Posts tagged ‘typeface design’


A tribute to Massimo Vignelli

29.05.2014

The below ran in Lucire today, though it is equally suited to the readers of this blog.


RIT

Massimo Vignelli, who passed away on May 27, was a hero of mine. When receiving the news shortly before it hit the media in a big way, from our mutual friend Stanley Moss, this title’s travel editor and CEO of the Medinge Group, I posted immediately on Facebook: ‘It is a sad duty to note the passing of Massimo Vignelli, one of my heroes in graphic design. When I was starting out in the business, Massimo was one of the greats: a proponent of modernism and simple, sharp typography. His influence is apparent in a lot of the work done by our brand consultancy and in our magazines, even in my 2013 mayoral campaign graphics. A lot of his work from half a century ago has stood the test of time. There was only one degree of separation between us, and I regret that we never connected during his lifetime. The passing of a legend.’
   This Facebook status only scratches the surface of my admiration for Vignelli. There have been more comprehensive obits already (Fast Company Design rightly called him ‘one of the greatest 20th century designers’), detailing his work notably for the New York subway map, and—curiously to me—glossing over the effect he had on corporate design, especially in the US.
   Vignelli, and his wife Lella, a designer in her own right and a qualified architect, set up the Vignelli Office of Design and Architecture in Milano in 1960, which had clients including Pirelli and Olivetti. In 1965, they moved to New York and Vignelli co-founded Unimark International (with Ralph Eckerstrom, James Fogelman, Wally Gutches, Larry Klein, and Bob Noorda), where he was design director. It was the world’s largest design and marketing firm till its closure in 1977.
   The 1960s were a great time for Vignelli and his corporate identities. He worked on American Airlines, Ford, Knoll, and J. C. Penney, and the work was strictly modernist, often employing Helvetica as the typeface family. Vignelli was known to have stuck with six families for most his work—Bodoni was another, a type family based around geometry that, on the surface, tied in to his modernist, logical approach. However, there were underlying reasons, including his belief that Helvetica had an ideal ratio between upper- and lowercase letters, with short ascenders and descenders, lending itself to what he considered classic proportions. The 1989 WTC Our Bodoni, created under Vignelli’s direction by Tom Carnase and commissioned by Bert di Pamphilis, adheres to the same proportions.
   Although my own typeface design background means that I could not adhere to six, there is something to be said for employing a logical approach to design. American corporate design went through a “cleaning up” in the 1960s, with a brighter, bolder sensibility. Detractors might accuse it of being stark, the Helveticization of American design making things too standard. Yet through the 1970s the influence remained, and to my young eyes that decade, this was how professional design should look, contrary to the low-budget work plaguing newspapers and books that I saw as I arrived in the occident.
   When the Vignellis left Unimark to set up Vignelli Associates in 1971 (and later Vignelli Designs in 1978), their stamp remained. The MTA launched Vignelli’s subway map the following year, and like the London Underground map by Harry Beck in 1931, it ignored what was above ground in favour of a logical diagram with the stops. Beck was a technical draftsman and the approach must have found favour with Vignelli, just as it did with those creating maps for the Paris MĂ©tropolitain and the Berlin U-bahn.
   New Yorkers didn’t take to the Vignelli map as well as Londoners and Parisians, and it was replaced in 1979 with one that was more geographically accurate to what was above ground.
   In 1973, Vignelli worked on the identity for Bloomingdale’s, and his work endures: the Big Brown Bag is his work, and it continues to be used by the chain today. Cinzano, Lancia and others continue with Vignelli’s designs.
   Ironically, despite a rejection of fashion in favour of timelessness, some of the work is identified with the 1960s and 1970s, notably thanks to the original cut of Helvetica, which has only recently been revived (a more modern cut is commonplace), and which is slightly less popular today. Others, benefiting from more modern layout programs and photography, look current to 2010s eyes, such as Vignelli Associates’ work for the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
   The approach taken by Lucire in its print editions has a sense of modernism that has a direct Vignelli influence, including the use of related typeface families since we went to retail print editions in 2004. Our logotype itself, dating from 1997, has the sort of simplicity that I believe Vignelli would have approved of.
   Vignelli was, fortunately, fĂȘted during his lifetime. He received the Compasso d’Oro from ADI twice (1964 and 1998), the AIGA Gold Medal (1983), the Presidential Design Award (1985), the Honorary Royal Designer for Industry Award from the Royal Society of Arts (1996), the National Lifetime Achievement Award from the Cooper–Hewitt National Museum of Design (2003), among many. He holds honorary doctorates from seven institutions, including the Rochester Institute of Technology (2002). Rochester has a Vignelli Center for Design Studies, whose website adheres to his design principles and where educational programmes espouse his modernist approach. It also houses the Vignellis’ professional archive.
   He is survived by his wife, Lella, who continues to work as CEO of Vignelli Associates and president of Vignelli Designs; their son, Luca, their daughter, Valentina Vignelli Zimmer, and three grandchildren.

