Monday, November 14, 2011

Simon Garfield’s “Just My Type”

Top: Glaser's “Stencil”, c. 1967 – this current rendition is by Linotype. Below: “Baby Teeth” originally drawn by Milton Glaser, c. 1964. Here’s the image source.

The early to late-1980s issues and arguments about using personal computers for graphic design now seem passé, but stories about how some of the great graphic designers were reluctant to use computer technology when it first came out is still interesting and amusing.

In his book Just My Type, author Simon Garfield tells a story about the time Milton Glaser and Matthew Carter ‘debated’ the use of personal computers as a type designer’s medium and tool. As Garfield writes:

I asked Matthew Carter whether computers have made the life of a type designer any easier (Carter, if you’ll recall, began life as a punchcutter in the style of a latterday Gutenberg, and has worked with practically every typesetting method since; his greatest digital hits have been Verdana and Georgia). He replied, ‘Some aspects get easier. But if you’re doing a good job you should feel that it gets harder. If you think it’s getting easier, you ought to look out. I think it means you’re getting lazy.’

When personal computers and typographic software were in their infancy, Carter became involved in a quarrel at a type conference with the designer Milton Glaser…. ‘He was very resistant,’ Carter remembers. ‘His point was that you can’t sketch with a computer, you can’t do a woolly line – everything that comes out of a computer is finished. I didn’t disagree with that, but on a computer there are other ways of sketching. All type design programs have these very crude tools that allow you to take a shape and flip and flop it and stick it here and there. And if I’m designing a typeface and I’ve drawn the lower-case b, there’s information there that I can use for the p and the q, so why not flip and flop it? It’s done in seconds, and gives me a chance to clean things up and resolve matters. And if I’ve done a lower-case n, I’ve got a lot of information about the m and the h and the u. Why wouldn’t use that? In the old days when I was drawing it, I would also use the information but it would be much more laborious. Computers are not the answer, but they’re a help.’[1]
Ironically, it seems when you study the drawn typefaces designed by Glaser his type styles look like they could be computer generated. Just My Type, by Simon Garfield, is very good reading; it contains interesting descriptions of typefaces along with anecdotes about type designers.
  1. Garfield, Simon. Just My Type: A Book About Fonts. New York. Penguin Group/Gotham Books, 2010. 321-22. Print.

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