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#63 • Typing for Pirates

Type friends! ✍️ It's been a little while, I know, but boy, is there a meaty issue for you this week
Coffee Table Typography
#63 • Typing for Pirates
By Coffee Table Typography • Issue #63 • View online
Type friends! ✍️
It’s been a little while, I know, but boy, is there a meaty issue for you this week to make up for it.
First off, a huge, heartfelt thank you to David Jonathan Ross, (a personal type-hero of mine and founder of the Font of The Month Club) for being the latest supporter on Patreon. Thank you so much, David.
One of my all-time street typography blogs, Type in Berlin, have recently published a collection of images with the theme “yellow typography”. Yes, Berlin is rich enough in typographical variety that you can easily pick a theme and come up with a whole bunch of photographic evidence. There is something uniquely beautiful about the art of putting an umlaut in a neon sign; and Berlin lets you get away with it, in style.
Fontstand has also welcome the very London-based Alias foundry to their catalog, which you can explore as of today. I also stumbled upon a wonderful book-typography-cover project, Cover to Cover, a personal project from Jenny Volvovski (also on Instagram). Jenny redesigns, according to her own personal preference, every cover of every book she reads—all heavily typographical. Definitely spend some time appreciating the immense creativity in her work.
And, just in case you haven’t heard, yet another fraudster was recently caught due to typographical-forensics: once more, forging documents from the past using modern Microsoft Word’s typefaces. Kashimir Hill is also publishing an interesting series where she blocks one tech giant a week from her life; and reports back on the horrors of using the Internet without Google Fonts.
Until next time, type friends,

1938 Lydian Typeface Makes a Comeback
You just gotta love a vintage comeback. Lydian is a 1938 “humanist” sans-serif typeface; typically, this means it tries to give the impression of being written by a human hand, but it doesn’t have any of the characteristic flourishing strokes more commonly associated with calligraphy or popular serif fonts. It’s edgy, literally speaking, and it doesn’t necessarily scream of elegance.
But Lydian has a very interesting story:
Lydian was created by designer and children’s book illustrator Warren Chappell in 1938, and named for his wife Lydia. It was used on the cover of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake in 1939, and then on the classic children’s novel Homer Price in 1943, but didn’t really find its groove until after World War II.
English readers might remember Nancy Drew's covers
English readers might remember Nancy Drew's covers
During War times, novels like Nancy Drew and The Hardy Boys had dead-simple covers, with cheap materials and not much care to it — certainly a sign of the hard times. However in 1946, artist Rudy Nappi was hired by Nancy Drew publisher Grosset & Dunlap and art director Ted Tedesco to redesign the series’ cover with a dust jacket that was covered all the way around — with a bigger illustration and a more striking overall design. Lydian Bold was chosen as its title font, jump-starting a decade of the font as a go-to for commercial fiction. Here’s one more cover for your viewing pleasure.
What’s perhaps more interesting is how the typeface still found its way into different media over the following decades, from the early 60’s in television and well into the 90’s:
In the 1960s and ’70s, it appeared in the credits forLucille Ball’s The Lucy Show and Here’s Lucy, but mostly it faded from popular culture for decades until reappearing briefly, first on the cover Patti Smith’s 1992 memoir Woolgathering and, more importantly, in 1994, in the credits for NBC’s Friends.
Perhaps you recognise Lydian after all, friend.
Perhaps you recognise Lydian after all, friend.
And we find ourselves today, in 2019, still discovering ways of turning a severely outdated typeface into seemingly good design. The cover for the very popular Against Everything by Mark Greif, from 2016, uses it ever so cleverly. Just like Kaitlin, author of this Vox article so wittingly put it, it’s like Martha Stewart die-cutting elements for a funeral invitation.
You will also find it as the cover of 2016’s In The Unlikely Event by Judy Blume, and you gotta admit it works pretty well as a whole. Andrew Martin’s Early Work is another example.
You can also find Lydian at a fancy restaurant in Vienna, in promotional materials for the Thalia Theatre in Germany, and on the hymn boards and complimentary postcards at the super-trendy Line hotel in Washington, DC. The Line also stocks its rooms with issues of Here magazine, the editorial arm of the luxury luggage company Away, which uses Lydian for many of its headers.