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Joseph Churchward, QSM: a tribute

30.04.2013


Joe Churchward, on my last visit to his home in Hataitai in 2012.


Joe’s wall at his home in Hataitai.


Two of Joe’s business cards, given to me at my last visit.

I started the day with the sad news that Joseph Churchward, QSM, has passed away.
   Joe was a great typeface designer, but, more importantly, a pioneer. He wasn’t the first type designer in New Zealand, but he was certainly the most prolific, and, in the modern era, a trail-blazer.
   It’s all the more impressive when you realize that Joe did his type design without the aid of computers—he remained sceptical of technology right to the end—using his hand, with pencil to create the outline, then inking them, and whiting out any areas where the ink had gone too far. He left the digitalization of his work to others, including the companies that sought out his designs, most notably Berthold of Germany, through which he had had numerous releases.
   Joe’s work was marketable right to the end. New typefoundries approached Joe to license his designs, authors still sought him out to write books about him, and even Te Papa held an exhibition of his work a few years ago as it realized Wellington had a living legend right under our noses. Massey University inducted him into its Hall of Fame, although when he was honoured, he was already too ill to attend.
   My own contact with Joe didn’t begin well. I had made the decision in the 1980s to go into typeface design professionally, and, of course, Churchward International Typefaces was the best known name. And it was right here in Wellington. Making my way up to Wang House on Willis Street, I was confronted with a notice: that the company had been wound up the week before. Later, I discovered that Joe had packed up for Samoa, where he was from.
   Joe was very proud of his forebears, and the English origin of his name—but he was equally proud of his Samoan and Chinese ancestry. Despite being born in Samoa, he embraced Wellington wholeheartedly, living in Kilbirnie in his youth—I seem to recall him telling me of a residence in Tacy Street—and hanging out with ‘the Māori boys’. He enrolled at what was then Wellington Technical College and some of his early hand-lettering work was created there. However, an incident there also meant that Joe could not get back into hand-lettering in his final years: a fight at the college saw a glass door smash on to his hand, a serious injury that had the principal order him to go to hospital, where surgery was performed.
   Joe was arguably the pioneer in typeface design in New Zealand as far as photo-lettering was concerned, and was, to my knowledge, the designer who had the greatest number of designs turned in to typefaces for phototypesetting. I still have, somewhere among my files, a photograph from the late 1960s taken at Churchward International Typefaces, which featured Mark Geard and Paul Clarke, two well respected names in the industry. But Joe’s scepticism toward the computer age saw the company suffer, and I would not meet Joe till 2000 after he returned from Samoa.
   That first meeting was a lengthy one but, strangely, we never discussed our methods. We only discussed our finished designs, and Joe actually asked me to collaborate with him a few years later. Nothing came of that, as I was gearing up to do Lucire in print at that point, and it was an opportunity missed. My own interest in typeface design was probably less strong come the mid-2000s—Joe was easily the more passionate—but we stayed in touch, usually by telephone.
   On hearing of how ill he was, I visited him last year, and it was only then that we discovered that we actually adopted the same approach to design. The scale we drew at, the pencil-and-ink-and-whitening method—perhaps those were borne out of the limits we had. We had both started before desktop typeface design became the norm, and we both settled on the same method of drawing our creations. And we both did this in isolation, not knowing of peers—we just knew we had a love of drawing type forms by hand.
   Joe lamented that he could no longer draw because that College injury meant that he could not hold a pen properly. While in very good spirits, I could sense that Joe was pained by this. He had had a lifetime of creating, but now he was forced to sit back, watch a bit of telly, and reminisce. But the visit was a fantastic one, and the sparkle came back every now and then: Joe remained genuinely excited about type design, even to the last days. My colleague and I were gifted posters and business cards from the heyday of Churchward International Typefaces, items which we will cherish even more deeply knowing it was one of Joe’s last gestures to his peers.
   I might go on about how I began designing type digitally, but that’s not that pioneering. At least by then I had copies of U&lc and the knowledge of others who were designing type offshore. Joe began his career postwar, at a time when international communications were not as good and there was less inspiration around. Instead, he found that within himself, found the way forward himself, and just went for it. Joe was the embodiment of the Kiwi can-do attitude, and a focused Samoan work ethic. The typeface design industry is weaker today with this loss.

