My 2¢: Cuba’s 2 Currencies

My 2¢ is less about the design of these two Cuban banknotes than about what they represent.

As a US-dwelling Canadian who has wanted to visit Cuba for many years, I finally made the trip there from Toronto in early 2015 — ironically, just after the announcement of the normalization of relations with the US.

Cuba is a striking and remarkable place in so many ways. But one of the things that struck me most upon arriving there was the discovery that since 1994 Cuba has had two parallel currencies: the Cuban Peso (CUP), which is used for trade among Cubans; and the Convertible Cuban Peso (CUC), which is used by visitors to the country and for international trade, and is pegged to the US dollar. So 1 CUC equals 1 USD — and 1 CUC equals approximately 25 CUP.

A 3-peso note from the international, convertible Cuban currency, the CUC.
A 10-peso note from the local Cuban currency, the CUP.

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My 2¢: Hyderabad State 2 Anna

Although my professional area of focus is Indic type, by which I mean the Brahmi-derived scripts native to India, my favorite coins in my small collection are four 2 Anna coins from the Princely State of Hyderabad, minted in 1946. They are among the last coins minted by the Hyderabad State before its dissolution.

The Hyderabad State, which occupied the Deccan plateau of south-central India, was a semi-autonomous vassal state that existed alongside the British Raj from 1798 until India’s independence in 1947. Ruled by the Asaf Jahi Dynasty, which was Turkic in origin, the Hyderabadi government spread Persian culture in the region. While the British issued currency to be used throughout their South Asian empire, they allowed the Hyderabad State to issue its own set of banknotes and coins.

Obverse of the Hyderabadi 2 Anna coin, 1946. Photo courtesy of Joseph Kunnappally.

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My 2¢: The Iranian 250 rial coin

To many people, the sentence “here is your change” followed by a clenched hand extending out towards them results in an inner groan. They know that hand is about to offer them coins, an object often perceived as an inconvenience—and in the case of coins with lower value, a nuisance. Coins are frequently taken out of circulation by people who keep them simply because they cannot be bothered to count, calculate, and spend them. I have memories of my parents coming home and discarding loose change on the coffee table, not wanting to carry the jingling weight in a pocket or purse the next day. Yet the same people were the cause of my appreciation for coins. More specifically, Iranian coins.


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My 2¢: Take a penny, leave a penny

Since the design and lettering of the ‘lowly’ American penny has already been well-documented and researched by honorary Alphabette Tobias Frere-Jones, I’ve settled on an even lowlier topic: the penny tray. If you’re American, or have spent time in the clusterfuck that is currently the United States, then you know what I’m talking about. Found at the cash registers of gas stations, diners, and other small businesses, the object serves as a convenient place for customers and cashiers to dispose of, or acquire, a penny or two (but c’mon deadbeat, don’t even think of taking more than a few).

The basic tray features the phrases “LEAVE-A-PENNY / TAKE-A-PENNY” in subtly extruded shouty-caps that flank the top and bottom of the main bowl. A promotional logo adorns the front of the tray, promoting things like a local newspaper, state lottery, or community bank.

Pretty standard-looking penny tray
Pretty standard-looking penny tray

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My 2¢: Empathy Penny

I have a penny that is worth far more than its currency, as it was designed by Marian Bantjes.

Empathy penny, designed by Marian Bantjes
Empathy penny, designed by Marian Bantjes

Several years ago, I taught a Type Camp at the Design Exchange, the Design Museum of Canada in central Toronto. In the lobby is a machine that imprints designs of several artists, one of which is Bantjes, onto pennies. (The irony here is that Canada has ceased production of the penny and is removing them from circulation. Therefore, trying to locate a penny to use in the machine is becoming a bit difficult.)

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My 2¢: Canadian $1 Coin

The Canadian dollar coin, introduced in 1987 with a loon featured on the back, is affectionately referred to as a ‘Loonie’. When the two dollar coin was introduced 9 years later, they had a public vote on whether to call it the ‘Twoonie’ or the ‘Doubloon’. They picked the former, which is a shame because if you have an opportunity to name your your money something pirate-themed, then you should totally do it. However, this essay is not about the mundane design of Canadian currency, but rather this particular Loonie, saved from during my recent decade Canada.


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My 2¢: two typefaces, vanished

I do promise there is more than one influential Hebrew type designer, but after a long research process, my mind is filled with stories that were covered in boxes until now.
I am referring to Henri Friedlaender. Last time, I wrote about his design process, and today I wanted to share two typefaces that were simultaneously designed by him for the Bank of Israel in the 70’s: One serif style to be used for banknotes and one (semi-) sans, for coins. Those two were supposed to act as a family, and indeed, Friedlaender based them both on similar skeletal forms.

the banknotes typeface
the banknotes typeface

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My 2¢: the Spanish peseta coin

I often find myself looking at things that go unnoticed or that people just don’t care about. Coins are invisible design items for most people. We often use size and color to differentiate one from each other, but we rarely look at them closely. I have heard once that the design of a stamp was one of the most challenging and uplifting commissions a graphic designer could get. There are probably many more constraints in the design of a coin, but you would agree with me that it would be a really interesting project for a type designer.

