Blue Pencil was born out of the disappointment of seeing the editorial quality of books on graphic design and typographic history decline precipitously over the past decade. Its raison d’être is to dissect books on graphic design history and typography to ferret out errors—typographical, orthographical and factual—in such books and post them publicly. Dissections are not done to denigrate authors, but to rebuke proofreaders and editors who have failed their jobs and publishers who have abdicated their responsibility to the reader. Blue Pencil marks up a text with an eye to improving it.

Blue Pencil no. 25—A last word on About More Alphabets

Jerry Kelly has emailed me (12 December 2012) with a response to Blue Pencil no. 24 but also with a request not to post his comments. Although I will honor his request not to quote him or his email I will respond to two of his assertions. First, he claims that Comenius Antiqua had oldstyle figures and suggests I look at the Berthold Exklusiv specimen. Although I am not sure which specimen from Berthold he has in mind, my copy …
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“Who Made That? (Subway Signage)”—Who Knows?

“Who Made That? (Subway Signage)” by Pagan Kennedy, in The New York Times Magazine for 9 December 2012 (p. 30), discusses the signage of the New York City subway system that Unimark developed between 1966 and 1970. I was contacted for information for the short article, specifically about Helvetica as the iconic typeface of the system. I tried to explain the complicated history of the system’s use of Standard (Akzidenz Grotesk) and Helvetica; and to distinguish the contributions of …
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Blue Pencil no. 20—Zapfiana no. 1: About More Alphabets

Title page spread, About More Alphabets (2011). Typography by Jerry Kelly.
About More Alphabets
Jerry Kelly and Robert Bringhurst
Rochester: The Typophiles and RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, 2011
Typophile Chap Book New Series no. 3
112 pp.
4.5 x 7 in.
[updated 7 December 2012 to reflect corrections pointed out by Jerry Kelly]
Hermann Zapf (b. 1918), widely considered to be one of the preeminent type designers of the 20th century, has continued to design new typefaces and revise earlier ones in the 21st century. His career …
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Blue Pencil no. 19—Lettering by Andrew Haslam

Lettering: A Reference Manual of Techniques
Andrew Haslam
with photographs by Daniel Alexander
London: Laurance King Publishing, 2011
produced by Central Saint Martins Book Creation
design and diagrams by Andrew Haslam
jacket design by Jason Ribeiro based on an idea by Andrew Haslam
senior editor: Peter Jones
picture research: Suzanne Doolin and Andrew Haslam
copy editor: Melanie Walker
240 pp.
hardcover with jacket
8.25 x 10.625
full color photographs
Jacket for Lettering; design by Jason Ribeiro based on an idea by Andrew Haslam
This dissection of Lettering includes an assessment of each of the …
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Blue Pencil no. 17—Corrections

I received this email from Matthew Carter pointing out some mistakes in my dissection of Just My Type.
A couple of corrections to your corrections: p. 66 The original weight of Snell Roundhand was released in 1966. I arrived in Brooklyn in September of 1965 and had to do Cascade first and make a start on Helvetica Compressed. My one surviving Snell drawing was revised on August 1st 1966 which provides a ‘terminus post quem.’ The Bold and Black weights …
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Blue Pencil no. 17—Just My Type—Part Two

p.71 “Carter then [after apprenticing at Enschedé] returned to London, and found there wasn’t much demand for skills rooted in the 1450s. So he began to paint signs, another archaic art. At the beginning of the 1960s he [Matthew Carter] went to New York… After a while he was offered a job at the Mergenthaler Linotype Company in Brooklyn….”
The implication here is that Carter moved to New York early in the 1960s, worked as a sign painter in the city …
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Blue Pencil no. 17—Just My Type—Part One

Just My Type. Jacket design by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich.
Just My Type: A Book about Fonts
Simon Garfield
New York: Gotham Books, 2011
[London: Profile Books, 2010]
This is the original review that of Just My Type that I wrote for Imprint. I am posting it here because a number of comments in this dissection refer to it rather than to the revised review that Imprint published. For the revised review visit Imprint.
It was inevitable that once typefaces became fonts that …
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Blue Pencil no. 16—Jan Tschichold, Designer: The Penguin Years

Jan Tschichold, Designer. Title page design by Richard B. Doubleday.

