The History of My Commute

Since January 1, 2012, Mark Simonson has been putting all other type bloggers to shame – his New Year’s Resolution was to post every day, and he’s been keeping pretty good on his word. My last TypeOff. post, in comparison, was on October 13, 2011!

Today, however, he moved me out of my complacency by posting a history of his commutes, from 1976 to the present. I can only go back to 1999 with this counter-post.

  • 1999: 45 minutes by car from Providence, Rhode Island to Taunton, Massachusetts
  • 2000: 20 minutes by car from Providence, Rhode Island to Pawtucket, Rhode Island
  • 2000: 30 minutes by El. train/foot from Chicago (Belmont) to Chicago (Navy Pier)
  • 2001: 20 minutes by car from Central Falls, Rhode Island to Providence, Rhode Island
  • 2001: 25 minutes by foot from Providence, Rhode Island (East Side) to Providence, Rhode Isand (West Side)
  • 2002: 60 minutes by train from Baltimore, Maryland to Washington, DC
  • 2003: 60 minutes by S-Bahn from Wiesbaden to Offenbach
  • 2004: 90 minutes by S-Bahn from Wiesbaden to Bad Homburg
  • 2007: 60 minutes by S-Bahn from Offenbach to Bad Homburg
  • 2009: 330 minutes by train from Berlin to Bad Homburg
  • 2011: 90 minutes by train from Berlin to Braunschweig

I win, Mr. Simonson!
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Thank you, Steve

I suspect that there will be a lot of reminiscing about Apple this morning. Yet, despite all of the items on my to do list, I’d rather ponder the moving example of Steve Jobs’s life and career. If it were not for Jobs – and the company he founded and led so well – I would unlikely be doing any of what I do today.

Although all of the computers in my elementary school were Apple products – color Apple IIs, I think – the PCs that my parents used while I was growing up were not. While I probably began to play rudimentary PC games around 1984, and I spent most of the 1980s with game–console–envy, it wasn’t before 1994 that I thought very much about the Macintosh. Since that time, I haven’t ever wanted to use anything else.

I was quite active in the Boy Scouts. In January 1994, I joined the team of local Scout newsletter from Baltimore, MD. This was produced on Sunday afternoons at a local pre-press studio. To this day, if I had to make a sketch of what heaven should look like, it would be the inside of this company. It was full of Macs – the best models of the day, of course. There was also oodles of other equipment, but only one Windows PC, which was relegated to a corner. I decided to study graphic design because of my experience with this newsletter. In fact, for many years, I thought that graphic design was DTP, and that wrapping text blocks around images and editing images in PhotoShop was the pinnacle of what graphic designers could do.

Of course, I learned in school that graphic design is a means of transporting narrative; that it is a system of visual communication with roots going back hundreds or thousands of years. I fell in love with typography and type design, and learned about the differences between both fonts and typefaces, and between the designers behind them.

At RISD, I only worked with Macs. Just before college, my parents bought a crazy Performa desktop machine for me; during my third year of school, I bought my first PowerBook. Another PowerBook followed this, then an iBook, and finally the MacBook Pro I type with now. I never worked with a company that was PC-only. I bought iPods in 2003 and 2006, am currently on my second iPhone and first iPad. I downloaded songs from the iTunes Music Store on the day that it launched. Their Podcast delivery system changed the fabric of my life; wherever I find myself, I’m never without music or other audio content anymore.

Jürgen Siebert has already written very effectively (in German) about the more concrete role that Apple and the Macintosh played in the development of DTP, publishing, and today’s system of font distribution. But Jürgen left one detail out of his article: Altsys Fontographer. This application was one of the first digital font editors available for any personal computer – although there were alternatives, including Ikarus M. Many of today’s type designers got their start with Altsys’s product, which was later sold to Macromedia and eventually to FontLab. I’m no different in this regard. I licensed my first copy of Fonotographer from Macromedia in 1999, while still a RISD student. All of my initial, terrible stabs at type design were done on a Mac in Fontographer. Only later, when I started working on commercial products in 2005, would I upgrade to FontLab. Today’s new UFO-based type design applications are all Mac-only. When I run PC software – like Microsoft’s VOLT – I do so on a Mac, in a Windows partition.

