My first day at TYPO London was quite an experience. Entering the lobby at Logan Hall felt like stepping back in time a few months. The professional and efficient welcome and wonderful organisation amounted to the great atmosphere the sister conference TYPO Berlin is so famous for. Seeing all the familiar faces made it feel as a deja vu, but a fresh and exciting one. Nonetheless it immediately struck me that this London edition has its own distinct identity, its own quirky personality.
Michael Bierut began his talk in a similar way to how Tony Brooks ended his: innocent and humorous. He started his presentation in Ohio Cleveland, where he grew up. Some early pictures of family and sketches in his school books lead to some first drawings of words and – essentially – his start into typography and graphic design. Encounters with publications such as Armin Hofmann’s Graphic Design Manual and Milton Glaser’s Graphic Design inspired Bierut to continue a career and life in graphic design.
The development of a typographic accent for the BBC World Service – judging by the account of Kutlu Canlioglu and Titus Nemeth – was always going to be a challenging, and in some respects thankless one. But in the process of trying to reconcile 27 tongues and 9 languages, they came across, stumbled through and ultimately succeeded in resolving some fairly major challenges.
Some, not surprisingly, were those created by modern technology. Others, perhaps even more fascinating, sprang (or rather emerged) from the past. The intention of the global experience language (GEL) covers both a general atmosphere for the user experience, and, a specific and authentic reflection of Arabic script as it appears on the multiple news sites operated by the World Service.
The interface project started with a general review of the use of screen real estate across competitor news sites, and paid specific attention to the balance between hard and soft news stories – how were they placed, presented and consumed? The differences (Brazil: a mix of hard and soft, Russia: 100% hard news, China: the land of pop ups with everything) were then replicated in the BBC’s interfaces, some of which are launched and others due soon. But it was when Titus began work on the development of the typefaces themselves that a surprising historical and technical quirk created significant challenges alongside a genuine opportunity.
Put simply, when Arabic was simplified for application on typewriters and in hot-metal, a number of critical aspects of the true character of Arabic type were lost in the process. The change in structure of single letterforms, which occurs to add or bring context in Arabic, was lost. So the constraints of previous technology meant that new Arabic type forms were – in some cases – simply repeating the truncated versions of the past where a whole range of accents and marks had been stripped back to just one or two alternatives.
In taking Arabic from metal to line-casting, the opportunity to re-appraise, extend and give a true reflection of one of the most wonderful aspects of Arabic typography was lost. Foundries simply copied the structure they adopted from one technology into the next. Certainly the quicker and more cost effective option, but also a lazy one too with no acknowledgement of what newer technologies offered. More importantly, no acknowledgment of whether the fundmentals of any non-Arabic font were truly and accurately represented. Titus naturally has opted to be a vanguard of acknowledging this missed opportunity and doing something about it.
From what he showed, the work he has developed alongside Kutlu and the BBC World Service probably gets as close as is currently available to a type family that reflects the nuances of Arabic as comprehensively as possible.
Text: Patrick Baglee
Still sitting there with my 3D glasses listening to Lynda and Dale discussing the prospect of eye implants in the near future – I am somewhat relieved when Nat Hunter goes back to basics ‘Story Telling’. Nat Hunter from Airside is also the only female speaker for today.
There is a rectangle, possibly dictated by the printing press, that has defined the place where much of the information mankind has consumed has existed. And it is the confinement of this rectangle that has been at the heart of Dale Herigstad’s work. Or rather, his work explores what is beyond the confines – or what might, could and should be outside, in front of and behind of the rectangle.