Join Kristin Ellison for an in-depth discussion in this video Introduction, part of Allan Haley on the Evolution of Typeface Design.
- Allan Haley is a consultant and storyteller who spent his entire career in the typographic arts. Formerly Director of Words and Letters at Monotype, Haley was involved in all aspects of building and maintaining the company's typeface library. He was also an important link between Monotype and the graphic design and design education communities. Haley is a past President of the Type Director's Club, and was Executive Vice President of the International Typeface Corporation.
Along with hundreds of articles to his credit, he is also the author of six books on type and graphic design. - So we're here in New Orleans, at the AIGA Conference, and I have the distinct pleasure of speaking with Allan Haley. Allan, thank you so much for being here today. - It's a pleasure. I was really looking forward to this. - So, typography is a topic that elicits great passion in people, and, I mean, you look at like, you for example, you've dedicated your life to the typographic arts.
You look at people's opinion of Comic Sans, lots of passion there. What do you think it is about typography that causes this passion? - I think there's really sort of two kinds of passion about typography. There's always been sort of the cognoscenti, who have used type. You can go all the way back, probably all the way back to Gutenberg. I'm pretty sure the scribes didn't think his fonts were so great. But, you know, moving forward to maybe the 18th century, people hated Baskerville's type, hated it.
They said that you would go blind if you, literally, you would go blind if you read Baskerville's type, and you move forward, people in the 40s and 50s, people hated Lydian. I think it's people who use type, and today, graphic designers, interactive designers, it's easy to have a strong opinion about something that, you know, that you can say, yeah, this is bad, or, if you use this typeface you're really, you know, you're really not a good designer. It's kind of hard to say that about a color, or other kinds of things.
The other part of it is, it comes from the democratization of type, in that, just folks on the street now know fonts. They know Times New Roman, they know Arial and they can have an opinion about it, just like they can have opinions about music, because it's out there in the mass market. Everybody is dealing, virtually everybody is dealing with fonts and type, and as we get more sophisticated about that, as they get more sophisticated about that, that media, they form opinions, and I think that's probably what happens there.
- And, it hasn't always been that this sort of Type Geek was cool. - (laughs) No. - It's really blown up in the past couple of years. Do you remember when that shift happened, and do you have any idea why that might have changed? - I think it started in the mid-1980s, and, as we got into the 90s, it really became kind of cool to be a Type Geek, and I think part of that was because so many people were able to become a Type Geek, to work with type, to design type faces, that goes back to 1985.
It was sort of a perfect storm of innovation when the Apple Laser Writer, the Adobe PostScript Page Description Language, and PageMaker software came together at an announcement, it was staged obviously and orchestrated, but, that was the moment when type went down to the masses. If you had a few hundred bucks, you could start setting type. You didn't have to send something out to to a typesetting house.
If you were working in an office environment, you had fonts available to you. Prior to that, you know, there was type, laser typesetters, laser printers, but they were huge things. They were like, you know, the size of a railroad car, and they were several million dollars. They were made by Xerox and IBM, and you know, only big corporations had them, but with that announcement, all of a sudden, it democratized type and all those people who maybe thought type was okay or was tending to geek anyway, were able to start using type and were able to start making their own fonts, and we started looking at that, the design community looked at that and realized that these are some pretty special people, deserving of being a respected Geek.
- So, do you feel like the democratization of type has caused type to become better, or worse, or wider? What has that leveling of the playing field caused? - Well, clearly, wider. I mean, you know, if you have a computer, you have a printer, you have fonts on your hard drive, and you're using them. Every time that there's been sort of an evolution or a revolution of that kind, the purest of the community always complain.
When the phototype setting came into being, they said, "Oh this is terrible, "it's never going to replace metal type, "it's never going to be as good as metal type," and more and more people were using phototype, and they turned out some crap, I mean, some really, really bad typography, but people want to learn. People want to know what's good, what's right, what's beautiful, and they started creating really, truly great typography, great typefaces for phototype. Digital type came in, and the same hew and cry went out.
"It's going to ruin typesetting," you know, "We're never going to be the same," "Look at all these horrible typefaces that are coming out," and granted, 150 fonts and counting that are out there, not all of them are good, but there are some truly, truly wonderful typefaces that are being created today, so, it's an evolution, and the first part of the technology maybe isn't so good, but people learn. - What are the qualities of a great typeface? - Charisma and versatility.