I would like to share with you some thoughts on the design of a particular coin, the extinct Spanish peseta. It was the currency used in Spain from 1868 to 2002, when the euro was introduced. As a side note, it is one of the few examples of a coin with a female name. I was able to collect some historical models of the peseta coins which took me to dark times in our country. The coins became a symbol of political power and the images and text engraved on them were used to reinforce the establishment.

The two sides of 5 historical models of the 1 peseta coin. From right to left, peseta from 1869, 1900, 1947, 1975 and 1986
The two sides of 5 historical models of the 1 peseta coin. From right to left, peseta from 1869, 1900, 1947, 1975 and 1986

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Buginese Script

Detail of page 109 of the Lettergieterij “Amsterdam” voorheen N. Tetterode type specimen, 1910.

“Wait! What is this? Is this an alien script or something?”

That was me looking at the book Non-Latin typefaces at St Bride Library, which displayed a page from the Lettergieterij “Amsterdam” specimen with the Buginese script.

“People can read this?! What the…” (5 seconds later…) “That’s it, this is the project for my typeface/dissertation!”

Buginese, also known as Bugi, is the language of the population in the province of South Sulawesi, Indonesia. This language is often written using the Latin script but traditionally, the Buginese script, also know as Lontara, was the common writing system. That was until the 19th century, when the Dutch colonized Indonesia and the Buginese script (amongst others like Javanese and Balinese) was displaced.

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Alphabettes News February–June (yeah, sorry)

July! That means half of 2016 is already over! Gotta catch up with the news (we’ll thank us in a couple of years). So what happened since the last round-up …

February: We published our Love Letter Series

Feb 2: Diana Ovezea released her type series Equitan Sans and Slab with ITF

Feb 16: The exhibition “A+: 100 years of graphic communication by women at Central Saint Martins” opened in London, organized by Ruth Sykes

Feb 25: Dutch Uitgeverij de Buitenkant and Mathieu Lommen published a collection of lettering work by Dutch or Dutch educated designers, including many of us

Feb 29: Maria Doreuli released William at Typotheque

March 12 and 13: Marina Chaccur taught the first workshop about Bram de Does’s Kaba ornament together with Thomas Gravemaker at Letterpress Amsterdam

March 14: Sandrine Nugue got a nice feature on the AIGA design blog

March 16: We published Our Favourite Typefaces of 1915

Also March 16: Sibylle Hagmann launched a redesign of her foundry site and the new type family Kopius

March 18: The results from Print Magazine’s Type & Lettering Awards are in with many women honored, among them María Ramos, Katherina Kochkina, Jessica Hische, Rebecca Bartola, and Petra Dočekalová. (Dana Tanamachi and Shelley Gruendler were in the jury)

March 24: Amy Papaelias gave a talk at the Type Directors Club in NYC on speculative typography. Watch the video

March 29: We launched our mentorship program

March 31: Ulrike Rausch spoke about making sophisticated script typefaces in Berlin

April 5: Helena Price launched the impressive Techies Project portraying the diverse people that work in tech

April 6: Manuela Pfrunder got to design the new Swiss bank notes. Her thoughts on it

Also, ATypI published the first batch of videos from the São Paulo conference. Go watch Catherine Dixon’s important and moving keynote

April 14: We adopted the 💌 Emoji 🙂

April 16: Shoko Mugikura gave a talk on book typography in Tokyo

April 18: The new Monotype Recorder spread across the globe featuring, among others, articles by Jennifer Kennard, Margaret Calvert, Angela Riechers, Laura Snoad, and one by Amy Papaelias with interviews with Mariko Takagi, Elizabeth CareySmith, Indra Kupferschmid, and Shelley Gruendler

April 21: Julia Sysmäläinen released her multi-layer typeface Colorado

April 28: Barbara Bigosińska released her Abelard typeface with ITF

Also on April 28, the exhibition about the Pangramme student type design competition opened in Metz. Andrea Tinnes was in the jury and, among others, Tassiana Nuñez Costa, Fernanda Cozzi, Isaline Rivéry, Dorine Sauzet and Nina Stössinger got honored

May 4: Shelley Gruendler wrote an article about ten female type designers for Adobe Create

May 9: Liebe Fonts got a new website redesign

May 11: Elizabeth CareySmith got elected on the board of the Type Directors Club

May 12: Tons of bettes descended on Berlin for TypoLabs and TypoBerlin. Nadine Roßa, Isabel Urbina Peñja and Sasha Prood gave workshops, Nina, Indra, and Sonja Knecht were moderating, Marina Chaccur made some short videos for DiaCrítico, and several more gave presentations or just enjoyed the unusually numerous company