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The modern phone shifts how I consume technology—but only slightly

05.11.2012

This has been my year for acquiring new technology, beginning with a new external hard drive just after Christmas 2011, to a new desktop machine right after New Year. The keyboard, printer, scanner have all given way to replacements; while even the internet package and modem are new. TelstraClear then gave me a new freebie (since the NZPO days I’ve never paid for a phone) èŻç‚ș (Huawei) cell and while I could hardly be called a typical user—it’s the last mode of communication with me and I don’t always carry it—the ïŹrst few days (since Thursday) with the gadget suggests how I might change the way I consume technology.
   First, the money. Because this device sucks up more bandwidth and because wifi in Wellington is still patchy (it might have been different if the mayoral race finished in a different order!), I’ve opted to pay NZ$15 for extra megabytes each month. I’m already paying roughly that but that was on an old 3G device. It’s not a powerful device, which means there are foreseeable memory issues, and while I’ve stuck an old 2 Gbyte Micro SD card inside it, that’s not going to accommodate much now that the photos are larger, and the videos I store need to be.
   The big screen needs to be protected: my Facebook feed had seen far too many complaints about broken Iphone screens, so I ordered a leather case on Ebay for under US$5. It sure beat one on Amazon for over US$30, plus shipping. Already this gadget is costing me and not gaining me much in efïŹciency. A new 32 Gbyte card will set me back another NZ$40 and I’m not convinced I need it yet for efïŹciency’s sake.
   Secondly, the division of tasks: I can foresee the desktop machine being for the heavy-duty work stuff, as it is for a lot of people, and portable devices being used for leisure. Nothing earth-shattering or pioneering about that prediction. The apps still aren’t there yet, and what is more likely going to happen is that these devices become walking CPUs that communicate with more traditional peripherals, but for now, it’s been useful as a camera and social media tool. Which means the PC is for everything else. It is proof, to me, that Microsoft made the right punt with Windows 8 as personal computing is shifting very rapidly this decade away from the desktop-bound model that started in the 1980s.
   I doubt I will go to email on the go—the way I archive for legal reasons means that I’ll continue to use a traditional client and I still don’t trust the cloud for email—which points, again, to portable meaning leisure. It’s a camera, social media updater, and video player. Since I almost never give out the number, since that would mean succumbing to the technology and losing control over how I manage telephony, it’s not going to make the jump into a work tool.
   It’s also not that reliable, which makes it largely a plaything. Just as I could crash Google Chrome in almost every session—earning it the dubious nickname of ‘the “Aw, snap” browser’—I can crash this one almost every hour. Since it’s Android, I assume the browser is made by Google. Plus everything is connected back to a Google account, and no matter how hard I try to maintain my privacy, Google will inevitably leak.
   Google forced me to open a Gmail even though I had an existing Google Plus account. I’ve since deleted the Gmail but it remains associated with Google Play and its apps. After opening that, I went browsing through the Dashboard to ïŹnd out some disturbing things. Even though I never linked my YouTube account with my Google one, Google still managed to track that I had viewed about a dozen videos from a few months ago. It had the history in YouTube turned on as well as targeted advertising, which I had clearly opted out of (and made a big hoo-ha about it at the time because of Google’s deceptive conduct—it shows that that deception never ended despite my getting the NAI involved). And, naturally, when you visit the YouTube privacy page, you get a 404—which shows how much Google cares about privacy.
   I regularly turn off the apps and have a lot of the privacy locked down on the cell. But I don’t think the US and Australian governments have much to fear from China on these Huawei phones. Google is learning a lot, lot more about us than China ever could.
   The keyboard is inefïŹcient, though the design of it is as good as it can be. I can’t think of a better way.
   Yet despite all this, there are plus sides. Mobile optimization for some sites is beautiful and the crash-prone browser renders things well. (A friend suggested Opera, and while I like the less graphics-intensive pages, it interprets pages with plenty of glitches, including spacing ones, which are less forgiving on a modern cell.) The Droid typeface family from Ascender Corp. has to be the number-one reason for making it appealing—my Iphone friends liked what they saw with the UI in general and felt it an improvement on what they have. And for those who are visually driven, rather than aurally, then the Huawei makes for a nice little device. I like the Tumblr app on it so some of my procrastination sites can be put on the gadget.
   End of story: I’m far too ingrained in my habits to become a regular cell user. I’ll still leave it lying about at home for the most part. But on the days when I expect a call from someone, or when I need to take a quick photo, I can see it being indispensable—with much more pleasant graphics built in. And if it becomes the plaything for social media, then I might have fewer distractions when I do my real job on the desktop. Being able to divide the tasks, to me, is a very good thing—because it helps put me in charge of the technology again.

