More Music and Typography Stuff



From Inertia Creeps - Royal Festival Hall 2008

This post is a combination follow up from a post last week titled Vice Versa Type – screen fonts on paper and non type on screens and my last post about the Blip Festival. I must have been in sync b/c I found had music on my mind b/c I came across some pretty cool digitally inspired typography and music posts. The first image actually comes from the myspace page of SquarePusher at The lights take on a system that you would normally see on a calculator. The second gif comes from a post talking about SquarePusher’s new album Again there’s some grat typographic continuity going on between the two displays.

The third image comes from a Massive Attack concert video, the song being Inertia Creeps at Royal Festival Hall 2008 which was done by UnitedVisualArtists.

And for bonous content, there’s the above video from BBC2 Culture Show ft. Soulwax, which has no typography in it, but makes use of old school digital equipment. That video is via montreal state of mind.

Vice Versa Type – screen fonts on paper and non type on screens


The Screens Issue - Moments That Mattered -

I couldn’t help but find it interesting that the latest issue of the New York Times Sunday Magazine takes on the Screen Issue w/ some of the sensibilities that we take for granted when we do actually read something on screen. While that is cool in it’s own right, it’s fun to compare that issue w/ the latest post from Hoefler & Frere-Jones “On the Death and 441-Year Life of the Pixel”. The post concludes “Crisp cellphone screens aren’t the end of the story. There are already sharper displays on handheld remote controls and consumer-grade cameras, and monitors supporting the tremendous WQUXGA resolution of 3840×2400 are making their way from medical labs to living rooms. The pixel will never go away entirely, but its finite universe of digital watches and winking highway signs is contracting fast. It’s likely that the pixel’s final and most enduring role will be a shabby one, serving as an out-of-touch visual cliché to connote “the digital age.””

I don’t agree that using that digital style will become an out-of-touch visual cliché to connote “the digital age.” That visual treatment has been around for quite some time – ten or fifteen years at least, probably longer. Up until this point that style has felt as timeless as anything else typography wise that has spanned more than a couple years. Time will have the last laugh and will prove if it becomes a bad cliché, but up until this point we have a ways off before we should declare one visual style shabby when there’s still good uses of it.

Type that’s true either big or small

modul 300dpi

It was fairly serendipitous that for the last couple of Link Drop’s I’ve posted stuff from the blog of the Turkish design studio Antrepo. Digging around for a new typeface for a couple projects that I’m working on for myself I noticed that they had created something that spoke to some of my digital and print sensibilities together. A typeface that would work at a small sizes w/ the anti-alias off, while at bigger sizes stay true but not jagged. It’s called Modul 300 dpi Base at can be viewed at I’m still experimenting w/ it, but so far I like.

The old and new MetLife Signs above New York

new MetLife Sign

old MetLife Sign

A couple nights ago I noticed a new addition to the typography skyline of New York. A second updated version of MetLife, not on the MetLife Building but from a different building a couple blocks away. Not sure what the scoop is, but does that action suggest that something different is going to be replaced on the MetLife building? Keep in mind that you can only see the new sign at night when the light is turned on, during the day it’s invisible in its current state.

Any additional info would be appreciated.

For the type fans out there

Darden Studio : Birra Stout

Just got passed on a great site of some type people that I haven’t come across before (though that’s not saying a lot.) Darden Studio has a lot of great work and blog to look at, they’re also passing on the wealth w/ one free typeface called Birra Stout. Download Birra Stout at and their site at

I also thought that parts of their colophon were worth repeating here: The soundtrack has always played a role in our design process. During development, we listened to a lot of NPR, and the energetic offerings of Ella Fitzgerald, the Magnetic Fields, ‘N Sync, Def Leppard, Jellyfish, Paul Anka, Ryan Paris, Future Bible Heroes, Regina Spektor, Neil Finn, Christina Aguilera, Johnny Cash, Suroît, Ragan Fox, Elvis Presley, Elliot Smith, ABBA, Eartha Kitt, Fannypack, the Black Eyed Peas, Tom Thumb and the Latter Day Saints, and The Misfits significantly aided the shaping of this website.

Our tools: Our toolbox contains Apple computers, Hewlett-Packard printers, Fontographer, FontLab, Python, Yojimbo, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe InDesign, Adobe Illustrator, TextWrangler, MetricsMachine, Superpolator, and SubEthaEdit; our desk drawers are always stocked with Staedtler Mars erasers, Pilot v5 pens, Sanford 2B drafting pencils, and lots of Post-Its.

