Posts tagged ‘typeface designer’


More Wikiality—and this time it’s about me!

13.08.2020

Goes to show how seldom I ego-search.
   Here’s something a Wikipedian wrote about me in a discussion in 2010:

Jack Yan is not a notable typeface designer. He has never laid a hand on mouse or trackball to operate a font editing application. He tells some graphic designer employees of his what he wants them to draw with software, and has them do all the work of drawing and solving all the design problems involved in creating and designing a typeface and its fonts. As a professional typeface designer myself, Yan’s involvement in type design and font production does not qualify him as a typeface designer. Not even close.

   The user is called James Arboghast, whom I’ve never heard of in any of my years in the type design business.
   Now, you can argue whether I’m notable or not. You might not even like my designs. But given that Arboghast has such a knowledge of our inner workings, then maybe it would suggest that I am?
   Based on the above, which is libellous, let me say without fear of committing the same that, in this instance, Mr Arboghast is a fantasist and a liar.
   I’ve no beef with him outside of this, but considering that I was the first typeface designer in this country to work digitally—so much so that Joseph Churchward, who is indisputably notable, came to me 20 years ago to see if we could work together—there were no ‘graphic designer employees’ around who had the skills. At least none that I knew of when I was 14 years old and deciding which bitmaps to light up on an eight-by-eight grid.
   There were still no such people around when I began drawing stuff for submission to ITC, or when I began drawing stuff that I digitalized myself on a hand-held scanner. I certainly couldn’t afford employees at age 21 when I asked my Mum to fork out $400 to buy me a really early version of Fontographer. And there were still no such people around when I hand-kerned 1,000 pairs into my fonts and did my own hinting. Remember, this was pre-internet, so when you’re a young guy in Wellington doing this work in isolation, you had to know the skills. I might even have those early drawings somewhere, and not that long ago I found the maths book with the bitmap grid.
   If I didn’t know about the field then I certainly would have been found out when the industry was planning QuickDraw GX and I was one of the professional typeface designers advising on the character sets, and if I didn’t know how to solve design problems, then the kerning on the highway signs’ type in this country would not comply with NZS. (The kerning is terrible, incidentally, but government standards are government standards. It was one of those times when I had to turn in work that I knew could be far, far better.) I’d also have been seriously busted by my students when I taught the first typeface design course in New Zealand.
   Every single retail release we have has been finished by me, with all the OpenType coding done by me. All the alternative characters, all the ligatures, all the oldstyle numerals and accented characters in languages I can’t begin to fathom. Latin, Cyrillic and Greek. I’ve tested every single font we’ve released, whether they are retail or private commissions.
   The only time a team member has not been credited in the usual way was with a private commission, for a client with whom I have signed an NDA, and that person is Jasper Luki, a very talented young designer with whom I had the privilege to work at the start of his career in the 2010s.
   The fact that people far, far more famous than me in the type field around the world, including in his country, come to me with contract work might suggest that, if I’m not notable, then I’m certainly dependable.
   And people wonder why I have such a low opinion of Wikipedia, where total strangers spout opinions while masquerading as experts. The silver lining is that writing the above was a thoroughly enjoyable trip down memory lane and a career that I’m generally proud of, save for a few hiccups along the way.

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Posted in design, New Zealand, technology, typography, Wellington | 1 Comment »


When not having something drives creativity

23.07.2020

I hadn’t expected this reply Tweet to get so many likes, probably a record for me.

   It is true. That book was NZ$4·99 in 1979, when it was offered through the Lucky Book Club at school, at a time when many books were still priced in cents. Some kids in the class got it, and I admit I was a bit envious, but not having a book in an area that interested you can drive creativity. While my parents didn’t make a heck of a lot in the 1970s—we flatted and didn’t own our own car at this point—they would have splashed out if I really insisted on it. After all, they were sending me to a private school and their sacrifice was virtually never going out. (I only recall one night in those days when my parents had a “date night” and my maternal grandmother looked after me—and that was to see Superman II.) But when you grow up having an understanding that, as an immigrant family that had to largely start from scratch in a new country, you have a rough idea of what’s expensive, and five bucks for a book was expensive.
   As an adult—even when I was a young man starting out in my career—I did not regret not having this book.
   Someone in the thread asked if I ever wound up buying it. I never did: as a teenager I managed to get my hands on a very worn Letraset catalogue, which ultimately proved far more interesting. But it is good to know that, thanks in large part to my parents’ and grandmother’s sacrifices, and those in my partner’s family who helped her in her earlier years, we could afford to buy this book if anyone in our family asks for it.

Were we fleeing anything when we came to Aotearoa? We left Hong Kong in 1976 because my parents were worried about what China would do to the place. In other words, what’s happening now is what they hoped for me to avoid. They called it, in the 1970s. And here I am.

