TypograFriday: Ruzicka Revisited


Alright typophiles, are you familiar with Rudolph Ruzicka? His handlettered folio Studies in Type Design? No? Not yet?

Jesse Ragan, Type Designer and friend of the Experts (Samantha and I went to RISD with him), is here to change all that. He’s reviving some of Ruzicka’s type studies (with the blessing of his estate) that have never been made into type at all: not metal, photoset or digital. While I was not familar with Ruzicka in the same way I am with Zapf, Gill, Berthold or dozens of other letterer/typographers, his letters are pretty stunning; I am excited at Jesse’s undertaking.

Even if you’re not a fan of the calligraphically-derived serif as we are, you should check this out: he’s keeping a blog about his process, which is thoughtful and gets delightfully deep into the work. The most recent post for instance, which he wrote for a column for Grafik magazine, is a longish piece largely about reconciling a single character, an elegant double-storey lowercase “g.” It’s a great mix of openness about the challenges of the process and meditatively ressurecting and conversing with the absent Ruzicka through the close interpretation of his letters.


For those of us who think ilt‘s pedagogical essays are too few and far between, who miss not just typographi.ca but linesandsplines, or who have ever looked for Spiekermann’s other book, there’s something new for your rss feed.

The temptation to clothe the twenty-six leaden soldiers in new array is irresistible. This is the only apology offered for suggesting still further additions to the seemingly infinite variety of existent typefaces.

-R.R. Studies in Type Design

All images courtesy Ruzicka Revisited.

lovely package design/visual identity

I know it’s been far too long since I posted last, but work has been super-busy! I am in love with this packaging/visual identity for Sis. Deli + Café, designed by Rasmus Snabb. I would have a really difficult time not keeping the packaging left over from the food and beverages!

sis-8 sis-3 copy sis-6 sis-4

via seesaw

TypograFriday: I Wonder

As we’ve mentioned repeatedly (like here, here and here), we are huge fans of Canadian designer Marian Bantjes and her exquisite work. So, we’re pretty excited about her upcoming book, I Wonder. It’s not a monograph of her work-to-date: all the design in it was created just for the book. And as you can see from the galleys below it’s visually stunning with plenty of spot gold, I can tell you from my days following her on Speak Up, the observational/essay content is bound to be awesome too. We don’t acquire books at the rate we used to but are psyched to have this next to visual/verbal communicators the likes of Sagmeister, Venezky, David Byrne and Paula Scher.

You can read more about the book in her preview, and it is available for pre-order on Amazon for a great price.

Penguin (RED)


I always love seeing how designers interpret a simple set of design restrictions. For this redesign of eight classics from Penguin Classics in collaboration with (Red), a group of designers was asked to create covers using a quote from the text and a red band at the bottom. For the most part, I think the results are fantastic. I particularly like the ones where the design breaks out of the top of the cover and crosses into the red band. The books will be published in early May.


Designers shown:
Therese Raquin — Jim Stoddart (Penguin Press art director)
The Secret Agent — Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin Press art department)
Dracula — Non-Format

via Creative Review

TypograFriday: All Your Slab Are Belong to H&FJ

Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones, typographic superstars who positioned themselves so strategically in their field that they registered typography.com, have recently announced their third serif in two years.

While many type designers create their faces primarily out of their passions, H&FJ made their decision with market strategy in mind as well. It’s pretty clear by now that the era we’re in (and hopefully not leaving too soon) will be judged by history to be an age of slab serif. And like a pool hustler suddenly sinking shot after shot, it’s breathtaking to watch how quickly H&FJ have created three of the strongest, most fully-featured slabs on the market.

, their newest, is their foray into the type of the moment: a square-based slab. But just when I find myself absolutely loving its stylish proportions, it screams out something ultramasculine (I can see it on high priced electronics and sports magazines alike).

, which seems like it just came out, is their Clarendon. It’s explicitly designed (like Canada Type’s Clarendon Text) to work better in text settings than most clarendons, plus it has an unmatched range of weights.

And Archer, their Antique slab with cute as a button ball terminals and a large range of hairline weights, still has us drooling.

Four more of our favorite slabs that aren’t by H&FJ and that we didn’t feature in our last slabs roundup:


PMN Caecila • Before the 21st century slab rennaissance this was my favorite. And I love that most books on the Kindle are set in it, so pleasant.

Museo Slab • if Archer is too expensive, start with the free weight of Museo; the whole set is pretty affordable.

Granite • Alright so this isn’t a text face but I love it so much I’m putting it in here anyway. I’m a big fan of Gareth Hague’s sense of proportion in general; his faces have a noteworthy elegance. This extreme-contrast slab is no exception.

Neutraliser • Actually now that Vitesse is on the market, art directors at men’s magazines everywhere are find/replacing their captions paragraph style from Neutraliser to Vitesse. But in 2004, it was certainly ahead of the curve

BAFTA Posters from Tavis Coburn

Fantastic retro-stylist illustrator Tavis Coburn put together five program covers/posters for the BAFTA awards (British Academy’s version of the Oscars) and they’re amazing, both individually and taken as a set. Click through for full-resolution: the halftones and details are worth it.