The products and the ecosystem that Jobs helped create struck me in 1994 as purely magical. Today, even if I understand them better, they still fill me with awe. Without Jobs’s vision, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I am so thankful, then, for Steve Jobs (1955–2011).
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Reading about S.M. is tremendous fun

A few weeks ago, Claus Eggers Sørensen tweeted about purchasing a used copy of James Moran’s Stanley Morison: His typographic achievement (1971). Anyone who wants to bring about my financial ruin should just pretend to order all sorts of books on the Internet, and then tweet about them. Following the old monkey see, monkey do principle, I am sure to begin shopping for them myself.

To Claus’s credit, Moran’s Morison is the best book that I have read all year. By “best book,” I mean that it is rip-roaringly entertaining. Who would have though that S.M.’s life would have so many laugh-out-loud moments? I heartily recommend following Claus’s—and my own—example; purchase a copy of this book for your own libraries, dear readers. Morison (1971) is not an expensive item, and it is worth at least triple for every penny that you’ll put down for it.

There are several quotable passages in the book, especially if you are a fan of S.M.’s Jesuit-style wardrobe and/or personality. I would have preferred more insight into his 1920s travels through Germany. For instance, Moran writes on page 82 that, “[Morison] was mostly made welcome, but the brothers Klingspor would not let him into their typefoundry just after the war because he was an enemy.” When was this Offenbach visit exactly? From the book’s timeline, it would seem to have taken place in 1922, which is a bit later than “just after the war.” I assume that the Klingspors were unaware that Morison, as an objector to the war, had been imprisoned toward its end.

However, my favorite bit of the book may be found on pages 93–94, where Moran explains part of the impetus behind the “program” of typeface revivals at Monotype during the interwar period:

…startling changes were not to be expected at the Monotype Corporation, and it was not until Morison became typographical adviser to the University Press, Cambridge in 1925 that opposition to the cutting of new types began to recede. It was perhaps just as well for posterity that Morison had been offered only a part-time appointment with Monotype, and was able to take on an additional one at Cambridge. As a full-time employee of Monotype he would have suffered even more frustration than he did, and little would have been achieved.

Morison needed outside support to convince the Monotype staff. A certain amount was forthcoming, not from printers, but from publishers, including Francis Meynell, who had founded the Nonesuch Press. Meynell induced the Corporation to improve various Plantin characters, and to add others such as tied sorts, thus helping to create the situation where outside suggestions were accepted as normal. If only publishers would express a desire for new faces, and if their printers could be persuaded to use them in books, opposition within Monotype would crumble. Morison set himself the task of winning the publishers, for which he was well placed, as he was working for several.

More books like this one, please!

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Strange e-mail received

Yesterday, I received a strange e-mail to my address from someone named Jason. The sender’s email address was so long and cryptic that I assumed it was just another piece of spam. However, the subject matter of the e-mail was somewhat topical. Here is what Jason had to say:

You have a very tiny font site layout. ouch, my eyes!

Will you consider cheering up the place with some font creating tutorials for the average guy? Those people with some graphics skills who use the free software like gimp and inkscape who could possibly squeeze low end highlogic or fontlab software into an annual budget to turn out fonts under GPL or similar… but more likely fight the good fight against FontForge

As far as I can deduce, Jason is either a spambot whose message seems to have hit someone who knows what fonts are, or Jason is a TypeOff. reader with a request! I really can’t tell. To Jason’s credit, there was no link in his e-mail. So if he is a spammer, he is not of the malicious variety.

