I stumbled into graphic design, crashing headlong into it by way of Raygun magazine & the web, and I’ve always been self-conscious that this introduction, though exciting, skipped over a bunch of stuff that I really ought to know. I knew that things are done the way they are for a reason, but I had no idea what that reason was.
To the editors of Matrix the letterform is not something on a screen, obscured by anti-aliasing and scalable to any size. It is a piece of lead of a particular shape and size that is weighed by hand and changed by steel. Dan Carr’s account of designing and hand-cutting the punches for his face Regulus, a long, sculptural process in which tiny nuances of physical touch mold the letterforms, is contrasted with Justin Howes’ digitization of the Caslon faces, recreating the bruised shapes of ancient metal type in the binary language of the computer.
We are reminded that this is not the first time a new technology has stirred both innovation and controversy in typography. In his essay from the 1950s type designer Jan van Krimpen criticizes the conversion of historical typefaces to machine setting.
"They pretend to be old while in fact they are new – they are given a look of handiwork, while in fact they are made by a machine. And this I do not hesitate to call ñ philosophically speaking ñ dishonesty. I should be very surprised if anybody of those who are daily trying to imitate hand-cut type by mechanical means would be prepared to accept, say, a frying pan with so-called hammer marks if the hammer marks came out of a mold."
I wonder what he would make of Restoration Hardware?
A touchstone for many of the articles is Stanly Morrison’s tenure as typographic advisor to the British Monotype Corporation, makers of the leading typesetting equipment in the UK. His influence is felt in the articles on Eric Gill, van Krimpen, Cambridge Press, Monotype and others.
Matrix has been published annually for over 20 years, having the distinction of being the only surviving typographic journal printed by letterpress. So this collection is, of course, a beautiful book. The size and proportions are comfortable, and the design is simple and elegant with over 200 illustrations.
Type & Typography not only inspires a new appreciation for letterpress type and printing, but offers today’s designers, who earned their chops on a computer, a greater insight into the tools and philosophy of their craft.
TYPE & TYPOGRAPHY, John Berry, editor (ISBN 0-9715687-6-6) is published by Mark Batty Publisher.
(Included in Half Empty #2)