May 17: Tânia Raposo started teaching a class about micro and macro typography at Cooper Type West

Also that night, Sara Soskolne gave a talk on early sans-serif typefaces

May 24: Sahar Afshar wrote an article about various Arabic calligraphy styles

May 24–29: Krista Radoeva co-organized the premium Bulgarian type conference Typo Fest where Alessia Mazzarella, Alexandra Korolkova, Gayaneh Bagdasaryan, and Indra were speaking and Krista and Maria Doreuli gave a lettering workshop

May 26: Lynne Yun got a feature on the ADG website. Another recent interview with her here

May 27: Nicole Phillips presented on Letterpress and Typesetting at the Australian Design Conference

May 31: Roxane Gataud got awarded with the 2016 SoTa Catalyst Award

June 1: Victoria Rushton now has her own shop on Type Network

June 3: Marta Bernstein gave a presentation on early Italian type at Kerning conference.

June 6: A typeface developed by Lila Symons is now used on the blog of Hallmark’s creative studio together with an article about her and Lynn Giunta’s work

June 8: Martina Flor got featured on the Adobe Create blog

June 10: Marina Chaccur taught a lettering/printing workshop and gave a talk with Thomas Gravemaker at Letterpress Workers in Milan

June 14: Julia Sysmäläinen released her new brush script Optimisti

Also, Zeynep Akay released Rakkas,
Catherine Schmidt released Yatra,
Sol Matas release Kadwa,
Aoife Mooney released BioRhyme,
Eleni Beveratou (for Dalton Maag) released Scope One,
Michal Sahar released Suez One and Secular One,
and Pooja Saxena released Farsan
with Google Fonts. (More on these in a dedicated post soon.)

June 15–20: Everyone and their sketchbook came to NYC for the Typographics festival. (Nina, Elizabeth and Indra were also interviewed for their blog and magazine.) Besides speaking and workshopping, we organized a variety show and accidentally started a podcast

June 22: Indra gave an interview for the Type Paris blog where she taught for a day and spoke

June 27: Spike Spondike spoke at the Hidden Women of Design event in London

June 29: Now Martina Flor was a guest teacher and speaker at Type Paris

June 30: Jessica McCarty got featured on Print Magazine’s site

Hossa! That’s it for February to June. I promise we won’t pack this much into a single post in the future but what can you do when the girls do so many newsworthy things?

Alphabettes Variety Show: Live Podcast!


UPDATE: Here’s a link to the recorded live show:

That was fun! Let’s do it again sometime.

Saturday, June 18, 2:30-4pm EST, TypeLab at Typographics 2016

Inspired by the traditions of vaudeville and the Victorian music hall, radio and television variety shows feature a lively smattering of musical medleys, dance routines, comedy acts, and star-studded guests. We’re taking this fun format to the TypeLab at Typographics that will include live commentary, short interviews, and a few other surprises up our collective sleeve. Can’t make it to New York? Here’s the best part: we’ll be live-streaming the Variety Show right here, starting promptly at 3pm EST:

Tune in!

Members of the network will also be on hand from 2:30-4pm to provide short mentoring sessions as part of the Alphabettes Mentorship Program. Stop in to talk about your portfolio, public speaking or writing ideas, career goals, or let us know if you’re interested in becoming a mentor. Alphabettes will be standing by.

Banner designed by Elizabeth Carey-Smith, featuring Ksenya Samarskaya’s typeface Blesk.

Alphabettes go typographics

Next week, the whole (type) world will look and travel to New York City for the incredible Typographics festival. I thought TypoBerlin this year would be impossible to top regarding number of Alphabettes in attendance and in town. But given that no less than ~21 ’bettes are living in NYC*, plus us global trotters who are visiting from abroad, next week’s event will probably be the record breaking meeting of our little club to date.

The organizers Cara di Edwardo, Alexander Tochilovsky and Roger Black did a really great job at putting together an interesting diverse line up (the first 50/50 female/male speakers event I know of!). Elizabeth, Nina, Marta, Fiona, Victoria, and I are speaking, Tânia is giving a workshop, Sara can be visited on a studio tour, and at the free Type Lab Isabel is doing a demo, and Amy and Bianca are organizing the Alphabettes Variety Show on Saturday afternoon. Stay tuned for details about that. If you are unable to join us at the lab, you may be in luck …

Check our Twitter and Instagram feeds for live reportage and other nonsense. And if you don’t have a ticket yet and are anywhere close to York Neue, this is your chance to see us in person, so register already. Or for the free Type Lab days. (Oops, I see the two events mentioned above are the only women on the Type Lab program. Girls, get out there!)