Oh and although I saw Avatar twice in theaters, I am thrilled that Kathryn Bigelow beat James Cameron at the BAFTAs – The Hurt Locker was an incredible film.

via Drawn!

TypograFriday: Ligatured Sans

You know ITC Avant Garde, the lame came-with-the-OS wannabe-Futura type. Designers among you probably know Avant Garde, the 1968-1971 magazine for which Herb Lubalin designed a fantastic and groundbreaking tightly kerned sans serif logotype. Lubalin expanded this all-caps logo into a rigidly geometric display and text face at ITC, where he was a cofounder. The digital version you’re familiar with is an imperfect digitization of the most uninteresting part of the original design, although the Pro version that adds back in the ligatures is now available.


Lubalin used it several times, always with the alternates and ligatures enabling incredibly tight settings, throughout the next few years, notably in U&LC magazine. And others began to use it, but not well. A few notes on its misuse from Thinking for a Living:

Tony DiSpigna, one of Lubalin’s partners and co-creator of ITC Lubalin Graph and ITC Serif Gothic, has been quoted as saying, “The first time Avant Garde was used was one of the few times it was used correctly. It’s become the most abused typeface in the world.” Ed Benguiat, one of type’s legends and a friend of Lubalin’s, commented, “The only place Avant Garde looks good is in the words Avant Garde. Everybody ruins it. They lean the letters the wrong way.” Steven Heller also noted that the”excessive number of ligatures […] were misused by designers who had no understanding of how to employ these typographic forms,” further commenting that “Avant Garde was Lubalin’s signature, and in his hands it had character; in others’ it was a flawed Futura-esque face.”

It’s been revived in the last decade quite a bit, first for music then for a certain scenester Vice ironic recapitualization of the Me-Generation?




Don’t get me wrong: I actually really like the examples above. It’s not even been that it’s been done a zillion times but after about six, it’s already been done to death. If you’re considering using Avant Garde ligatures and it’s not 1976, I ask you to reconsider. Either reference the seventies in a fresher way if that’s what you’re going for… or if what you’re liking is the interlocking ligatation of it, may we suggest a few alternatives?

Fedra Display by Typotheque, part of a megafamily that ranges from hairline to black with condensed and compressed weights.

Camera from Flat-It. Rounded and deco-style, this is quite a distance from Lubalin’s design. However it’ll still work if what you’re looking for is nested, tight lettersetting.

Sevigne by Reserves. This new face was actually the inspiration for this post. By combining Lubalinesque ligatures with the  classic proportions so popular now in typefaces like Gotham and Neutraface, and restraining it to lightweight and all caps, Reserves has put together an affordable, contemporary and altogether elegant face. It’s on special pricing right now; get it before Urban Outfitters goes and ruins it for all of us.

If You Could Collaborate


Apparently, we have a bit of a thing for Craig Ward — we posted about his work here and here. His latest endeavor — a collaborative project with Sean Freeman and Alison Carmichael — from the If You Could Collaborate show from earlier this year is pretty awesome. I’m particularly into Allison Carmichael’s piece (top).

Here’s a little more info on If You Could Collaborate:

If You Could Collaborate is the fourth annual If You Could exhibition. Aiming to provide a platform for the finest creatives from all over the world to question their conventional working methods and outcomes. The contributors have been challenged to produce something a little unexpected, by working with a partner of their choosing from any discipline, profession or background. There is no brief to answer, or format to honour – the only limit being the enterprise and imagination of the artists involved, and a liberal 12 month deadline.

And here is a pretty neat process shot from Sean Freeman:process

TypograFriday: Shahn


One of my favorite artists ever is Ben Shahn; his linework was terrific, his color sense really interesting, his sociopolitics inspirational, and his handlettering fantastic.

Above and below, a few scans from the book November Twenty Six Nineteen Hundred Sixty Three, a Wendell Berry poem about JFK’s death which he illustrated and lettered. I’ve tried lettering with jaunty mixes of thicks and thins like this before, and let me tell you, it’s super tough to keep it from not looking totally goofy. That he set type as serious as a poem about national grieving using it is astonishing.



A few other of his pieces which incorporate his fantastic lettering:


Public Sale, 1956


Parade for Repeal, 1933


Maimonides, 1954

Teach thy tongue to say I do not know and thou shalt progress? Such a good quote.


For those of you who are font-hungry, there are (at least) two fonts on the market which are based on Shahn’s lettering: Bensfolk from Haroldsfonts and thorny tuscan Rendevous GRP from Grype. Although both are pretty nice, the supersmart Opentype version with dozens of smart contextual alternates that rotate in… is sadly yet to be made. You’ll just have to use a pen, folks.


