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#66 • Crazy times for a new Roman

Coffee Table Typography
#66 • Crazy times for a new Roman
By Coffee Table Typography • Issue #66 • View online
Type friends!
Wonderful things happen when different artistic fields intertwine. We’ve known this for so long, and yet, most of us have probably somehow missed Alfabeto Pittorico, a series of images where gorgeous hand-drawn typography meets architecture. From 1753, worth mentioning too. If you need more pages / samples, you can find scans of the full book here. If this doesn’t blow your creative mind, you can unsubscribe.
Kottke, ah the ever so wonderful Kottke, has written a very condensed story about Italics in typography. I’ll leave it to your discretion, since I probably couldn’t condense it better than the article in which it is based.
The folks at It’s Nice That have published a very interesting article on the work of Erik Sachse, and how drawings fonts can be a form of a meditative state. Apart from the really cool type hand-drawn illustrations, Erik shares some words of wisdom regarding the craft, which I found useful.
At the Font of The Month Club, DJR released Polliwog, a very interesting and quirky looking Art Noveau style all-capitals typeface. And from the Fresh Fonts newsletter, you can get for free a high quality typeface for yourself; Noemi commissioned a fantastic Gangster Grotesk that you can grab all for yourself.
For the web designers and web developers amongst you, you don’t want to miss Dan Mall’s Typography in Design Systems
As you may have heard, the biggest piece of news of 2019 has already happened: Helvetica has been redesigned. Well, sort of, as you can think of it as more of a refresh, but a major overhaul nonetheless. Still, we’ll cover a little bit of the process further down in the newsletter, so stick around.
Last but not least, don’t forget that the Typographics conference is happening in mid June in NYC.
Lastly, a personal note: for most of May, yours truly will be running around across Japan (and I mean literally running around). If you’re in Central / Eastern Japan during May, reach out and I will run towards you!
This also means a little break for the newsletter during the month of May. Send me the good typographical things you come across by hitting reply to this newsletter.

Public Sans: US GOV's Own Typeface
Now this is interesting: recently, the US Government announced they’d be releasing their own branded typeface designed for their interface design. Named Public Sans, this is a huge first step for a more consistent, careful and consistent design for most US Federal Government initiatives.
Prior to this release, USWDS made use of a handful of open source typefaces developed out-of-house, including the ever popular Source Sans Pro, and Google’s Roboto. Public Sans marks the team’s first foray into developing a typeface of their own, and at first glance, they appear to have done a pretty good job of it.
However, Public Sans wasn’t fully designed from scratch. To ensure the typeface would be enough on its own, the designers got a hold of the popular Libre Franklin and tweaked to their liking:
“The Public Sans typeface was initially created to remove the rounded terminals from the Libre Franklin typeface, to make it closer in tone to the classic Franklins from which it drew inspiration,” a GSA spokesperson told Motherboard in an email. This choice lends the new typeface a sharper, more institutional look than Libre Franklin, which suits its purpose as a typeface for government websites quite well.
While the article from Motherboard doesn’t contain a visual example of differences between the two, its Github page contains some more information. Here’s Libre Franklin and Public Sans laid over one another:
There are actually a lot more visual examples on the Github page, so I encourage you to take a look on your own and even getting the typeface for yourself. It’s not every day you clone a repository from the US Government, after all.
Eric Lawler writes a brief explanation on typography, readability and the temporal nature of content in the age of (his words, in fact). Eric makes the case for us, content creators and designers, to start building our own typographic platforms instead of blindly relying on Medium, for example. Here’s the premise which prompted the article:
Two curiously-related pieces of content were shared on Hacker News today. The first was a short article by Joshua Li, explaining how a few basic CSS styles can make for a great-looking website—across varying devices. The second was a longer post by Marco Fioretti on how Google is “forgetting” the old web.
