Review: ‘Carol Twombly: Her brief but brilliant career in type design’

Oak Knoll Press, 2016

Perhaps it is because we live in an age where styling and self-promotion shape how and whether we revere design, that the austerity of this book, and indeed, Carol Twombly’s life and career, feel so other-worldly. Which is not to say that Twombly is somehow weird or that this book about her life and work is lacking. In fact, the book is very well-written and — dare I say it, (this is a type nerd book after all) — quite an engaging read.
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One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

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Last week the latest issue of Neshan magazine —the biggest magazine with a focus on graphic design in Iran — issue number 37 (read here), was published. I first came across the cover of this issue on the instagram account of a colleague, and was instantly drawn by three words printed under the logo: Women and Design. Curious, I scrolled down to the caption to see what articles had been considered for/on a demographic I am very much a part of. I was confronted by a list of essays on female designers, almost entirely written by men. It was exasperating, and not because I was disappointed, but because I found this long list of male writers predictable, and therein lies the problem.

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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.

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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:

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Some Open Thoughts About OpenType

Typeface designers frequently seem to assume the more OT features their fonts have the better. Typeface users, on the other side, don’t always share this delight. They are often stressed by the complexity, don’t get any sense out of them or just ignore the features. Since I am both a designer and a user of typefaces I tend to sway from one position to the other.

In my work, where I am involved with script typeface design, OpenType features and coding play a very big role. I would say that a natural looking contemporary script typeface is not imaginable without an extended OT feature code.

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Character Spotlight: Latin lowercase s

Every letter in the alphabet has its own history. They change with time, and it is part of the type designer’s job to give shape to those changes. We set out to celebrate a letter that most designers would agree to be one of the most challenging forms to design in the Latin alphabet, the lowercase s.

The origins of this letter led us to the Phoenicians (1500–300 B.C.), who used three different forms: shin, shade and samekh. The shapes of the letters were simplified drawings of their names, for instance shin means teeth. This letterform is the predecessor of the Greek sigma, which evolved into the Etruscan S, and later on into the Latin form.

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Inscriptions of Phoenician shin, Greek sigma, Archaic Etruscan s, and Latin uppercase s

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Snobs, Nerds and Maniacs

Have you ever been called a type snob? Font nerd? Typomaniac?

If you use, make or draw type / letters, it’s your job to care. I’m personally guilty of using this kind of language. However, when we act like our work is somehow above the mental capacity of typographic plebeians, are we giving ourselves a bad rap?

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Creating a Future Free of Type Piracy

It starts with working with what you’ve got.

A couple of years ago, one of my graphic design students handed in a project that used the typeface Gotham. As soon as she handed it to me, I looked at her skeptically.

“You have a license for Gotham?” I asked, knowing that the least expensive license runs close to $200—which is not typically the kind of cash students in New York City, or even in the United States, tend to have to spend on school projects.

“Yes!” she declared triumphantly. She, like all my students, knew that I do not accept projects using pirated fonts; it’s stated clearly in my syllabus, and I assertively read this aloud on Day 1 each semester. She continued, “Professor ___ gave us all a CD of it!”

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