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Posted in design, interests, New Zealand, typography, Wellington | No Comments »


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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Posted in business, culture, design, New Zealand, typography | No Comments »


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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Posted in humour, TV, typography | No Comments »


The revenge of Arial

03.02.2012

Go away Arial

To think, if I actually followed the advice of the Microsoft expert, I would still have a non-functioning Internet Explorer 9 that displayed blank pages. Rule no. 1: when it comes to computing, never follow the advice of a self-righteous expert. An everyday user who found out things the hard way, sure. An expert who has kept an open mind and wants to dig with you, you can probably trust. But an out-of-the-box certified expert who believes in the superiority of a product as though it were a cult, probably not. No more than you should believe members of cults.
   IE9 has never worked on the first installation of any computer I own. But, earlier this week, it worked on my Vista laptop, after blank screens since March 2011. This was curious to me, since the blank screen problem is fairly common on the ’net, just that Microsoft refuses to acknowledge its existence. If the standard replies do not work, the solution is to format your hard drive.
   That already shed doubt on the Microsoft “expert” advice I had, beyond the arguments I made in my last blog post. Obviously, for Vista, Microsoft knew there was a problem and fixed it between March 2011 and February 2012. It only took them 11 months.
   As a failing IE9 also takes out Microsoft Gadgets and McAfee Internet Security, by showing blank screens on those, too, it’s a pretty serious matter.
   Microsoft’s “expert” had told me that my use (or any use?) of System Restore was ‘injudicious’, when with hindsight it appears to have been the most sensible thing I could have done, given that IE9 also took out Firefox on first installation on this machine. This so-called standard installation had had effects far beyond the norm, and had I removed only IE9 the “proper” way, there was no guarantee that Firefox would have returned to normal.
   Yesterday, I ventured on to my laptop to see if McAfee would run. Sure enough, it displayed. But also interestingly, it displayed in Arial Narrow—a font family I know we did not have.
   Microsoft had included Arial Narrow in one of its updates and that was the one key to allowing IE9 to function.
   People who know me, and have heard my speeches, know that the first thing I do, after installing updates and anti-virus, is see to the ugly default fonts. We have numerous licences for Helvetica, and since Arial was designed to supplant a superior design, we install Helvetica. We remove the font substitute line in the Windows registry. And we delete Arial.
   This has been the practice for years, certainly since Windows XP, and we ensure every Mac we use remains Arial-free, too.
   It has never presented a problem at any level.
   Till now.
   Windows 7 doesn’t like Arial being deleted, but I programmed in the usual font substitutes, took out ‘Helvetica=Arial’ (in typographic terms, this is like saying ‘Grace Kelly=Katie Price’) and ensured the four main Arial fonts could not be found by the system on start-up.
   Of course, every program in the world works with these settings. Except IE9 and anything that uses IE9 to render its pages.
   I still doggedly refuse to have Arial on any of our computers because of its poor design. This would be like having Prince William marry Britney Spears and ensuring her future position as Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britney and Northern Ireland. There are just some things that aren’t done.
   So we found a version of Helvetica, one that had been superseded that was not being used on any machine, and renamed it. We saved each of the four variants as an OTF, an OpenType, PostScript-flavoured font. And it worked.


Above: IE9 doesn’t actually need Arial. It just likes knowing it’s there. This is called “security blanket programming”.

   Here’s the great irony. IE9 is still one of the worst browsers typographically, even worse than Opera 11. Even though Windows Vista and 7 support PostScript, TrueType and OpenType fonts natively, IE9 doesn’t show anything but TTFs in its font menus (left). Short of linking your own fonts—and it messes up there as well—the only ones that will ever display are the TTFs you have installed. On the actual pages, a lot of fonts that you know are installed on your machine won’t show in IE9. If you bought licences, too bad.
   Therefore, Arial is actually not needed by IE9: it just likes knowing it’s there, as a security blanket.
   I think this illogical state of affairs shows how poor the product remains. Those who are less typographically inclined might not care, and look at things like speed (frankly, I see little difference—and if anything, it seems slower than Firefox), but since every other program on the planet works quite happily without Arial, my opinion is that Microsoft messed up. IE9 noticeably slows down Photoshop and a few other programs, which begs the question: beyond making sure your Microsoft Gadgets and McAfee work, why bother?
   Fellow computer users: don’t format your hard drive. Only a quitter would do that.

Liberation Sans
On a related note, Steve Matteson’s Liberation Sans (above) shows how it should be done. Steve was faced with the same brief—make a sans serif with the same metrics as Helvetica—and designed something quite beautiful that came as an Ubuntu 10 default. It’s very well hinted, too. You can download it here.

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Posted in design, humour, internet, technology, typography | 5 Comments »