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Posted in business, China, culture, design, internet, New Zealand, technology, USA, Wellington | 3 Comments »


Testing new type live on Lucire

05.04.2012

Over the last week, we’ve added font-face linked fonts to three of our websites: Lucire, Lucire Men and Lucire Home.
   The difference is that we haven’t done it to the titles, but the body type this time. It’s a test-bed for our latest design, which I’ll reveal more information on shortly. In the case of Lucire Men, the same family has been used for the headlines.
   I realize that some recommend that the body type not be linked, since it adds to the download time. I was very conscious of this. However, we have tested the pages on a slower, older computer and while there is a slight lag, it’s barely noticeable. The type already appears on the page and simply changes to the linked fonts shortly afterward.
   Call me a sucker for double-f ligatures, but I’m enjoying the fact they come up without coding in the HTML for them:

Lucire Men headline

   It was also a good chance to see how the new family worked as web fonts, and how they hinted. There are a few quirks, but nothing too serious. It’s our first time showing off a new design in use before launch.
   The Cleartype application isn’t that perfect on Windows, but it appears beautifully on Android and Ubuntu. We’ve also been testing the typefaces in-house on Apple Macintosh OS X, Windows Vista and Windows 7.
   I thank Dan Gordon for giving me his opinion on how the type displayed on the three sites (Lucire was the last to be converted). The lower-traffic ones were first, serving as test-beds.
   I’m now tempted to use this family for this personal site and blog, once I figure out what the new look and feel will be.

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Private I

05.04.2012

Here’s a quick post for Easter, from my friend Wayne Thompson of Australian Type Foundry. If you want decent typographic puns, you need a typeface designer—not some of those groan-worthy ones that get circulated by those outside the industry.

Private I from Wayne Thompson on Vimeo.

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Finishing off 2011 with the most fun radio interview I have ever done

31.12.2011

Photo by Xavier Collin/Snapstar Live

Friday morning’s interview with Sonia Sly on Kiwi Summer was the most fun I have ever had on radio.
   Radio New Zealand National was the most fair and balanced medium I dealt with when running for Mayor of Wellington in 2010, and I was glad that Sonia thought of me for its summer programming this year.
   I joked to friends prior to the interview that 2011 was much like 2010: go on to National Radio to dis the Wellywood sign in the first half of the year, and have a fun interview in the second half.
   This was a casual, fun interview thanks to Sonia putting me at such ease. It goes on for a healthy 17 minutes, covering my involvement in Lucire, judging the Miss Universe New Zealand pageant, my branding work, including the Medinge Group, and my typeface design career. The feedback I have had is that people enjoyed it, and I’d like to share it with you all here.
   Here’s the link, and you can always find it at the Kiwi Summer page for the day, where other formats are listed.
   And if you’re wondering where the opening reading comes from, it’s taken from this review of the Aston Martin V8 Vantage I penned many years ago.

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Intellectual property doesn’t deserve a black mark, but some powers-that-be do

