FONTLY: Endangered types

By Pablo Medel. September 12, 2012


In the digital world there is space for everyone. And lately we are grateful to see that there are postmodern romantics (paradox permitted) who choose to look back. Their goal is clear: to regain what the scourge of time is set to destroy. That’s the case of Boston-based designer Brendan Ciecko, founder of Ten Minute Media.

Since the 11th century, when Bi-Sheng had a brilliant idea and invented the first ever moveable type system using clay and porcelain, the history of print has had a long and sharp trajectory. Although we had to wait four centuries for Gutenberg to be inspired by wine presses (not knowing he would cause a true revolution) and turn the screw of that invention. The Middle Ages, naturally, were in shock. But there was still a great deal to be learned from the scribes in their scriptoria. At the time there was only one kind of font: the Gothic. It was time to copy the already existing designs and create new ways to symbolize our alphabet. And here is when Italy, the home of the press, comes into the scene and creates the first type families. Based on the observation of the ruins of their old empire and paying attention to the small endings of the letters, they established the first division: the Romans (or classics) with or without serifs.

Much has happened since and today nobody is surprised at the fact that the secret of many graphic designers is hidden in their infinite folder of fonts. We don’t need to know the theory to see the typography coincidences in the logos of Post-it and Nestlé or Olympus and Panasonic: they are all Helvetica. Names like Klavika, Pico-Alphabet, Alternate Gothic, Catull or Black Rose may not mean anything to you at first, but if you think of (in this order) Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Google and Vimeo you’ll instantly recognise the types used for each.

We are surrounded by typography. In the same street you go from seeing the straight upper case of some neon lights to a café menu printed in the hideous Comic Sans, a concert poster in Futura lower case and a hand painted neoclassic sign. That is why, making the most of the attraction for everything that’s vintage, Ciecko seems to have found the solution. It’s called Fontly. This iPhone app is very easy to use: you take a picture of what you see and it is be automatically geo-tagged and shared with the rest of the world. The creator of this invention knows what he wants: "Preserve this invaluable part of our visual heritage”. And he is not headed in the wrong direction; the life of a community, a neighbourhood or even a country is also hidden behind the types used for its stores, streets or front doors. Nice task that of using technology to preserve our history.

Long live typography!

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