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#70 • The Serifsgiving

Coffee Table Typography
#70 • The Serifsgiving
By Coffee Table Typography • Issue #70 • View online
Type friends!
It’s Thanksgiving weekend here in Canada. Today, during a chilly but sunny walk, I’ve stumbled upon the prettiest mailbox you will ever see. It’s in form of typographically pretty and delicious letter on its own, which goes really well with the season.
Greg Hitchcock wrote recently about the celebration of 30 years of TrueType, the core font technology adopted by Windows and Apple that enabled “fonts” as you know and love today to develop so beautifully.
30 years — that’s a thousand years in technology years, and it’s perhaps why it’s so surprising to read words like these:
Thirty years of TrueType has spanned a significant portion of the computer industry. It is remarkable that TrueType fonts developed almost thirty years ago work as well, or even better today as when they first came out.
What other pieces of technology have fundamentally remained the same, but still managed to evolve and thrive, into the fast paced world of 2019? ¶
Because it’s been a tradition of sorts, here’s one more illustrated example of what can be achieved with variable fonts for artwork purposes, by Typearture. ¶
Recently, Microsoft announced their own coding typeface, Cascadia Code, mostly targeted at terminal and code editors which benefit from monospaced fonts. It has beautiful programming ligatures available and is open source — what’s not to love? ¶
“Nice, Very Nice” have published a helpful publication with the 39 most outstanding font pairings of 2019; and they’ve done one heck of a good job. Good interfaces examples, good descriptions of how they work — this is one to bookmark. ¶
Trump and Comic Sans; arguably a good pair, and even the headlines say so. The latest twist in the Ukrainian scandal involves Trump’s lawyers and legal Congress documents written in… Comic Sans. Vincent Connare is likely unpleased.
And definitely not least, allow yourself to be blown away by Grammato, which introduces us to the concept of grammatography, which we’ll be definitely exploring in future issues.
Happy Thanksgiving to our 🇨🇦 ‘ian friends, and happy Monday to everyone else!

Italics: Examined
H&Co teach us how to fully appreciate and differentiate between several kinds of italics, and if you’re thinking that you didn’t even know there were several kinds of italics, that’s okay. They look specifically at twelve different kinds of italics, from cultural contexts to practical applications.
For as many kinds of typefaces as there will ever be, there’ll be even more kinds of italics. Nothing in the design of a roman typeface dictates what its italic will look like, and since the role of an italic is to be not only sympathetic with its roman but visibly different from it, italics are often free to explore unexpected constructions, or divergent visual traditions. Despite that, italics do have their origins in handwriting, although they’re very separate from any true calligraphic typeface. In this summary, we’re just gonna have a look at a few styles.
Chancery Italic
Some calligraphers believe that cursive letters reached their finest form in the sixteenth century, in a style known as the chancery italic. These are calligraphic letters, their thick and thin strokes and sharp upward angles a product of the broad-edged pen. Chancery italics have long signaled magnificence, expressing the joy of a wedding invitation or the pathos of a book of verse.
Bonus points for those ligatures, which are definitely working as a decorative, bold, old-style look.
Postmodernist Style
Operator's italics
Operator's italics
Many boisterous italics are made in a postmodernist style, freely borrowing from different genres. This design riffs on the various fixed-width letters found on typewriters, taking cues from both upright and script alphabets, and emerging with a welcoming and informal tone. This type family extends to nine different weights, with the extreme Thin and Ultra styles having especially distinctive personalities.
French Old Style
Like all old styles of French, when it comes to italics they also do not disappoint.
Swash capitals, which have been part of typography since the very earliest italics, came to full flower in the french old style types of Garamond and Granjon. This family of typefaces, designed for display sizes, celebrates this tradition with a frolicsome set of swash caps that introduce each word with grandeur.
Though swashes are customarily used only at the start of a word, many typefaces include swashes that work mid-word as well, when setting italics in all caps. Look for letters without elaborate curlicues on the left side, to ensure that they don’t interfere with their neighbours.