22.11.2011

After being interviewed about the outcome of the ‘Wellywood’ sign vote yesterday (a summary of what I told Newstalk ZB can be found on my Facebook fan page) I was reminded about how a few Wellingtonians, who supported my quest to stop the sign in 2010 and 2011, were not that thrilled that I used intellectual property law as my technique.
   Those following this in 2010 and 2011 might remember that I was the person who called up the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce and the Hollywood Sign Trust, and was, last year, the mayoral candidate most active in trying to stop Wellington Airport from erecting the sign at the Miramar cutting. This year, with no local election to be concerned about, I remained active, more so upon seeing just how arrogant the Airport’s “leadership” was, before it flip-flopped again by saying that it should consult with the public (the same public it called insignificant weeks before).
   And yet, months later, I was also miffed about the Copyright Act amendments and the introduction of the “three strikes” law, one which the Government seems to be uncertain about as it supports it at home, and opposes it at the United Nations.
   This is not a populist about-turn on my part. I have a view of intellectual property which was refined in part by my time at law school, where I sat the first IP paper offered formally by Victoria University, and my work for TypeRight, the advocacy organization, which wound up winning an award from Publish magazine in the US. This experience leaned toward copyright, more than trade mark and patent, though I secured reasonable experience in TMs working in brand consulting and acting as an expert witness. Through that exposure, I began with the classical argument that the protection of authors, and rewarding them, are good things. No protection, no incentive.
   But, this must be balanced by the rule of law. What we had before the latest amendments to the Copyright Act already worked. Copyright owners could, indeed, pursue infringers, and a plaintiff and a defendant could fairly be represented in a tribunal. It would be up to the copyright owner to front up with a statement of claim, and they had better be ready with sufficient proof to make the case air-tight—just as any other plaintiff in a New Zealand court would require. That seems fair. I have relied on American law often when it came to pursuing piracy of our articles, and, again, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act there worked well in giving both sides a fair hearing without the presumption of guilt.
   As argued in some depth in 2009, and again in 2011, the three-strikes law—which, I might note, the PM was against before he was for, as was the Hon Peter Dunne MP—puts the power firmly in the hands of the copyright owner, so that a defendant has to discharge the presumption of guilt. A copyright owner, as we have learned, can get an ISP to do its dirty work in New Zealand, sending out infringement notices to its customers. Whatever I learned in that IP class at uni, I had always believed the law would take place in a fair forum, and that the common-law presumption of innocence would always stand. What is happening here runs counter to that idea.
   To be fair and balanced here, I should note that the law was proposed under Labour, and received the support of Labour when argued in Parliament, which makes me wonder whether the duty of being Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition was fulfilled properly during the debates.
   Such laws, unfortunately, do the idea of copyright no credit. They have sullied the good work that copyright has done in most of our recent history by protecting those who sought it, and deserved it. I think of those who were in the typeface design business with me, who opted to protect their works. Some designers only make a few dozen dollars per annum from a font that might have taken them six weeks to produce. Typically, $300 is a figure I hear for a design that doesn’t make the big time—and the majority do not, just like in music.
   European Commission VP for the Digital Agenda, Neelie Kroes, told the Forum d’Avignon on November 19 a similar story: ’97·5 pe rcent of one of the biggest collecting society’s members in Europe receive less than 
 €1,000 a month for their copyright works.’
   As reported in The Register, ‘Kroes said, copyright as it now stands is failing to deliver the economic rewards that are supposed to be its aim. At the same time, “citizens increasingly hear the word copyright and hate what is behind it. Many see the current system as a tool to punish and withhold, not a tool to recognize and reward.”’
   The Register concludes:

In the context of the public’s increasing resistance to punitive measures such as America’s SOPA, New Zealand’s three-strikes disconnection notice regime, the acrimonious “iiTrial” in Australia (backed by the MPAA via its local sockpuppet AFACT), it’s also interesting to note that Kroes mentions the intermediary business just once in her speech – since, at least to The Register, it seems that most of the public’s hatred of copyright appears to stem from how the intermediaries approach it.

   The distinction needs to be drawn. We shouldn’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. What we should be weary of are not just the intermediaries as The Register notes, but some of the parties who inspire, lobby and even offer to draft these laws. It seems those parties are often those who care little for the thoughts of the community, whether it be an Airport CEO, or politicians who are so inept at understanding their subject they confuse fact with fiction.
   While I will not be drawn on who will get my electorate and party votes for this General Election, the behaviour of some of the powers-that-be seem to support those who claim that we no longer live in democracies in the occident, but plutocracies.

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A few more swashes for JY Pinnacle Italic

15.07.2011

Pinnacle Italic Pro

JY Pinnacle Italic will be re-released as a Pro version shortly, and above are some of the extra characters we’ve added.
   I know the swash k still needs work, and it will be fixed up by the time of release.
   Pinnacle always had a decent bunch of ligatures, but if you have the chance to add more thanks to OpenType, then why not?
   Hard to believe I originally drew this over 15 years ago—it really doesn’t seem that long ago.

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ArchĂŠological evidence that QuickDraw GX existed

09.06.2011


Here’s a glyph inside JY Integrity that never got used beyond the original publicity in the mid-1990s.
   Before there was OpenType, there was QuickDraw GX, and I was part of the consortium trying to sort out the character set, along with Allan Haley and others. We were using this newfangled collaboration tool called the internet. Cheekily, I did a gx glyph so we could tout the Integrity family as GX-compatible. It was in the original brochures in 1993 or thereabouts.
   As history tells us, QuickDraw GX never took off, but the glyph is still inside the font family. Just for fun, we’ve kept it in the Pro version of the fonts, out later this year. It’s not linked to any alternative sets in OpenType, but it is accessible as part of the character map.

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