So why are we now seeing it everywhere–again?
Lydian has an academic implication, possibly because it was used all over official documents for the International Baccalaureate — the liberal arts-centric alternative to high school AP programs — until 2007. In its first era of popularity, it was all pop and pulp, but now it seems reserved for the task of adding just the slightest bit of a smirk to extremely straight-faced endeavours: elegant magazines, important books, experimental theater.
According to Kaitlin,
Font trends are faster now, she says, and she attributes this particular wave to a popular reimagining of Lydian released by the typeface foundry Colophon in 2013. That condensed, bold, italic Lydian is a lot less twiggy than the original; the foundry’s website says it’s meant to “appear wrought simultaneously by both pen and machine.” It’s not the version of the font that’s popping up the most, but it was a reminder to the design world that Lydian could be cool.
I also love the take from Jason Heuer, a typography teacher from The School of Visual Arts, on the popularity of Lydian:
This popularity is part of the ongoing trend of seeing the maker’s hand in a product. The contemporary artisanal movement that has been happening for some time — from craft brewing, furniture making, and bee-keeping to hand lettering and printmaking — is a reaction to the digitized world we see every day. I think consumers yearn for something visceral, sincere, and authentic.”
There’s a ton more examples and use cases for Lydian, as well as a more detailed attempt at explaining the successful comeback of this vintage, quirky looking font, in the original article.
Die Rohte Fahne — German Revolution
On this outstanding article for Fonts in Use, Florian Hardwig takes a very close look at the typefaces found in the Socialist newspaper first published during the 1918’s German Revolution.
In 1918, German socialist leaders Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht were tortured and murdered by the Freikorps at the end of the Spartacist uprising. The very first edition of The Red Flag used, unsurprisingly, a high number of Fraktur typefaces and some very interesting typographical practices to create emphasis. I’ll leave you with a breakdown of one example below, entirely set in Fraktur with some interesting letter spacing choices:
No italics in Fraktur: letter spacing was how emphasis was made
No italics in Fraktur: letter spacing was how emphasis was made
So, in detail, and quoting Florian,
In German Fraktur typography, it was common to use letterspacing for emphasis, in lieu of italics. This clipping has plenty of considerably letterspaced words, none of which would ask for emphasis. The goal here was to simply justify the lines as quick as possible. What’s a few stolen sheep compared to the liberation of the working class? Also note the dissolved umlauts at the bottom left (“Ueber”, “Uebernahme”): Fonts didn’t always include capital forms for ÄÖÜ, but instead had separate small pieces for the dots, which could be mounted on top of AOU.
One of the reasons there’s so much to learn from looking at a century-old typographical industry is seeing the origins and ways of achieving today’s best practices; let’s take kerning, for example. While I never really paid attention to kerning in Fraktur typefaces, there was some care about it back in 1918:
Dan Reynolds points me to a detail in the first nameplate: While the Fa pair is gappy, the ro pair looks like it’s kerned: the o extends more to the left than the rightmost point of r. In letterpress printing, this can only be achieved with kerning. The revolutionary printers certainly didn’t waste any time on the finer points of letter spacing. This suggests that Eckmann-Schrift came with fitted pairs or, more likely, pre-kerned sorts, for bigger sizes.
There’s a few more intrinsic typographic details from this Germany era, which I encourage you to take a look at over at FontsInUse.
A Custom Brand Typeface is a Good Idea
In this (Premium, heads up) Medium article written by Shawn Sprockett, we’re given some pretty convincing arguments as to why, contrary to popular typographical belief, a custom brand typeface may actually be a good idea.
Most of us are familiar with this experiment already: a random scientific fact about gold, written in both Baskerville and Comic Sans, with participants being asked about which one looked more trustworthy. Notably, anything written in Baskerville, a very classic serif typeface, was generally seen as more believable. But this is far from the end of the story.
Shawn makes a bold claim:
Custom typefaces often get a bad wrap as the fetishized, self-indulgent projects of “visual designers,” but platforms risk ignoring real metric-moving opportunities by failing to invest in typography.
Designers learn about how typefaces shape perception in school, but the experiments confirm the role that serifs and sans-serifs play in visual communication.