But this isn’t an article, nor a newsletter, about the pros and cons of content gatekeeping in the Internet. The real reason why I’m sharing this is because one of the comments the author got about his blog, which only shows a few words per line at a time, stated that:
Is it just me, then, that hates the “narrow strip of text down the middle of my large monitor” school of web design?
I don’t understand why I’m being forced to scroll when there’s all this blank space to the sides.
If you work with type, you know exactly how to answer this. The reason why designers don’t fill up 1920px worth of screen resolution with running text is called “optimal text measure”:
A block of text or paragraph has a maximum line length that fits a determined design. If the lines are too short then the text becomes disjointed; if they are too long the content loses rhythm as the reader searches for the start of each line.
Ideally, you want to keep the width of paragraphs to around 50—80 characters per line. Too long, and your eyes will lose their place when coming back to the start of the next sentence.
(and here’s a reminder you can find plenty more rules on the ever so great Practical Typography website)
So when does Medium come into the picture? you ask. In its early days, Medium was indeed known for honouring the typographical details we adore today. Get rid of all the clutter, all of the unnecessary, and read away. But as Medium got commercial, things started to change: suddenly, the platform became cluttered.
I even tweeted about this earlier this week, before reading this article, with a screenshot of what the experience of reading on Medium feels like on mobile.
His point on reclaiming content is simple:
But is there another form of consumer? Is there a form of content on the internet that takes longer than 5 minutes to read? Is anyone writing longer articles that repulse the casual surfer, mindlessly flicking through links on their iPhone X? Apparently, such a fiend does exist! Quietly typing away, hundreds of individuals are crafting articles designed to be truly thought-provoking, to stand the test of time and Deserve To Be Read decades later.
While I do still admire the technical typographical feats of Medium, like smart quotes, smart dashes, the almost invisible inclusion of hair-spaces around em dashes, the fact that most articles are displayed for their “newness” and promoting link-rot do not make content justice at all.
Continue reading not in Medium, but at Lawler’s website.
Helvetica updates, a few examples
Helvetica updates, a few examples
Helvetica Now – The Redesign
Helvetica, the most well known and most beloved, as well as the most dreaded, typeface of the 20th and 21st century, has just been redesigned by Monotype. In fact, Monotype’s website has its own separate space for the new Helvetica.
The new version is called Helvetica Now. It’s a tremendous overhaul that saw Monotype redraw every single one of Helvetica’s nearly 40,000 characters to be easier and more enjoyable to read, with a particular emphasis on going small: the kind of text you see a lot more of these days on your smartphone or pill bottle.
Helvetica isn’t without faults, of course, and ever since the 1960’s there have been attempts here and there at covering up its quirks. This major overhaul does however, for good, address some of its most pressing concerns. When asked about it, Charles Nix from Monotype says,
Four years ago, our German office kicking around the idea of creating a new version of Helvetica. They had identified a short laundry list of things that would be better. We looked at the waypoints in the Helvetica design process, going back to 1957 when it was first born. All of the sizes of Helvetica early on were physically cut for specific optical sizes. So if you had 6pt type, it was cut to be 6pt type. And if you had 72pt type, it was cut to be 72pt type. When we went digital, a lot of that nuance of optical sizing sort of washed away.
Its extra versatility is also visible in the form of new alternate characters, like straight-legged capital “R,” single-story lowercase “a,” lowercase “u” without a trailing serif, a lowercase “t” without a tailing stroke on the bottom right, a beardless “g,” some rounded punctuation. That’s a lot of alternatives.
Bolder  and lighter weights
Bolder and lighter weights
If you’re thinking this takes time, you’d be right too; the entire process took just over 5 years to complete. The motivation for this redesign were mostly from a digital interface perspective: Helvetica was losing ground to its more modern alternatives as an interface typeface:
Monotype’s director, Charles Nix, says the typeface needed to evolve to stay relevant in digital contexts. “Typefaces must cope with every manner of output and device: high- and low-res, gigantic and tiny, so looking at the technology of today and the applications that require legible text, the move to Helvetica Now is natural.”