The really great typefaces have a presence, whether it's a Baskerville or a Bodoni or a Garamond or, you know, a newer design, they have a presence, and they work. They work everywhere. They work at big sizes, in little sizes, in one application or another application. They just, they've got their street creds. - So we have new typefaces every day, hundreds of new typefaces all the time. And we're still using typefaces that were created hundreds of years ago.
What are the ones that you feel have really endured and why do you feel that they've endured? - They've endured because somebody brought them into the future. We can't use Fred Goudy's fonts today. We can't use John Baskerville's fonts today. They're metal, they're hand set. But, somebody saw fit to say, that's a great design, that's a versatile typeface, that's really a good tool. Let's make it available for a machine-set metal typesetter, let's make it available for phototype setting.
Let's make it available, and it just, you keep going on and on. Let's make it available for digital type because they are the classics. They're like classical music. They live on, but you need to bring them forward. - For the person who's interested in designing their first typeface, what would you, what advice would you give them? - Same advice the guy said when the question was asked, "How do you get to Carnegie Hall?" "Practice, practice, practice." Your first typeface isn't going to be very good.
It's a learned craft. I mean, I've seen the first typefaces of Hermann Zapf, Matthew Carter, and the very first ones we probably wouldn't have put into one of the libraries that I was involved with, but they matured, they honed their craft. You need to do that. You need to understand what makes a typeface. Most typeface designers sketch today, but they don't draw letters and then turn them into digital.
They work, it's a Gestalt, where they're working onscreen, making the typeface, but they have that background in them, they know how to draw, they know what makes up a good character, well proportions, that, that doesn't jump out on a page, that works with all the 26, 52 other letters, and combines in perfect harmony with them. That comes from study. It comes from practice. - Do you think that hand drawing letter forms is an important part of that process? We look at people like Doyald Young who, just an absolute craftsman.
Is that an important part of that process? - Absolutely. It's unfortunately a process that is being lost in our educational institutions, although it is coming back. There are schools that are teaching people to be typeface designers, or, giving them the information they need to really understand what it takes to make a typeface, and the very basics of that is you're drawing letter forms. I know Doyald quite well and I knew his attitude toward drawing letter forms, and yes, you absolutely have to do that.
- And now the hand lettering craze, I mean, that's, a really interesting thing. - That's the wonderful part of it, the maker, the maker aspect that's happening today, where a lot of type designers are saying, "I'm not a type designer, "I'm a type maker," which means, it used to be there were type designers and then the drawings would go off to somewhere in the company, the foundry, and somebody would make a metal font of them. They're part and parcel. You can't break them apart, making a font and making a typeface anymore.
So, again, many people are saying, "I'm a type maker," and, what's that's done, because the tools are there, more and more people are doing it, and a lot of people are just doing a really good job of it, and yes, I think that's, the whole maker movement is helping to drive what's happening with typeface design today. - It's neat that it's really touching sort of an artisanal space. - Yes. - You know, it's, each letter is becoming its own thing, it's people are incorporating paint and traditional medium, so, do you have any thoughts on that and how that is touching the more typeface designers who are living in Funtographer and those kinds of programs? - Most of them are using other software to develop fonts today, but, yeah, I think, you know, again, the maker aspect is very much a part of that, and even if you look at some of the traditional typefaces that are being revived today, there's a big resurgence in looking at early 20th century Sans-Serif Grotesques, that came out of Germany originally, and typefaces like Ideal and Venus, and there was sort of a grouchiness, a handmade quality to these designs, and what they're trying to do is bring these designs forward so that they work in a current environment, but they don't lose their personality.
That's very important.
In this interview, a partnership between Lynda.com and AIGA, Allan talks to Kristin Ellison about typography: why typography inspires a passionate response from cognoscenti and laymen alike, how the evolution from metal-set to digital type has impacted interest, and why certain typefaces endure. They also discuss
- The qualities of a great typeface
- Advice for typeface designers
- The impact of craftspeople like Doyald Young and the Maker movement
- Marketing typefaces and combatting font piracy
- Developing Monotype's Fonts.com library
- Why Monotype reinvests in fonts like Metro and Gill Sans
- Leaving Monotype to consult
- What makes a good addition to a font library
- How to design a font to fulfill a gap in the marketplace
- What's on the horizon for typography