned) since typography began referred to as fonts.
How did this happen? What's happened to me?

Sep. 11 2009 01:51 PM
Larry from Nyack

What are the challenges of designing fonts that look like cursive handwriting and printed handwriting?

Sep. 11 2009 01:50 PM
Paul from Long Island, NY

I have noticed that many people do not understand the difference between a word processor and typewriter. Especially when using blank spaces to indent. Since typewriters were mainly a fixed pitch. I believe that typeface education is a must.

Sep. 11 2009 01:49 PM
Jay from Norwalk, CT

can you confirm that type is not designed to be stacked! I was told that this is a design no-no.

Sep. 11 2009 01:48 PM
Amy from Manhattan

Yup. They look exactly the same! The Onion once made fun of this by running a story about Kim Jong "the 2nd."

Sep. 11 2009 01:47 PM
Craig Brown from West Orange, NJ

I love Futura, but as a block of text the lower case a makes holes in the otherwise even gray of the block of text.

FYI, Matthew also designed Verdana and Shelley

Sep. 11 2009 01:46 PM
Frank Martinez from Brooklyn

Kindly ask Messers Hoefler and Heller to discuss "WEBFONT" technology and its impact on the Internet.

Sep. 11 2009 01:46 PM
Texto from NYC

Could you ask about Copyrights for fonts. With so many similar fonts and things I've read copyright, at least in America is difficult to obtain or at least enforce. Could you elaborate, is this true?

Sep. 11 2009 01:46 PM
ther from Brooklyn

As a scientist the greek and math symbols were only in the wi'ng dings'....Helped me write equations and other symbols used in math!!!

Sep. 11 2009 01:45 PM
Amy from Manhattan

What bothers me about too many sans serif fonts is that they make it hard--in some cases impossible--to tell capital I (eye) from lowercase l (ell), & sometimes even from the number 1. Thanks to Rachel's comment above, I can see that the font used on this page puts an angled serif on the 1, so that can be distinguished. But from what I can tell, when I send this, the pre-Post Office abbreviation for Illinois (Ill.) will look the same as the Roman numeral III.

I kinda like Optima--no serifs, but variations in line weight make it look more interesting & make it easier to tell similar characters apart.

Sep. 11 2009 01:44 PM
Craig Brown from West Orange, NJ

Great show, and hello to my fellow TDC members,

Sep. 11 2009 01:43 PM
Jim from New York

#11, Veronica, No, but you miss the point.
Technology makes communication more democratic. 30 years ago, a client would never conceive of creating something by themselves. Typography and millions of fonts are now accessible to the masses.

Sep. 11 2009 01:42 PM
Maura from New Rochelle

Wondering how did Amazon picked the type it did for the Kindle? I love my Kindle but miss the regular change in type from book to book.

Sep. 11 2009 01:41 PM
Caitlin from Jersey City

...And then there are much-reviled fonts, namely Comic Sans.

Sep. 11 2009 01:38 PM
rachel from Stamford

1) could you please explain how helvetica, arial, new times roman etc. became the the digital standards on nearly all computers?

2) for Jonathan Hoefler: the print medium continues to wane and given the nature of the interactive medium for typography... the use of type is much less controllable (i.e. kerning, leading etc) What is your prediction for the future of the art of typography?

Thank you-
Rachel Lussier
BFA, Parsons School of Design, Communication Design 1989

Sep. 11 2009 01:29 PM
Veronica from Mannahatta

#9 Just because someone has access to software, doesn't make them a designer.

Sep. 11 2009 01:27 PM
Matias Corea from New York

What are your main concerns on font piracy and how are you addressing them?

Also, how can independent designers protect their work more effectively?

Sep. 11 2009 01:14 PM

When everyone is a designer (millions have the tools to produce something, html, photoshop, illustrator), when anyone can use hundreds, if not thousands of different fonts, and everyone has a different opinion, why does graphic design still matter? As many former professions (journalism, editorial services, commercial photography) that are involved in content are diminished, why does typography matter? Content is more democratic than ever -- taste is a matter of opinion, not a fact. I have been a designer for over 25 years -- but would never recommend this as a vocation to anyone. A great avocation, but not a vocation anymore. Our society needs doctors, nurses, engineers, scientists. In a consolidated/diminished U.S. economy without as much liquidity and wealth, there is an over supply of artists/ marketers/ and writers.

Sep. 11 2009 01:01 PM
Heidi from West Orange, NJ

Beyond taking classes as an undergraduate in typography and graphic design, what can an art school graduate do, to break into this field to earn a living?

Sep. 11 2009 12:41 PM
Tony from San Jose, CA

What about the font used in LaTeX. What does make these documents stand out so much? Or is it because they space the characters and words in such a special way and it is not so much about the font itself?

Sep. 11 2009 12:09 PM

George [1] There's a nice little documentary on Helvetica:

I know that the font is very similar to Arial, but I'm not sure in what ways.

Sep. 11 2009 11:20 AM
Tony from San Jose, CA

How many fonts are there currently in use? How about Japanese and Chinese. Do they have many fonts?

Sep. 11 2009 11:14 AM
Yvette from Barcelona

Can your guest comment on the fairly new ECOFONT from the Netherlands, with the little holes within the lettering that will save as mcuh as 20% on ink? Both the visual effect, as well as the 20%.

Sep. 11 2009 10:29 AM
Veronica from Mannahatta

I've always thought of Futura as the little black dress of fonts.

Sep. 11 2009 10:24 AM
EJ Fox from Hudson Valley, NY

Can strong typography lend credibility to someone who might not deserve it?

Sep. 11 2009 08:37 AM
George from Bay Ridge

Can you explain the popularity of Helvetica?

What does Barack Obama's use of Gotham as a font say about him?

Sep. 11 2009 03:37 AM

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