Writings

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

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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Helvetica and the New York City Subway System


Blue Pencil is pleased to announce the first Blue Pencil Editions publication: Helvetica and the New York Subway System: The True (Maybe) Story. This is an updated, expanded, annotated and profusely illustrated version of the essay originally written by me for AIGA Voice in the fall of 2008. The book version takes into account new information and is supplemented by comprehensive notes, a bibliography and a chronology of the New York City subway system. Prof. …
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Book Review—Jan Tschichold, Designer: The Penguin Years

Jan Tschichold Designer: The Penguin Years. Jacket design by Geoffrey E. Matheson.
The idea for Blue Pencil began with my dissatisfaction with Jan Tschichold, Designer: The Penguin Years by Richard Doubleday. Upon realizing how flawed the book was, I wrote to the publisher to urge them to recall it from bookstores and fix the many grammatical, typographical and factual gaffes. I received no response. So, I reluctantly reviewed it for Print. However, due to space limitations, the review did not say everything I …
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From A to Big Apple

Cary Building (King & Kellum, 1857) 105–107 Chambers Street. Cast iron facade, including the lettering, by D.D. Badger’s Architectural Ironworks.
For nearly 30 years, I have been photographing lettering I see during the course of my daily ramblings in New York. Until last year, the process had been random, driven by the vagaries of where I was, what happened to catch my attention, and whether or not I had my camera—originally a heavy Nikon FE7 and later a lightweight Olympus—with …
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Art Deco New York in Letters: A Quick Tour

Looking for letters in New York City is different from looking for them in Rome, Paris and London and other European cities. Not only is New York’s history much shorter, but it is one of constant renewal as the old quickly makes way for the new. The rapid pace of construction and its attendant demolition has accelerated since 2001. It can be fairly said that New York is currently undergoing its most massive facelift since the 1920s and early 1930s. …
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