Brands have been leveraging this influence for over a century. Today, tech logos lean heavily on lower-case, sans-serif type (Airbnb, Lyft, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Tinder, etc.) to appear approachable and unassuming, while banks, financial institutions, and government agencies rely on the Western traditions of serifs to project authority and security. Companies wishing to remind consumers of their founders or their creative legacy, like Coca-Cola and Disney, often prefer scripts and decorative typefaces.
Most of these companies have resorted to creating their very own unique typefaces, often, to great disaster (I’m looking at you, Youtube). Perhaps most notably, Google has been doing the most stellar job at this:
Google’s Product Sans is perhaps the most impressive. It is a great example of communicating friendliness without being juvenile; of inspiring trust and competence without appearing intimidating or overbearing. It supports a global portfolio of products in many languages and can be adapted to many tones and feelings. But it is more than just legible and readable, it gives the Google brand a way to connect to users in an almost invisible, yet tangible, way.
But sure, Google can afford to spend the time and the money.
Shawn got most of my attention when he mentioned something about “raising the bar for inclusivity”. In fact, here lies an opportunity to make a difference.
In the last several years, typographers have dug into the core usability challenges of the Western alphabet and made strides in designing typefaces that are more inclusive. Letters like p, b, q, and d, for example, are all mirrored reflections of each other compounding the difficulty for many with reading disabilities, like dyslexia.
Vanity typefaces that rely on high contrast letterforms often sacrifice legibility to those with visual impairments. Poor kerning and leading controls in digital spaces means carelessly rendered typefaces can dramatically impact the usability of products.
My mind was blown away with something I had, perhaps shamefully, never noticed: an anti-pattern in which important text in a design is intentionally set in the most unreadable capitalised text possible, so it’s ungodly difficult to read.
Take, for example, the surgeons’ general warning in cigarettes’ packs:
Easy to read, right?
Easy to read, right?
When forced to add a surgeon general’s warning to all cigarette cartons, U.S. lawyers for big tobacco pushed to make the design a solid block of text in all capital letters. They argued that underlined, capital letters would help get consumers’ attention; a generous act of compliance they argued. But the block actually makes the text easier to ignore. It’s a tactic lawyers are familiar with which is why long contracts and user agreements are often written in long paragraphs of all-caps text.
A unique typeface is then not just an opportunity for a more unique branding, but also one to do good, when engaged with the mission to improve usability, readability and ease of use. There are, of course, a bunch of challenges and constraints to create a unique typeface, which Shawn goes into great detail about.
There are shortcuts, of course, which is what Airbnb recently did:
One time-saving strategy is to start with an existing typeface and modify it as Airbnb did turning Circular into Cereal.
The article has a few more interesting facts about research made with dedicated typefaces in critical fields, which I encourage you to take a closer look at.
When Typists Were Feared as 'Love Pirates'
Typefaces Du Jour ✍️
There’s a lot to feature this time. We’ll start with Radar, a typeface by Marta Sánchez Marco, a gorgeous sans-serif which is in fact a revival of “Grotesca Radio”, from the Spanish foundry Richard Gans. Radar is elegant, geometric and mono-lineal. Its design can be related to the body of creations from the early 20th century.
Pay attention to its features on the lowercase d/b/f, with a very tall but fashionable x-height:
Next up, Aleksei from Fatype truly got my attention. Designed by Anton Koovit, it comes in four weights and all of them are delicious to look at in just about any size:
Aleksei is a sturdy text typeface mixing a contemporary design with the feeling of a classic text face. Anton Koovit started Aleksei in 2007, developing the design and adding styles over the years. It features a moderate contrast, adjusted for long running texts and small sizes, as well as some particular details such as convex serifs and rotating teardrops.
On the Coffee Scene ☕️
Did you enjoy this issue?
Coffee Table Typography

A love for words, letters, language—and coffee.
A digest of curated resources, articles and knowledge sharing about the beauty of typography; in design, on the web, or books.
You will read these over your morning cup of coffee, while the aromas of freshly ground beans are still in the air, quickly realising that words are beautiful and that you might need that second cup after all.

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With 💙 from Montreal, Canada