Visualize your delicious tags in a cool way

top 50 tags from / Michael_Surtees /  by Michael Surtees

I luv visualization tools – you’ll luv too if you have a delicious account. The above image illustrates my top 50 tags from The site has a really nice and simple nav to make modifications to how you want to display the results. Go figure that design is my biggest tag…

Type Test

mental_floss typeface quiz quiz

Somewhere in the world at the moment that you read this post it will be lunch time. Why is that important you ask – well the intellectuals at mental_floss have decided to challenge their readers Lunchtime Quiz with typeface questions. With responses afterwards of people taking the test like this “Only 50%, but I really do know my comic sans serif!”, how can you not check it out to see where you rank. Take the plunge at Just in case you were wondering I completed it in record time with 100%

30 Typefaces of Varying Degree in 2007

Typefaces of 2007

Typefaces of 2007

Typefaces of 2007

I think there’s a saying along the lines that there’s no bad typefaces, just bad designers… MyFonts continues to challenge that phrase with what they’re calling their top 10. It’s a truly dreadful list that makes me wonder what people are thinking that they can produce with some of those fonts. Veer’s list is slightly better, but what surprises me is that all the listings are of one single weight. I’m not sure if that’s intentional or not or speaks to the fact that the seem to be all display fonts. Thankfully 2007 was not a dreadful year in typeface design – at least that’s the opinion of Font Shop – their list saves the day. My bias towards Font Shop comes in that most of their typefaces feel balanced both in the negative space as well as the positive space. There’s one more list that I will add when it finally comes out, but for now all we have is Typographica’s Favorite Fonts of 2006. So when Typographica’s Favorite Fonts of 2007 fonts comes out I’ll change the 2006 link.

Button Typography

ABC Button: Der Button

It’s not something that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about, but after looking at ABC Button I didn’t realize that in a systematic way you could create any letter with a 3 x 3 base unit grid. There may be other buttons out there that have nine holes in them, though I haven’t seen them before. It’s a really cool idea. Having all those holes in the button allows you to create some great words. If you happen to visit the ABC Button: Der Button you’ll not only be able to see some images of the buttons in action, but you’ll also be able to download the typeface that was influenced by the buttons for free.

via Uppercase Journal

Designing a typeface with the tools of production in mind



I found a really interesting post via Uppercase Journal about a student that designed a typeface with the tools of production in mind. The final letters were going to be created on a CNC machine. As the image above shows, the drill couldn’t make perfect corners. It’s a nice post describing the Intercut process at

Typewritter Illustrations

While floating around Uppercase Journal I saw this great idea. Illustration through typewriter. Read more about it at Typewriter Illustrations and some flickr pics HERE.



Where do you begin when you’re one of only twenty three people that gets to walk around New York with Tobias Frere-Jones hearing about his observations on type and how it influenced the great typeface Gotham? I know of one individual on the walking tour that had a hard time sleeping the night before b/c she was that excited – I’m sure she wasn’t the only one. On Hoefler & Frere-Jones’s Blog, there’s a google earth map of the entire route. I think it ended up being about three and a half hours of type bliss.


There was a lot type information covered with the tour and I don’t think I can remember everything word for word that Tobias shared, but here’s some of the stuff that seemed to stick with me. A lot of the type that we looked at was specifically designed to be on buildings, typically they were names of company’s or phrases that were quoted. I think that was important to understand what the context was. Whether it was someone chiselling out letters in stone or using a method by hand to be efficient, those type of techniques influenced how the type was set. And not to be forgotten, how the type would actually be read as someone walked by. By current standards, a lot of this information has been lost due to the advancements in computer technology where as when things were created by hand issues of speed were important. Hell we even saw every type of type in use on a building at the same time.


I really got the sense that Tobias had talked to a diverse group of individuals that are related to typography and more to the point sign makers from the past and other individuals that a lot of designers today may not communicate with on daily basis. Have you ever wondered why some signs have a drop shadow on the left and not on the right? For sign painters there’s more straight lines on the left as opposed to the right. And why is some type distorted horizontally pre-computer days? Sometimes signs are read as a person walks by and hence sees things on a slight angle.


Designers are brilliant observers, having eyes that look at everything that others might disregard or ignore makes the visual landscape. That’s often the case with street art as I’ve mentioned in the past that advertising grabs, but the same could be said with typography. Another theme was the hidden work that has been covered by other signs, on occasion by fluke, while other times haphazardness. Another issue is time, old buildings are bought and sold at an incredible pace which makes the signs that are on them likely not to last a long time these days.