The redesign comes after Google, Apple and other digital companies’ creation of their own, more versatile versions of the typeface that were easier to read on smaller surfaces such as an Apple Watch.
There’s so much to read about this redesign. The Guardian wrote a little bit about it, and you can continue reading this interview with one of the designers on The Verge.
How Letterpress Printing Came Back
Let’s admit it, we all love letterpress, whether secretly or not. The Wired writes about the coming back of letterpress, or at least, adventures in it, and how this comeback it’s happening all over us.
30 years ago, such adventures into letterpress were slowing down, facing near extinction, such was the excitement about all-things-digital. As Glenn Fleishman puts it, letterpress printing is fussy and slow: you arrange blocks of metal type to spell out few words at a time, or wood cuts for large type.
A letterpress then pushes paper down onto the blocks, which have been covered with a thin layer of ink. You wind up with inky fingers and aching muscles. And it’s impossible to achieve completely consistent results.
And yet, today, there’s a boom in workshops and classes on letterpress and the most analog of printing processes you can imagine. Facebook, Amazon, Starbucks; they all promote some employees to seek out how to get their hands dirty with the ancient printing method.
But for every bit of fuss, there’s an equal measure of aesthetic appeal. Martha Stewart was among the first to highlight this as letterpress faded, and clamored for its revival. In the 1990s, her lifestyle empire extolled the handcrafted look and feel of letterpress work, especially for wedding invitations. Stewart’s outlets tended to feature prints with a deep relief, known as debossing, which photographs well at an angle in a shallow depth of field.
Traditional letterpress, however, mostly aimed for a kiss, not a punch, lightly caressing the paper with ink.
Here’s what I didn’t know: all major producers of letterpress type have shut down and ceased production in the 1980s. From then on, most letterpress printers have turned their attention to a specific kind of material worth knowing a bit more about: the photopolymer.
Photopolymer is a resin-like substance that’s sensitive to ultraviolet light. It is hard, durable, and replaceable. It also lets designers use all the digital tools and, more importantly, all the digital typefaces with which they’re familiar. A printer can opt to deboss the hell out of a print with photopolymer. When or if it wears out, you just make another identical plate.
It’s based on this material that modern letterpress is alive and kicking today. Interestingly enough, it provided it with the ability to reborn as digital letterpress, since nowadays digital films are made based on a digital design file. Glenn again with a little timeline of his experiments:
Standing in Glowforge’s offices, I dragged an image file I’d exported from Illustrator into Glowforge’s cloud-based Web app. A camera inside the cutter let me visualize exactly where the type would be cut out of 1/8th-inch maple plywood in the device’s bed.
A few minutes later, I had the numbers in my hand. They were carved with digital perfection, as neatly as if they’d been printed onto paper. The next step is to mount them on about 0.8" of plywood to bring them to the height required by a letterpress.
Oh So Beautiful Paper have an interesting photo timeline of the entire process, in case you’re curious about a visual explanation of it.
Typefaces Du Jour ✍️
Introducing Inkwell Condensed
Gabriela — Latinotype Mexico
I came across Gabriela whilst reading the Fresh Fonts newsletter, and it immediately grabbed my attention. And after taking a closer look, I got in for an even bigger treat, as the typeface has so much more to offer than it meets the eye.
Designed by Antonio Mejía and published by Latinotype Mexico, Gabriela comes in a whopping 36 weights, and some of these differ quite heavily than its regular counterparts.
The Gabriela project is of great importance to us since it is the first font published by Latinotype México which is our brand-new sister foundry in Mexico. Gabriela, yet more versatile, share all of its DNA with Gabriela Stencil. The font is an excellent choice for short and medium-length text. Gabriela is a Didone typeface well-suited to classy branding and editorial designs. 
Just look at how classy Gabriela is:
You can grab it at MyFonts, or visit the foundry directly.
On the Coffee Scene ☕️
Cold Brew Gummy Bears Exist, In Case You Were Wondering
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