I reviewed Jan Tschichold, Designer: The Penguin Years by Richard B. Doubleday forPrint in 2007. Recently I added the original version of that review to Shaw* (see Print LXI:III May/June 2007 and Shaw* / Writings /Archive). In the review I was as critical of the design of the book as of its contents. This was because the subject was design, specifically typography and book design. More importantly, the subject was Jan …
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Blue Pencil no. 15—Mixing Messages

Mixing Messages by Ellen Lupton (1996), cover. Design by Chip Kidd.
Mixing Messages: Graphic Design in Contemporary Culture
Ellen Lupton
New York: Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Smithsonian Institution and Princeton Architectural Press, 1996
designed by Ellen Lupton
edited by Mark Lamster, Princeton Architectural Press and Kathleen Luhrs, National Design Museum
This Blue Pencil dissection is different from previous ones in that there is little to find fault with in Mixing Messages. It is included because the subject of the book is graphic design history, the …
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Blue Pencil no. 13 addendum no. 2—Standard Deviations

The Dialogue column (pp. 28–32) in the current issue of Print magazine (65.3 June 2011) is an interview between Steve Heller and Paola Antonelli regarding the Museum of Modern Art’s acquisition of digital fonts for its Architecture and Design Collection. The interview is fairly vague as Antonelli deflects the hard questions that Heller asks about collecting code and the licensing issues that cropped up in the course of acquiring digital typefaces.
Antonelli still has not identified the experts who advised her …
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Blue Pencil no. 13 Addendum—Standard Deviations

One of the nagging aspects of the Museum of Modern Art’s acquisition of digital fonts for its Architecture and Design collection is the cloaked identity of those that advised Paola Antonelli and the museum. I don’t presume to have an answer to who the advisors were, but I do have a list of those I believe they should have consulted.
Peter Karow, inventor of the Ikarus type design and production software that converted existing typefaces and artwork into …
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Blue Pencil no. 13—Standard Deviations (the exhibition)

Standard Deviations: Type and Families in Contemporary Design
Museum of Modern Art
Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator and Kate Carmody, Curatorial Assistant
The Museum of Modern Art exhibition showcasing its new digital font acquisitions contains a short glossary of type terms. It is not only inadequate but inept. Here are all of the definitions and my comments on some of them.
Bitmap typeface 
A typeface in which the letterforms are composed of pixels, or “bits,” unlike a vector typeface, in which each letterform is rendered as …
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Blue Pencil no. 14—Salon Manicure

Claire Lambrecht of Salon interviewed me on April 5 about my book Helvetica and the New York City Subway System. It was a very cordial interview. She asked me several questions and then let me ramble, uninterrupted before her next question. The whole interview, which took about an hour, was tape recorded, with my permission, on her end. The published interview appeared online on April 11.
I have no major complaint about the interview, just a tiny one. My side of …
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Blue Pencil no. 12—Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig

Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig
Steven Heller and Elaine Lustig Cohen
San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2010

Book design by Tamar Cohen
This is not the usual Blue Pencil post. The book examined here has very few errors, whether typographical or factual. Most of the commentary is about its lack of context. Although most of Lustig’s career took place during the Great Depression and World War II these momentous events are ignored. I was unaware of this lacuna …
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Blue Pencil no. 11 addendum

R. Roger Remington and Robert S.R. Fripp, the authors of Design and Science: The Life and Work of Will Burtin, expend a lot of effort to prove that Will Burtin was responsible for the popularity of Helvetica in the United States. In Blue Pencil no. 11 I challenged the evidence they presented in support of this claim. Here I want to put forth a counter-claim: that Massimo Vignelli is the individual who deserves credit (or blame)—if anyone does—for the spread …
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Blue Pencil no. 11—Design and Science: The Life and Work of Will Burtin

Design and Science: The Life and Work of Will Burtin
R. Roger Remington and Robert S.P. Fripp
Aldershot, Hampshire: Lund Humphries, 2007
Designed by Chrissie Charlton & Company
Paragraphs in the book are not indented but set apart by line spaces. This makes reading the text very choppy. fi ligatures are not used, although they are available in Monotype Bulmer, the typeface used to set the text. For a book about a designer who was extremely fussy about typography such lapses are …
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