Writings

Writings comprises commissioned articles (including those for other websites) and books.

The Briem Report: Letterforms 2012

Thirty years ago Gunnlaugur SE Briem—Icelandic calligrapher, handwriting reformer, type designer and digital maven—edited a Special Calligraphy Issue of Visible Language (17.1). He has now followed it with The Briem Report: Letterforms 2012, which can be freely downloaded (as either a low- or high-resolution PDF). As before, he has gathered a wide-ranging set of contributions from colleagues throughout the overlapping worlds of calligraphy, handwriting, type design, typography and graphic design, …
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Codex 2—My Life with Menhart


For nearly a year my life has been bound up with that of Czech calligrapher and type designer Oldrich Menhart. In August 2011 I was approached by John Boardley, the mysterious genius behind I Love Typography, to be the editor of Codex, his new magazine, but it was not until January 2012 that the position was made official. At the time there was no sign of Menhart. It was sometime in March that I concocted the idea to take …
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The Art Book Prize update

The Art Book Prize in London has narrowed its field of finalists to two books: Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo by Nicholas de Monchaux and Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story by myself (both published by MIT Press). The winner will be announced by The Authors’ Club on Thursday, November 22nd at the Victoria Miro Gallery in London. I doubt I will be there, but if any British friends have a chance to stop in at the gallery at 16 Wharf Road, …
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Whatever Next: A Discourse on Typography

Last year I wrote a short essay entitled “Rules for Researching” for Gunnlaugur SE Briem to include in The Briem Report: Letterforms 2012. It will soon be available for free download at his website operina.com. Meanwhile, it has been published earlier this month in Whatever Next: A Discourse on Typography, a book jointly sponsored by This Is Art and the Camberwell Press, both located in London. The essay is a quick guide to doing research for those not …
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Inside Inside Paragraphs

My advance review of Inside Paragraphs, type designer Cyrus Highsmith’s new book on the fundamentals of typography, can be read at Imprint. Here are previews of several other pages from the book: “How Type Works”, “Glyph Space” and “Hierarchy of Space”.Inside Paragraphs, pp. 14–15 “How Type Works”Inside Paragraphs, p. 22 “Glyph Space”Inside Paragraphs, p. 76 “Hierarchy of Space”A reminder: Inside Paragraphs is not a complete guide to typography and the history of type. It is a …
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Typographica’s Favorite Typefaces of 2011—Cala by Dieter Hofrichter

Typographica recently announced their list of the best typefaces of 2011. Stephen Coles invited me to be one of the critics and—from the list of typefaces he offered me—I chose Cala by Dieter Hofrichter to discuss. There were a number of typefaces on the list that appealed to me, including several by Hofrichter. In the end I selected Cala because 1. it was a Venetian Oldstyle face, an historically important category of type that has been on the …
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Joyous New Year

Season’s Greetings from Paul Shaw at Blue Pencil, Legacy of Letters and Paul Shaw / Letter Design. This card, set in Alejandro Paul’s Poem Script, is an outgrowth of The Roots of Type: Scripts, a book on digital script typefaces and their background that Abby Goldstein and I have been working on for several years. We expect it to be ready in 2012. Stay tuned for updates on its progress. Joyous New Year

More praise for Helvetica and the New York City Subway System

The current issue of Visible Language (45.3, pp. 261–263) contains a review of Helvetica and the New York City Subway System by the editor Sharon Helmer Poggenpohl. It is very laudatory and concludes on this positive note, “The book design facilitates taking different paths through the material, the visual examples tell their own story. Look carefully at the dates, when something was created and whether it lasted. The running narrative is staightforward, while the footnotes go into historical detail and …
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Acclaim for Helvetica and the New York City Subway System

Not only has Helvetica and the New York City Subway System been selected for the AIGA 50 Books competition but is has been declared one of the Best Books of 2011 by the writers and editors of Slate. It is one of only 17 books chosen and shares that honor with such lumimaries as Vladimir Nabokov, David Foster Wallace and Tina Fey (author of Bossypants). It is number seven in the queue, but since the books are not ranked …
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Typography Sketch Books

Although it has been talked about since late September I just got my complimentary copy of Typography Sketch Books by Steven Heller and Lita Talarico (New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2011) today. So I apologize for being behind the curve. My six pages show sketches, proofs and notes for my Origins, Kolo and Donatello typefaces. (The former was a custom typeface for Origins, the cosmetics firm, and is not available for general sale.) The book is not limited to …
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9/11 Memorial Leaves Its Mark on the Subway, All Rights Reserved

9/11 Memorial Leaves Its Mark on the Subway by David W. Dunlap New York Times Cityroom.blog “Until recently, Helvetica’s dominance was so assured that the M.I.T. Press could publish Helvetica and the New York City Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story by Paul Shaw, a design historian,” writes David W. Dunlap. “He concluded his account by stating that white-on-black Helvetica signs were ‘now as much a part of the New York City subway system’s visual identity as …
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Book Reviews—Typeforms and Breaking the Rules

This review of Typeforms: A History by Alan Bartram (New Castle, Delaware and London: Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 2007) and Breaking the Rules: The Printed Face of the European Avant Garde 1900–1937 by Stephen Bury, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007) appeared in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society New Series no. 12 (2008).
Typeforms: A History
Alan Bartram
London: The British Library and New Castle: Oak Knoll Press, 2007
In …
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Flawed Typefaces

What constitutes a flawed typeface? For this article it is defined as a typeface that is perfectly fine—except for one nagging aspect, usually a single character. A flawed typeface is one that either you avoid using entirely because of this lone defect; or one that you use sparingly—and only then, after some alteration of either your design or the face itself to ameliorate the “flaw”. Flawed typefaces are not bad or even mediocre. The whole premise here is that they …
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Stereotype: The Future of Type Design—Kai Bernau & Nikola Djurek

When we think about contemporary type designers there is a tendency to forget that we are now into the third decade of the digital revolution and that the once-young pioneers of the genre—Robert Slimbach, Zuzana Licko, Jonathan Hoefler, Jean-François Porchez, Tobias Frere-Jones, Martin Majoor, et al—are now mature, well-established figures with thriving (we hope) businesses and a raft of fonts under their belts. So, who will shape the future of type design? Here are two accomplished young designers whose typefaces …
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How do you design a great typeface?—A (condensed) interview with Matthew Carter

My recent interview with Matthew Carter for Imprint (Print magazine’s blog) was reprinted—if one can use that term with the Internet—on Salon. Although it is gratifying to see my work picked up by a mainstream media site, it is distressing to see it bungled. All of the images have been laterally compressed. This is a disaster when the subject is type, especially so when typefaces are being compared to one another. To see Carter’s work …
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Take the SVA Train: Louise Fili’s Homage to New York’s Subway Signage

For decades the School of Visual Arts in New York City has been famous for the unstinting excellence of its promotional efforts. The most visible of these works have been subway posters notable for their blend of memorable copywriting and arresting imagery. The latest example is an eye-catching simulation of the mosaics that are virtually synonymous with the subway and thus with the city itself.
Click to read Imprint 22 April 2011