Lost and found
(and lost again)

Exploring the first multi-style Hebrew typeface family

Lost
Hebrew was the language of the Israelite and Judean people for over 1,300 years when around 200 BCE, it died as an everyday language and was confined to religious use.1 This affected the Hebrew script heavily, since it only developed those attributes that were necessary to present specific religious texts. Therefore, Hebrew is lacking the typographic tools that would have evolved and developed from an ongoing secular use. Moreover, the Hebrew script was considered sacred. The scribes that were permitted to write manuscripts were concerned with preserving the letterform appearance, even at the expense of the ease and speed in which they could be read.2
Hebrew was reintroduced as a spoken language in the 1880s. Since then, it experienced an accelerated process of revival. The shift from the written form to movable type was a hastened and interrupted one and did not allow for refinement and distillation of the letterforms.

Setting type in the Hebrew script was and still is a frustrating experience. Not only there is a shortage in typefaces which sufficiently address specific Hebrew script issues, but the few that are available mostly consist of a single regular style, accompanied by a small number of weight variations. So, what is a Hebrew typesetter to do when trying to create differentiation within a text? I remember how pleased I was when I found a book published in 1905 in Minsk. In it I spotted one spread that seemed tailor-made to answer my question. The typesetter used different typefaces, different sizes, increased letter spacing and underlining. These were amongst the popular typographic solutions throughout the 20th century.


A spread from the book printed in 1905 in Minsk showing the various ways to handle word differentiation and emphasis without a typeface family: 1. Underlining a word. 2. A different typeface, in a different size. 3. Increased letter spacing.

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Alphabettes Variety Show: we’re back!

UPDATE! Couldn’t make it to the live variety show or just want to relive the whole thing? Here’s the recording (listen on the site or download):

mixlr.com/alphabettes/showreel/alphabettes-variety-show-at-typographics-2017/

Here are a few fun highlights, captured on twitter:

Thanks for listening!

❤️📻❤️📻❤️📻❤️📻❤️📻❤️📻❤️📻❤️📻❤️📻❤️📻❤️📻❤️📻❤️📻❤️

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Typographic Potential of Variable Fonts

This article is based on the presentation What The Government Doesn’t Want You to Know About Variable Fonts delivered at ISType conference in Istanbul. It’s a summary of my personal thoughts on recent developments that might have an effect on responsive typography. It is also a collection of references to inspiring projects and experiments some of my colleagues have been doing. It touches on a few concepts I found necessary to explain but it shouldn’t be considered an in-depth report on those. Continue reading

Dear Alphabettes: How do you translate your header for various languages?

Dear Alphabettes,
How do you translate the Alphabettes header for various languages and writing systems?

 

When I was doing an Arabic header for the blog, I decided to use a Persian transliteration. This was fairly straightforward, except for two letters, the ‘S’ and the ‘T’. In Persian phonology, the /s/ phoneme can be represented with three letters (س – ص – ث) and the /t/ phoneme can be represented through two letters (ت – ط). I made the choice to stick to the most widely used form of each of these letters in different languages that use the Arabic script, namely the Sīn (س) and the Tā (ت). So for instance I could have used the Thā (ث) for /s/, but this letter often corresponds to /th/ in the Arabic language, so I avoided it. Also, Persian does not have grammatical gender and does not maintain a distinction that would make it necessary for me to add anything to the transliteration to make clear I was referring to a group of women—🙌—but I know that this is something Liron had to consider for her header…

xx
Sahar

Here is another case of great similarities between the Arabic and the Hebrew scripts! Apart from making the same decision about which letters wouldn’t look odd, just like Sahar did, I had another challenge. Unlike Persian or English, Hebrew uses grammatical genders. The word Alphabettes has to be female, so it would be ending on either ‘h’ (ה) in singular or ‘t’ (ת) in plural. So if Alphabettes were a group of women, they would be “Alphabetot“. Since there is no Hebrew word as such, but the ending is very Hebrewish, it looked odd. Luisa solved the problem when suggesting to decide if I should transliterate by thinking how I am describing Alphabettes to my friends in Israel. I am saying Alphabettes just as it sounds! So now the ending is “ס”, combining Hebrew letters and a Latin word.

xx
Liron

Do you also have a question about transliteration, the universe, or everything else? Tweet at us @alphabettes_org and if the answer doesn’t fit into a tweet, we may reply here.

Dear Alphabettes: How to deal with clients who think they know better?

Dear Alphabettes,
how should I best deal with a client who asks me to change the design of some letterforms and spacing against my advice?

 

This is a very good, important, and tricky question.

Sometimes clients think they know better than us, that they hired us not for our competence, skills and professionalism, but just to mechanically execute what they have in mind. There are three ways this can go:

In the best case scenario, we don’t really need this job, we can run away from these people and never spend another minute thinking of them and their silly ideas.

In most cases though, we can’t afford to do that. So we go into ‘it’s just a job, it pays rent and bills’ mode, and in a way, it also pays for our silence.

But we are designers, and all that we have is our reputation. Releasing something that we know is below our standards, will harm it. We may have no way to control clients and how they will promote the substandard work we did, or which absolutely pointless and meaningless detail will be proudly present as the cornerstone of the entire project, or keep them from using unfinished and unpolished versions of our files. We have no way to control how our designer colleagues and friends will react to it, or — on a larger scale — the opinion of the general public.

In the bearable version of this scenario, we may be able to remain anonymous, keep our work a secret and our reputation intact and move on to the next project.

In the worst case though, our name is credited everywhere and we will have to own our choices: no one forced us to take that job. So we’re trying to ride out this not so great situation, (because at some point people will forget, right?), and move on to the next project, hopefully it will be better than this one.

We’re not aware of a total-disaster end-of-the-world case where a brilliant designer’s career ended abruptly because of a single terrible project. (If it exists, let us know in the comments.) So maybe the hidden question here is: how to deal with ourselves when we have to work on such projects and with such clients? It is an extremely delicate and personal balance. How much can we point out before losing our clients, or our jobs? How much can we insist in trying to make them see what we see before giving up and smile and nod? Where is the line between us not doing our jobs and keeping our jobs? How much are we willing to compromise or sacrifice? How many of these projects are OK to accept before they become all we are working on? How much can we tolerate to be ashamed and embarrassed of our own work?

(Luckily not all jobs or clients are like this. Some are open to new ideas, some come with perspectives and points of view that enrich and improve our work, and make us proud of collaborating with or working for them.)

 

Do you also have a question about work ethics, the universe, or everything else? Tweet at us @alphabettes_org and if the answer doesn’t fit into a tweet, we may reply here.

Make Those Connections

This is the transcript of my talk at Typographics last June about the making of my typeface, Gautreaux, edited for clarity in this medium. You can watch me in all my nervous glory here, but I wanted to make the written version available for anyone who’d find that useful. Enjoy!

Hi! I’m Victoria and I’m a type designer. I have a learning story for you about a script typeface. I happen to really like hearing people tell their learning-to-do-things stories, which is convenient for me because mainly the only stories I have so far are learning-to-do-things stories, so I guess I’m just interesting like that. I came to fonts via script lettering, and so I’m really into coming up with projects that help me to understand their distinctions and overlap. This one is about exploring what it takes to make some lettering into a font, the things that work and the things that break, and whether you want to make a font that obscures the clues that it is in fact a font, or as I ended up doing, tackle hug those issues into a chokehold. I’m going to talk to you about this one script font, right here, I’m sure you guessed. I’m going to tell you how I started, what I set out to do, and then about all the details I’ve screwed up and then fixed. Okay, here we go. Continue reading