For the record, I find the content here on to quite cheery. I do have several articles in the pipeline, but font-making tutorials are not currently on the horizon. I find tutorials to be very difficult to write, and I prefer to blog about other topics. However, if Jason happens to live in the UK, he may be pleased to learn that I recently wrote a short FontLab tutorial for Computer Arts Projects [“Create a text font in FontLab.” Computer Arts Projects, issue 137. Bath, UK (June 2010). Link to the issue’s table of contents online]. While I did not mention FontForge in the text, most of the points touched on in the article are applicable to any piece of font creation software.
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ESPN: World Cup = American Revolution II

ESPN World Cup – Glory from Mathieu Zarbatany on Vimeo.

TypeOff.’s European readers may not be familiar with ESPN. The Entertainment Sports Programming Network is a cable station in the US that broadcasts a number of athletic events. ESPN is sort of a “presence” on the American media landscape, to say the least. Many TypeOff. readers may also not be aware that Team USA’s first match in the upcoming World Cup—on June 12th—is against England. To drum up an audience on the home front, ESPN recently released the commercial (above). The narration quotes a text from Tom Paine‘s Crisis Series (“these are the times that try men’s souls…”), published during the darkest hour of the American Revolution, in 1776–1777. It seems that ESPN hopes to bill the USA–England match-up as a sequal to the Revolutionary War… The American Revolution, Part II.

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Five links about design education

For the past three semesters, I’ve worked as a part-time instructor at University of Applied Sciences in Darmstadt, Germany. Even this brief description makes my role sound more significant than it is; I just offer a single class in typeface design. During my first two semesters, this class met one day per week. This semester, I combined all of my hours into a nine-day workshop. Someday, I will post more about the work from those classes. Let me just conclude this paragraph by writing that my students are all in the Hauptstudium phase of their studies.

My students are from Darmstadt’s Faculty of Design, which is still on a German Diplom degree track; the switch to Bachelors and Masters degree curricula is yet to come. A Diplom curriculum is divided into halves: the Grundstudium and the Hauptstudium. Between these two parts, students complete an intermediary degree called a Vordiplom. In the past, many German design departments have considered the Grundstudium curricula to be the equivalent of foreign BA programs, making the Vordiplom a BA equivalent, and the Diplom an MA equivalent. Other countries often interpret the German degree system rather differently. The in’s and out’s of this are far too complex for today’s post.

During the past two weeks, a number of online articles on design education have caught my attention. Some of these are specific to typeface design, but not all of them. Also, two are written in German. However, I would like to recommend all of them to my readers.

1. A Case for Type Design Education
First, Canada Type‘s Patrick Griffin makes the case for a type design degree program in Canada. I’m not sure whether he is suggesting a new undergraduate degree program (i.e., a BA), or another graduate degree program. He mentions in the article that the only two places in the world where type design may be studied are the programs at the University of Reading or in The Hague.

This is not quite accurate. There is a graduate certificate program in type design at the Zurich University of the Arts. Also, a unique program under the auspices of Fred Smeijers is on the books at the Academy of Visual Arts Leipzig. This seems to be someone separate from the standard Diplom curriculum at that school, and only available to advanced students. Still, I think that it should be considered postgraduate education as well—although this ties into the international accreditation of the older German degree system, which I touched upon above. I believe that in Latin America, there is at least one Spanish-language MA program, and there may be another in Spain as well. Patrick also does not mention that type design courses are offered as electives at many universities in several countries, but this may acceptably be left out of the article, as single semester classes are not a substitute for a dedicated curriculum.

I’m sure that Canada as a whole, or perhaps Toronto or Montreal specifically, do have the resources necessary to support a postgraduate type design course. However, I would be willing to bet that, if universities in North America were to start founding type design courses, the first institutions to do this would probably be in the United States, rather than in Canada. In fact, the Savannah College of Art and Design already lists a graduate certificate in typeface design on their website, although I am not personally familiar with the work made on that course, or with the course’s current faculty, students, or graduates.

2. Die richtige Ausbildung für Webdesigner
Not only is this article in German, it is quite Germany-specific. Author Oliver Jensen interviews two web designers (surely Germany has more than two web design experts?), asking them their opinions about web designer training. Germany still has established apprenticeships in certain fields, so it is not necessary to study graphic design (or anything else at the University level) in order to work as a web designer. This article runs through some of the options that many secondary school graduates face when considering a career in design—all design fields in general, not just web design.

