Letters in Letters
A chat with Carolyn Porter

If you have been following my interview series here on the blog, you might already know that there is a well-defined structure for those conversations. Today, I want to share an interview done in a different way. It will be quicker, a bit more friendly and not any less personal. Carolyn recently published a typeface and a book, and those two were good enough reasons to sit down and enjoy a virtual conversation about the process.

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Exhibition Review: The Calligraphy Revival 1906–2016

Diane von Arx, United States, 2002

The Grolier Club’s exhibition The Calligraphy Revival 1906–2016 (May 17 – July 29, 2017; 10am–5pm Mon–Sat; free admission) is a unique opportunity for anyone interested in applications of western letterforms to experience firsthand the breadth of calligraphy’s beauty as well as its utility. The exhibition, curated by Jerry Kelly, features works by a diverse range of calligraphers. It runs the gamut from art to design to handwriting and often defies categorization.

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Lost and found
(and lost again)

Exploring the first multi-style Hebrew typeface family

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):


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…


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.


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.