My favourite building sign came from Cup & Saucer. It’s as simple as luving the angle type and the crazy ampersand. I also enjoyed hearing the smack down Tobias gave to one of the worst type examples in New York and possibly the world, Trajan on the Williamsburg Bridge.


In part the walk was inspired by the images that were taken to create Gotham. There was signs from fire departments, doors, schools and other places. I’ve never really thought of the open source philosophy to be part of the design world, but the fact that Tobias was more then happy to share everything that he could through his observations of type on buildings was pretty close to open source design as it’s going to get. I appreciated his effort and was humbled for the work that he and other typographers do.

Running around Gotham city shooting type



I managed to survive my 30th Birthday on Saturday, though since then I’ve been incredibly busy. I spent the first half of my birthday hanging out with other fans of typography and the typeface Gotham with Tobias Frere-Jones who was leading an AIGA NY tour titled Alphabet/City. When I finally catch my breath I’ll have a post on the fantastic experience. Here’s my experience about the walk… Until then you can see my photos on my flickr set and I would recommend visiting the Hoefler & Frere-Jones Blog where there’s a collection of other peoples photos and comments about the experience.

Gestalt Type


I thought the Seed conference and Edge apartment logotypes were playing with some interesting gestalt shapes. Aside from that, the letter “e” from Seed look like reverse 3’s while the Edge logotype looks the same when turned upside down. Don’t belive me, turn your laptop upside down… Copyranter has an interesting review of the Edge logotype at too. Btw I don’t know who designed either logotype, but if you do please let me know.

Type Training

A Typographic Walking Tour

September 29th is a special day, not just b/c it’s my thirtieth birthday but b/c if you’re in New York you can be part of the AIGA’s Typographic Walking Tour lead by Tobias Frere-Jones. It should be three miles of type heaven if you’re one of those people that sees type as something more then just letters and numbers. On the Hoefler & Frere-Jones website there’s a Google Earth download of the walking route. Space is limited so sign up asap at AIGA/NY.

Helvetica in Vancouver and What is Design, really?

Helvetica Vancouver Poster

Over the weekend as I was hanging out in Bryant Park working away on my computer, I had pretty good conversation with Mark Busse over IM. He’s the Chapter president of the GDC BC Mainland Chapter and he was mentioning the success of the Helvetica film screening in Vancouver. Apparently they sold out two nights and caused a lot of chaos on the streets before it opened. They’ve placed some flickr pics HERE. Mark was also cool enough to send me a couple extremely large posters from the event.

And yesterday I received a really, really nice email from David Ngo who created the above YouTube video on the question of what is design? The video is long at eight minutes but well meaning for my short attention span. It looks like it’s the first in a series. I’ll be looking forward to the next installment when it comes out.

Helvetica – the therapy session


My lowbrow impression of the documentary film Helvetica was that everything was great – yes it really was. Instead of me giving a play by play sequence of the film I’d rather talk about some of the things I learned. Up until now I’ve never been willing to choose helvetica as a typeface for a design. I have used helvetica, but only because it was part of a brand’s set of assets. My snobby favourite has always been Univers because of the numbering system it has for all the weights and the fact that I laid type on a press with it. The stable of sans serifs that I typically look towards include the Sans, Gill Sans, Fruitiger, Franklin Gothic, Trade Gothic, Locator, Myriad etc. Ok, there’s also one typeface no one can escape from if they design for the web – arial. But it’s the bastard font child that no one really speaks about. Each of the other sans serifs that I mentioned had enough character change to make it feel right for me during the project I would use it for. But until last night I didn’t realize that I was probably relying on the positive shapes of the characters as opposed to the negative space in between the characters that make up typography. I now realize that in essences I was using those faces as a crutch.


Before seeing the film Helvetica I wondered why? A film, for a font? Does it mean that there should or could be a film about any imaginable typeface out there? After watching the film I don’t think it will be easy to duplicate Helvetica. On a number of occasions people that were talking passionately in the film suggested helvetica was like air, it’s just there. It really seemed like a therapy session, both for those talking on screen and the audience itself. I’ve now been living in NY for almost nine months and helvetica is everywhere. I just ignore it. In less urban areas (or at least where I used to live in Canada), I’ll take the risk to generalize and suggest that the attitude is similar to my old impression that helvetica wasn’t the first choice for a design. It’s not as abundant in less urban areas. But with so many diverse examples of the same typeface used in almost every conceivable way, it was an overwhelming example of the power of the negative space. When I took out my dog this morning I was looking everywhere to see how the space was being used with helvetica. But to answer my original question of could there be another film about a typeface on the same level as Helvetica, I don’t think so. It’s a special film because it came out at the right time, there’s an abundance of examples helvetica in the world and graphic designers are looking for something to believe in that isn’t necessarily personality driven as much as an expression of a passion that they can relate to.