3. A few things I’ve learned about typeface design
On I Love Typography, Gerry Leonidas reflects on his experiences as Reading’s MATD course director. As far as I know, this is the first good write-up about what goes on in type design at the University of Reading to have been published online. Two KABK graduates have written about their experiences during the Type]Media 2008 course on I Love Typography as well. But Gerry’s article tackles the problem of type design education as a whole, rather than reflecting on the actual activities that students go through in the course of such a program.

4. Werde Lehrer für Typografie und Schriftentwurf and A conversation with Dan Reynolds on Bachelor & Master
Both of these links may be a little self-serving, but TypeOff. is my blog, and I am free to write as I please!

Today, Indra Kupferschmid posted a mention on her blog about a new staff position at the Stuttgart State Academy of Art and Design (in German). This is a very interesting position at a renowned institution, but the paygrade assigned to it is miserably low. I second Indra’s question as to what sorts of applicants they hope to attract for this. She writes, “show me the person with a masters degree and work experience who is willing to move to Stuttgart to work 39.5 hours per week for a TV-L 9 pay grade position, which has a starting gross salary of 2,229 Euro per month.”

My second link to her blog is a little older. it summarizes a Facebook discussion that she and I had last year about the pending Bachelor and Master degree reforms to the German educational system (in English).
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Searching for new Berlin apartment

For almost a year, I’ve been living in Berlin a little more than half-time, spending the rest of the week commuting around Offenbach, Darmstadt, and Bad Homburg. In November, I’ll finally be moving to Berlin for good.

Anke and I are looking for a new apartment. Our current one, right behind the Bergmannstraße in Kreuzberg, is just too small. We are interested in anything with two or three rooms. Staying in the area where we are would be nice; after all, we have such good neighbors. But Neukölln, Freidrichshain, or Prenzlauer Berg could be okay, too. We’d appreciate any leads! Of course, we are already looking through the normal channels.

A building where pets are allowed would be pretty sweet; I’m considering getting a dog in the spring.
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Only one thing could make Axel better

I try not to have heroes. I don’t see the benefit. How do you explain the downsides—which every person must have somewhere—when you idolize someone? Still, there are people that one looks up to. As designers, there are projects that you look up to, too. As a type designer living in Germany, I don’t think that there is any way around Erik Spiekermann‘s body of work. It is quite prolific, and I doubt that any living designer has changed the national landscape with his thoughts or actions more.

Since I travel about 20 hours per week on trains and subways—maybe even 30—I see Erik Spiekermann’s work every day. While the Frankfurt transit network doesn’t use any of his typefaces, both the German national train system and the Berlin underground do. Also, whenever you try to sell your fonts to German customers, you know that Erik’s designs are somewhere in the back of their minds. They look at your letters and ask, “are these narrow enough?”

Now I am going to be looking at even more of Erik Spiekermann’s well-crafted letters… every time I open up Excel. I’m probably not alone in writing this, but I hate Excel. I think that Microsoft is actually a great company; they’ve done more to bring script support to all parts of the globe than anyone else. They have some neat fonts bundled with their OS, too. But Excel is a chore. I have both the Mac and PC versions, yet I try to get by with Apple’s Numbers whenever I can. Erik has gone along and done something that will make my work-life with Excel a little less bad.

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Type nomad

Moving out of my apartment in Offenbach today has been more jolting than I expected. This isn’t because I will miss the apartment, although it was quite nice. Neither will I will miss Offenbach, since I’m not leaving the city yet. At the end of next week, I’ll be moving into new apartment that just around the corner from the building that I’ve lived in since October. My jolt today brought on by the realization of how little stuff I actually have.

It seems unthinkable now, but when I was 21, I lived in my own apartment, with my own stuff. Eight years later, I hop from room to room in another country. I used to have all of the stupid pieces of furniture that you need. Their quality might have been a little run down, but moving across Providence, RI was still be the sort of undertaking that involved a rented truck.

