Writings

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

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

Standard Deviations: Types and Families in Contemporary Design

When the Museum of Modern Art decided, at the beginning of this year, to expand its purview and include typefaces among the artifacts of modern design it collects, it was a moment of celebration not only among the type designers whose works were selected but among all of us in the design community who care about type. The notion that a museum of art, especially one as august as MoMA, rather than a museum of history or technology had stooped …
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Update: Helvetica and the New York City Subway System

The original, limited edition version of Helvetica and the New York City Subway System (Blue Pencil Editions, 2009) has been sold out since the end of February 2010. Neither I nor my colleague Abby Goldstein, the co-designer of the book, have any copies for sale. Those who are looking for the book should either try eBay or the various online used book sources. The other option is to buy the newly published revised edition of the book now available from …
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An Interview with Matthew Carter

Last fall the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation named Matthew Carter a Foundation Fellow. The so-called “genius grant” simply confirmed what those of us in the small design world already knew. That Carter is one of the most important type designers of the past half-century.
Click to read Imprint 6 March 2011

Is There a New Leading Man in Hollywood?

Since the mid-1990s Trajan has been the favored typeface for Hollywood movie advertisements and posters. But within the last two months a small batch of movies have appeared that emphatically reject the respected Roman Imperial capitals. The new face in town is Gotham from Hoefler & Frere-Jones. At the moment it can be found in posters for Hereafter directed by Clint Eastwood and starring Matt Damon, The Tourist starring Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie, How Do You Know starring Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, …
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Video View: Helvetica and the New York City Subway System Signage

Last February—with the assistance of Abby Goldstein and Jan Conradi—I organized Navigating the Labyrinth: Unimark International and the New York City Subway System for AIGA New York. The event was a sequel to my book on the history of Helvetica in the subway system and a celebration of the 40th anniversary of the publication of the New York City Transit Authority Graphics Standards manual designed by Massimo Vignelli of Unimark. The event, co-moderated by Jan and myself with a panel …
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Book Review—Typography Papers 8

Typography Papers 8
Modern Typography in Britain: Graphic Design, Politics, and Society
edited by Paul Stiff
with contributions from Matthew Eve, Robin Fior, Stuart Hall, Sally Jeffery, Robin Kinross, David Lambert, Petra Cerne Oven and Paul Stiff
London: Hyphen Press, 2009 Typography Papers, edited, designed and “prepared for press” by the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading in England, has always been a somewhat misnamed journal as it has rarely stuck to the subject of typography. That is nowhere more evident in …
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