Humanist Italics
Ideal Sans italics
Ideal Sans italics
“Many sans serifs, in their rationality, have dispassionate italics that simply look like slanted romans. But typefaces with a humanist inflection can take a different approach, using the kinds of cursive forms more commonly found in seriffed designs. A sans serif whose roman has organic qualities, like these flaring strokes and gently bowing lines, invites an italic with a similarly handmade feel.”
Ideal Sans Italic has not only cursive gestures and an elliptical motif, but a narrower gait than its roman, giving it a recognizably contrasting rhythm in text.
There’s a lot more italic styles to look at in the original article, so head over there if you’re curious. Or you can also check out the history of italics in typography over at Kotke.
The Birth of Inter: How the new open-source typeface used by GitHub and Mozilla came to be
Open Type: Font's Secret World
Once again, Marcin Wichary showers us with some typographical wisdom over at Figma, this time concerning OpenType and the secret world of fonts, which truly feels like a good way of describing OpenType. Sure, the article was written to get Figma users excited about the possibility of using them in the platform, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t skip this if you need a refresher or don’t know what OpenType has in store for you.
What’s OpenType?
Think of OpenType as hidden compartments of fonts. Over there, you can find alternative ligatures, alternative characters, maybe different styles for your numerals, auto-conversion of fractions and so, much, more. We’re gonna have a look at a few of the features you could be using with your fancy fonts.
In fact, here’s another little article which glances over most types of OpenType features you didn’t know your fonts had. Let’s have a look at a few:
Old-Style Numerals
Dd you know that there are lowercase and uppercase numerals? Some typefaces do have them too, and their effects are striking:
Oldstyle numerals
Oldstyle numerals
Small Caps
Many typefaces also come with the usually glorious small caps feature, which is literally what it sounds like: alternative figures, which look like the uppercase characters, except they are the same height as the lowercase ones. If you’re wondering about what’s the difference between just reducing the size of uppercase, here’s a small example:
Oh the good old swashes! Sure, these are mostly used for stylistic purposes and aren’t always available; typically they come with display typefaces. But if they’re available, your headlines can truly gain a new life of their own:
Marcin on the wonders of OpenType:
Through these specimen pages, I learned that not all fonts were made equal. Some came with just a singular option that changed only one character. Other times, a font would have dozens of OpenType features, each affecting the entire character set. In those cases, enabling the feature meant watching a font transform in front of my eyes, morphing into what felt like an entirely new typeface.
The list goes on and on — and Marcin has made amazing little videos on the original article that help immensely, so do please go and check it out yourself.
Is the Language Without Letters the Future?
Although you’ve never met Yukio Ota, you are almost certainly acquainted with his most famous creation. Professor Ota is the designer of the International Emergency Exit Symbol. He has dedicated his life to them, and he becomes energised when he talks about them. Professor Ota’s emergency exit symbol is recognised around the world. But his life’s work is something much more ambitious: an entire language of symbols which he dreams could be the lingua franca of the 21st Century.
I know what you’re thinking, but bear with me. This language’s name is LoCoS, for “Lovers’ Communication System”, and you can think of it as a visual Esperanto language; meaning it does also have worldwide ambitions.
Professor Ota began designing LoCoS in 1964. I get the sense that his devotion to the project comes from the joy of creating. LoCoS is an inviting world to inhabit: one of smiling hearts, delightful symbols and elegant simplicity.
Rather than sounds, all of the symbols represent concepts or physical places / objects, but the beauty of it is the way that concepts can be continued from a base idea, and even combining other symbols to create ideas. Take the following:
Notice how the plus symbol is used to represent person AND medical. Therefore, the + symbol on its own actually represents “medical aid”. Take the person outline of the “reader” symbol and you got yourself the symbol for book.
You can also apply the same principle to, let’s say, places:
The meaning of symbols for things like ‘book’ or ‘library’ can usually be guessed. But it’s impossible to design obvious and universal symbols for abstract concepts like ‘thing’ or ‘thought’ or ‘time’. Nevertheless, LoCoS has a simple and logical system for representing abstract ideas.
But what about what makes language a real language?