* Here is a map of us all I put together back in March for no reason; not totally up to date but giving a rough overview (pins are not showing actual location! No, Lynne is not actually living on the East River.)

For the love of Unicode

Say the words “character encoding standard” to most people and their brains will congeal into a pile of glazed donuts, like 🍩. See how I embedded a cute little donut directly into that last sentence? You can thank Unicode for that. What is Unicode and how did it become the universal standard for digitally representing the world’s writing systems (yes, including emoji)? Plenty has been written about its history already, but here’s an attempt at a very brief overview.

Continue reading “For the love of Unicode”

Please, no more Open Sans for a while

If you are also tired of seeing the ever same fonts and style on the web, and the rich typefaces getting richer, here is a running shortlist of potential body copy typefaces for I once compiled. I did not test how they look in extended text yet, nor rendering across platforms/browsers. That would be the next step (and we’re also still quite happy with Elido although see that we could use more extensive language support). But maybe you are looking for a fresh, lesser seen typeface and want to check some out anyway. Trying on new clothes is luckily quite easy if you have a website up already, e. g. with tools/bookmarklets that swap out the fonts you currently use, like Webtype’s Font Swapper or FontShop’s Webfonter. Also, most of the typefaces below are available on Fontstand or as trial versions from the foundries, so you can test them locally or in mockups. Let us know if you end up using any at some point.

Abelard, Barbara Bigosińska, Indian Type Foundry
Adelle Sans, Veronika Burian and José Scaglione, Type Together
Algebra, Susana Carvalho and Kai Bernau, Commercial Type
Bitter, Sol Matas, Huerta Tipográfica
Bligh, Luisa Baeta, Dalton Maag
Crete, Veronika Burian, Type Together
Deja Rip, Elena Albertoni, Anatoletype
Ebony, Veronika Burian and José Scaglione, Type Together
Elena, Nicole Dotin, Process Type
Equitan Sans, Diana Ovezea, Indian Type Foundry
Karbid, Verena Gerlach, Font Font
Karmina, Veronika Burian and José Scaglione, Type Together
Karmina Sans, Veronika Burian and José Scaglione, Type Together
Multi, Laura Meseguer
PT Sans & Serif, Alexandra Korolkova, Paratype
Ronnia, Veronika Burian and José Scaglione, Type Together
Stroudley, Veronika Burian, Dalton Maag
William Text, Maria Doreuli, Typotheque

(I’ll try to add images to all of them at a later date.)

The Value of Curiosity: TYPO Berlin 2016 in Review

Design conferences are everywhere. Our profession as type designers, typographers and graphic designers is moving fast and we are lucky to have these events where we can get together, learn from each other, gawk at some amazing portfolios and get inspired by the greats.
Perhaps a poignant talk with Jonathan Barnbrook in eggshell-treading-interview format, where intersections between politics and design come to light, together with gloriously great, and now absent, hair?
Or a warmly technical talk about the mechanics of reading and optical sizes with Tobias Frere-Jones, announcing Mallory MicroPlus, which addresses the challenges of small text and screen text simultaneously?
What about Nadine Chahine explaining how the way we read affects our daily life?

Tobias Frère Jones, Nadine Chahine, Jonathan Barnbrook

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Congrats, but…

Two little tweets in an ocean of tweets. What harm can they do, especially when their message feels overwhelmingly positive?

Last week, Indian Type Foundry (ITF) sent out the following tweet in reaction to this showcase of type designers who also happen to be women:

Continue reading “Congrats, but…”

Lifelines & bright lights — Talking with Nina Stössinger

In our last interview, Sol chose Nina Stössinger to be the next interviewee. The research and work that is done in the background for this series is truly joyful. But, it’s impossible to compress ​everything I have learned about each interviewee into five questions. I am trying to show a glimpse of the many things each inspiring lady is doing and thinking, and in Nina’s case it was a huge challenge.

The timing of publishing this works perfectly with the week’s events, and Nina herself fits well into conference discussions and talks. When I first met Nina, it was a one-way meeting. I was watching her give a talk at Ampersand conference, and despite the disappointing gender ratio of speakers, I was thrilled to hear another great female speaker. I had much to ask, and her precise answers will surely leave you wanting to read more. So get yourself a sweet or savory treat, preferably of a kind that you can refill your bowl with, and read on:

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Language as design criteria? Part III

During the research for my dissertation, Language-specific type design, I came across some inventive ways to deal with a language’s idiosyncrasies. Excessive use of diacritics and the resulting jaggedness of written language is one of the challenges typeface designers face frequently. This is a small selection of ways designers tried to master it for some of the Slavic languages in the past.

Preissig Antikva, Vojtěch Preissig, 1924
Preissig Antikva, Vojtěch Preissig, 1924

Continue reading “Language as design criteria? Part III”