I’m guessing over the next year that there will be over a 100 screenings of Helvetica. Vancouver, Calgary, Montreal and Toronto so far are the only Canadian cities mentioned on the Helvetica website for screenings. I just hope more Canadian cities take the effort to bring it out to show. But if that doesn’t happen soon enough, one of the questions asked and answered was if there was going to be a dvd available for purchase. And the answer was yes which is great for those that may not have the film come to their city and for those that were lucky enough to see it in a theatre who need more. The film was roughly structured with conversations by really passionate graphic designers and visual examples from different urban cities. For those that loved helvetica and those that didn’t in the documentary, what surprised me was it was based more on philosophical terms then on aesthetics. On the pro side there was the idea bringing order to chaos. One example on the negative side was that it was a reflection of the corporate interests in past (and present) wars. But each person that spoke in the documentary was brief. It was to the point but for obvious reasons the conversations were edited down to a manageable time. It was hinted that on the dvd that the full conversations would be accessible.


After the film ended there was a panel discussion w/ Massimo Vignelli, Tobias Frere-Jones, Jonathan Hoefler, Jakob Trollbäck and Gary Hustwit. The discussion turned quite fascinating when an audience member named “Ed” talked about how he’s made love to helvetica and told the tribunal on stage to let her rest. As he finished his statement the audience applauded. The only Ed that I know about in typography is Ed Benguiat, perhaps it was him though I can’t confirm it either way. As rudimentary as the last question from a different audience member was, I think the answer surprised most people that are familiar with Robert Bringhurst. The audience member asked is there really a difference between typeface and font? And the response from the panel – today, not that much.

I’ve also placed a set of images from the evening on flickr.

All about the hands – Alphabet: An Exhibition of Hand-Drawn Lettering and Experimental Typography


Alphabet: An Exhibition of Hand-Drawn Lettering and Experimental Typography

If you’re in one of the below cities and have an appreciation for type, the exhibit for Alphabet is something that you probably won’t want to miss. For more information visit the site at

December 2007 · Ohio Northern University · Ada, OH
July 2007 · Say It Loud · Orlando, FL
2007 TBA · Cooper Union · New York, NY
February-March 2007 · Minneapolis College of Art & Design · Minneapolis, MN
January 2007 · Pennsylvania College of Art & Design · Lancaster, PA
November 2006 · Northern Illinois University · DeKalb, IL
March 2006 · Workhorse Gallery · Los Angeles, CA
January-February 2006 · M-80 · Milwaukee, WI
November 2005 · Heaven Gallery · Chicago, IL
August 2005 · Lump Gallery · Raleigh, NC
July 2005 · Pinkard Gallery, Maryland Institute College of Art · Baltimore, MD

More info and a great pic of the catalogue cover can be seen at black. white. bliss.

Over at the American Museum of Natural History yesterday

at the American Museum of Natural History

I visited the American Museum of Natural History for the first time yesterday, and it was scary. I think the second time will seem elementary but until then I can only speculate. Part of the problem may have been coming in through the back. But even still it shouldn’t haven been so confusing. I didn’t know what to expect or where I could go. For a while walking around was disorientating, and I never knew when I needed to pull out my ticket to show that I had paid for the general things. The map should have been a help, but it failed for one simple reason. There was no way to know where you were at any given moment. A really simple indication would have been to mention on a wall whether it was N, E, S, W. Ok, maybe not on every wall, but enough that I could flip the map in the right direction. Colour would have worked just as well.

After battling the confusion about where to walk, the actual viewing experience was a pleasure. Seeing animals and bones in scale really brought me back to childhood when you’d see those type of images in a textbook. Looking at them now gave me a really different view on it. It was easy to dismiss on paper, not so much when you compare it to real life.

The design geek that I am, I did pay attention to way things were displayed as much as what was displayed. Yes, I was interested in how the display interacted with typography as much as what the object was. It didn’t disappoint. I took a couple pictures here and there as I walked through, but the above sign caught my attention the most. It was so ironic, yet fitting. It worked b/c there was only one of them. If everything had been set like that it would have been lost. But since it was the only sign like that, it made me smile.