Coming back to Germany from England last year, I could only bring between 30 and 50 kilos onto the plane, including my hand luggage. I ended up donating more than half of my clothes and shoes to charity, and had to give up several books and magazines as well (this hurt my type-centric heart more than tossing away a few old sweaters ever could). Somehow, a whole bunch of things had gotten into my English apartment, but only a fraction of it was destined to leave the island.

Today, my library—every type designer’s treasure, right?—is split in half. Some of the books are in piles in Anke’s apartment in Berlin, waiting for the day when I’ll be able to spend enough time per week in the city to justify the cost of a bigger apartment there… one that will have a big room devoted to housing my personal library; a room with wall-to-wall bookshelves. The rest of the books are in my office at Linotype. But I don’t really need them there. Moreover, Dan Rhatigan and I unearthed a box of non-Latin books and resources from Linotype’s storage pit yesterday, and those really deserve to be on my office shelf space instead, for instance.

I still haven’t got a dog.
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There is spam, and then there is semi-spam

Part of the fun of having a blog like this one is the e-mail that occasionally pops up in my inbox from people I have never met. Some of these corresponders ask for font suggestions, have questions about my typefaces, or wonder which schools they should consider if they want to study typeface or graphic design. Unfortunately, other sorts of e-mails arrive, too. These e-mails aren’t quite things that you would want your spam filter to capture. Yet reading them can cause pain in other little ways. Here are sample of these sorts of queries…

Q: Hi! I really love your blog. I am one of the of the organizers of [insert conference or event name here]. We really aren’t interested in inviting you to come speak at our event, and honestly, we couldn’t care less if you even paid the cash to register yourself for it either. But could you please post an article about [insert conference or event name here]? We would love to use your website as a platform for our poorly written press releases. We know that you won’t receive any sort of benefit from this, except perhaps that it might let you pretend that we care about you, your opinions, your writing, or your design work!

A: Dear public-relations-person-who-has-yet-to-get-the-point-behind-web-2.0, thank you for your e-mail. Unfortunately, I am only interested in writing about conferences that I am attending at this very moment, am planning to attend, or might conceivably want to attend. Occasionally, if a friend of mine or someone who I really respect is speaking at an event that I am not going to attend, or is organizing or otherwise helping it out, then I will post about it here on TypeOff, too. Press releases are so 20th century anyway; don’t we both have better things to do with our time than have this conversation?

Q: Hi! Your website is such an awesome resource. I am not a type designer, but I wrote an application that I think vaguely has something to do with fonts on the web/in print/on little wearable buttons/etc. I think that it is the best application of its kind ever thought of, and I am sure that you agree. I am too cheap to dream up an advertising budget, even though I am selling my application for mucho bucks. Since I paid you a compliment in the first part of this e-mail, would you please post a long article about my application? Then, people who visit your website might come and buy my product, and you’ll get absolutely nothing for the trouble! Moreover, the share of your readership that doesn’t like my product may naturally feel so alienated that they will stop patronizing your site… but let’s be honest; anyone who doesn’t like my product isn’t worth having around anyway, right?

A: Dear troll, how did you find my blog? I know about Google and such, but the miniscule amount of typographic material that I scribble here for my small readership cannot possibly be something that you find particularly fascinating. Even if you did, I still do not see the benefit this site might receive for plugging your product. The point of me having a blog is that I get to write about things that I find interesting or noteworthy. If your product really is the cat’s meow, it will probably get picked up by hundreds of other bloggers before I get around to finding it. And if that is the case, then my readers will probably have heard about it before I would get around to blogging about it in the first place.

Q: Yo! We’ve have about two dozen beers together over the past couple of years, and I released a typeface over at [insert name of awesome foundry here] two months ago. You still have not blogged about it. Are we not friends anymore?

A: Oh, fuck! I am very sorry :( I must have been hiding under a rock when your typeface was released. Of course I will post something about your typeface. Next time, if you give me some advance notice, I’ll do better and blog in a more time-worthy fashion.
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