TypograFriday: Movie Typecasting, Handlettering

The other day I got the most satisfying reaction to blogging I’ve had since Dr Bex Lewis responded to my Keep Calm post… Yves Peters cited my Gotham=Oscar Font hypothesis in his FontFeed column ScreenFonts. Which in my personal world is like getting featured in the Times or something. I mean the world of movie poster critiques is a small one, and his column is the top of the heap.

Ok, enough self-congratulations. In the vein of movie poster critique, there’s one type trick poster designers use that says “hey Owen you will probably like this movie film!” I speak of hand-rendered type and how it signifies indie quirky romance.

As this is no new observation, I thought I’d at least add some scientific method to my entry into the field. I’ve arranged dozens of these below, in chronological order (sorry about the small size: I guarantee a larger version is only a google search away). This list isn’t complete – though I would love to hear what I have missed so I can make a more complete one – and starts in the 80s, as before that handlettering was commonplace, signifying little more than the technology and style of the time (the exceptional Pablo Ferro and Saul Bass will have to wait for a later typecasting column).

I think it’s pretty clear that while the early adopters of the strategy were authentically unique handcrafted personal sorts of films, as time goes on its become as hardened and codified a strategy as “big red text for summer-dumber comedy.”

Some progenitors:

My read is, the handlettering in the first signify wacky and naive, in the middle dangerous and aggressively anti-normal, and in the last communitarian and personal. None of which is exactly indie-quirky yet, but they circle around the same ur-ideas.

The beginning of the trend:

Everyone dates the demise of our neighborhood from the suicides of the Lisbon girls…I personally date the handlettered=indie trend with Geoff McFettridge’s handlettering on the poster — and more importantly titles — of Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides. Referring less to previous cinematic examples than to the lettering teenagers scribble in their notebooks, the trend was initially conflated with indie movies about teenagers.

The Royal Tenenbaums I am including here isn’t the actual poster but Eric Chase Anderson’s Criterion cover, so it doesn’t really count: however both Wes Anderson’s deliberate and fetishistic use of Futura and his use of his brother’s naive-quirky drawings are spices that went into the recipe that would make up the eventual trend.

With Napoleon Dynamite‘s title sequence with type lettered in ketchup & mustard (by Pablo Ferro, establishing the lineage back to Dr Strangelove!) and then some of the quirkiest characters and plot ever filmed, the basic model for what constituted a handlettered poster was well underway. A smattering of indie-juvenalia films over the next few years used the technique, then Juno, which though it was drawing heavily on Napoleon Dynamite, nonetheless entered a few more ingredients into the mix. Outline or outline/shaded handdrawn sans serif caps, collaged crafty elements (in the titles), and a restructuring of what handlettering means: not just indie or just indie/teen, but indie romance – and of course, a trend whose parents are Napoleon Dynamite and Juno is quirky writ large.

The typecasting of handlettering in full effect

Here’s just six of many of the movies from the last two or three years that have used the typographic formula as shorthand. Note that they are all indie romantic comedies: they no longer have to involve adolescents, but gone are the dramas or stories of families. Not only are they all handlettering but they’re all outlined sans serifs, and four out of six of them involve torn paper/pen drawing/collage elements.

I’m not saying that these are bad or even formulaic films – each is genuinely an indie movie doing its own thing – only that they communicate to their potential audience at an immediate level, right from the type choice, this is going to be a film for this audience. For every person like me who saw Away We Go in part because the Juno-titles meet desaturated-Peter-Max with Juno type poster clearly communicated a witty and probably bittersweet sort of romance, I bet there were some who turned away from it, reading correctly the same signifiers and determining they were in the mood for something more saccharine.

Of all the typecasting trends, I don’t mind this one. Often they have really nice lettering, and the shortcut to my sensibilities is appreciated. I will only come to distrust it when a standard rom-com comes delivered in this package.

The other typecasting: Handlettering as Raw Earnest Imagination


There is a split trend in which handlettering is being used in movie posters – generally speaking neither outlined nor shadowed, but monoline letters. In these cases the letters indicate not quirky or romantic or even funny, but raw nerves, personal earnestness and unfettered imagination of childhood, whether literal childhood like Max’s in Where the Wild Things Are or the magical place Spike Jonze and the artists profiled in Beautiful Losers want to access in their creative art.

Where Juno and Napoleon Dynamite birthed the main trend, this secondary trend was born out of the cult TV show Freaks and Geeks (from the same year as The Virgin Suicides), The Squid and the Whale, and the visual art of cultural-artist handletters like Raymond Pettibon, Ed Fella, Wayne White and Barry McGee. In both of the above movies, the lettering is by Geoff McFetridge, the guy who arguably started the current trend with The Virgin Suicides and probably the single most influential letterer on this sub-trend.

I have more thoughts to write but need to close for the night; I will followup next week. Please do let me know some posters I have forgotten, and other sub-trends and analysis you’d like to add.

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