Speaking through the shapes of typography

Oded Ezer's work from his website

I don’t usually highlight individual portfolios that much, but I thought Oded Ezer’s work was an exception. I only discovered his work this morning after he made me a contact through flickr. After going through his typography work, experiments and art I couldn’t not mention his name here on DesignNotes. His combination of english and hebrew characters are fascinating. Aside from the characters used in english or french I don’t know any other language, yet the shapes of his hebrew characters seem familiar. His characters are kerned and spaced eligantly and the shapes speak, even if you have no idea what they’re saying. You can visit his work at his portfolio site and look at his photos on flickr.

There’s also a pretty good interview with Oded at PingMag titled Oded Ezer – experimental Hebrew typography

Marian Bantjes has a heart for designers

Marian Bantjes Hand Drawn Sheet

Marian Bantjes Rational

Not only did Marian Bantjes draw out 150 different hearts, she had to do at least five different Michael’s which is quite a feat in itself. Take a look at all her Valentines HERE. I’m just happy to see that she hasn’t totally forgotten moi since I moved to New York from Canada…

Image One: the actual heart

Image Two: the rational page that came with the heart

Reading and watching on your iPod, are these really digital magazines?

iPod Magazines

There’s been a couple photo applications on the video iPod that have challenged the idea of reading magazines. The first that I became aware of was Tiger (btw the cover image has a semi nude women on it, so use your own discretion) – a screen based art magazine that has started to transfer their content for an iPod download. It’s never been a printed publication so the experimentation is a natural evolution. On the more commercial side there’s From their site you have semi access to mens magazines like GQ to FHM. Their downloads are accessable to the iPod and a number of cell phones. It’s not the full magazine, most of the content consists of women and a couple text interviews. The template format is weak. There’s zero consideration of typography. It’s text set up in photoshop with no intention of what is readabilty. It’s also interesting to question the content, though it shouldn’t be such a surprise. The target is young males that are interested in tech toys. But could this format be used for more productive things? Only time will tell. Lifehacker has an article that talks about Perooz too, “Perooz” mobile magazines on your iPod, Zune or other mobile device.

Other iPod sreen apps that have tried to use the screen were those subway maps, but do you recall the last time you went to your iPod to see a route? Video – I don’t think it’s really caught on as much as people theorized it would. My guess is that the battery life up to this point hasn’t been able handle people’s expectations. But what happened to photos? Have you ever had someone pull out there iPod and share some of their images that they have stored? I’ve done it a couple times, but I’ve never seen anyone else do it.

Massimo Vignelli Talk

Massimo Vignelli Talk

Finally, a design talk where I can say that I left afterwards with a smile. If anyone is wondering who they should invite for their next big talk – put Massimo on the top of the list after you’ve considered swissmiss. By far Vignelli has been the best individual that I’ve seen talk in NYC. The talk was way longer than the average 55 minute lecture I’m used to seeing. I didn’t end up leaving F.I.T. until after nine. And I would have stayed another hour if there were the questions to keep him on stage.

It would be too difficult for me to do a play by play review of every slide he showed, but I did my best to shoot a bunch and post them on flickr at I came to the talk thinking that I knew a bit about the designer, but it was apparent that I really didn’t have a clue. The number of products that he had designed was quite exhausting outside of the graphic design stuff. I just had no idea that he was so into dishes and environments.

In the past when I think of modernism, I attached it with serious business. Strong lines and very systematic without a sense of humour. But after hearing Vignelli and others that believe in the philosophy – I have reconsidered. While every point made sense, the delivery had a punch line that everyone in the audience couldn’t help but chuckle. I’m learning that Modern people have a great sense of joy.

As much as I left smiling, it wasn’t all b/c of the jokes. I truly felt I became a better designer for listening to him share his thoughts. Some of these notes are not much different from what you’ve come across in your own travels, while others might strike a new note.

· ask yourself what the rules are, what does it mean?
· design w/ intensity and passion
· nothing comes easy
· 72 points is big!
· I only design when I need something
· let the emptiness sign
· this is me in 1972, do you like my pants!?!
· five different levels of hierarchy
· if you can’t find it, design it


Considering that Emigre has had the same website since I was in Design School in 1995, the fact that they have redesigned their site now is a pretty big deal. Explore it for yourself at

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