The interesting thing about LoCoS is that is also concerns actions and even verbs, which you can compound together to form sentences. Here’s a quick example:
LoCoS can be written across three rows. The centre row is for the main message. Symbols in the top row describe the verb below them, and symbols in the bottom row describe the noun above them.
Yukio Ota’s quest raises some interesting questions. Is the experience of reading visual symbols inherently different to reading spelled words? Can visual symbols be as nuanced and expressive as text? Is there a place for a universal language in the age of machine translation? And is a truly universal visual language even possible—or desirable?
To make the case for a truly international accessible language, Chris argues that:
But the potential of LoCoS extends far beyond digital messaging. It could be effective anywhere readability and internationalisation are valuable: highway signs, aircraft safety cards, danger warnings.
We already have symbols to communicate basic messages: ‘no smoking’; ‘fragile’; ‘low battery.’ Imagine an intuitive, international language that could clearly communicate more complex messages.
The grammar of LoCoS could even unify our many symbol sets. The visual language of maps, science, medicine, mathematics, digital media, laundry, recycling, weather forecasting, sports, music and more could become one coherent language with the shared grammar of LoCoS.
There are a lot of more examples and usage instructions on how to use LoCoS in the original article, so make sure to head over there if you’re curious.
Decimal Typeface — Watch Lettering
Though this is mostly an article introducing a typeface by Hoefler&Co, Decimal, there is a significant amount of research on vintage watch lettering that it just had to make its way here. We’ll be quick — but if you love watches, you won’t want to miss this one.
One of the telltale signs of a vintage watch is its lettering. The unique markings on watch dials, surprisingly consistent from one manufacturer to the next, evolved separately from typography: these are forms unconcerned with the needs of type designed for printing words on paper. Instead, watch lettering has been shaped by the curious technologies of dial manufacturing, the demanding requirements of working in miniature, and the unusual commercial arrangements that first gave rise to these remarkable inventions.
Printing watch lettering has its own method — tampographya technique in which ink is transferred first from an engraved plate to a spongy, dumpling-shaped silicon pad, and from there onto the convex dial of a watch.
 To reproduce clearly, a letterform needs to overcome the natural tendencies of liquid ink or enamel held in suspension: tiny serifs at the ends of strokes can create a larger coastline, to help prevent liquid from withdrawing due to surface tension; wide apexes on characters like 4 and A eliminate the acute angles where liquid tends to pool.
 How is it that unrelated watches have the same 4?
How is it that unrelated watches have the same 4?
Decimal, the typeface by Hoefler&Co, then refers to Decimal Time: a concept, and a reference to an invention of the French Revolution, in which the project of revising the calendar to feature a ten-day week was expanded to include a ten-hour clock, composed of one hundred ‘decimal minutes,’ each with one hundred ‘decimal seconds’ — a well-intentioned but short-lived experiment. 
Decimal watches are those that feature an additional chapter ring divided into hundredths, making it easier to measure minutes or seconds in more mathematically relevant units: “2.5 minutes” instead of “two minutes and thirty seconds” .
You can view more about Decimal the typeface, or continue reading more about the nuances of numerical watch design in the original article.
📅 Typefaces of the Month
Turmeric, by Tom Holloway
Turmeric is a very interesting typeface designed by Tom Holloway — the kind of light serifed typeface that makes you look again to make sure the serifs are indeed there. It’s an open source typeface which comes in 3 weights (you can find them on Github), and:
It is a 3-weight family supporting all western, central, and south eastern European latin alphabets containing old-style numerals and discretionary ligatures.
You can get Turmeric in its Github page.
Patreon Supporters 🥰
As always, a massive thank you to every single one of you supporting this newsletter on Patreon. You make this newsletter going! Thank you to Rachel Cheney, Rik Ward, Aceler Chua, Rachel Baker, Volmer Soares, Rafael Conde, Aleksandra Runowska, Chen Jing, Clay Gardner, David J. Ross, Gonçalo Morais, Jacqueline Jensen, Menges Design, Pedro Almeida, Qi Xi, Richard Littauer, Tzu Ching and Vitória Neves.
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