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#71 • Mind Your Ampersands

Type friends! Recently, I came across a Slate podcast (about 10 minutes) which provides a different t
Coffee Table Typography
#71 • Mind Your Ampersands
By Coffee Table Typography • Issue #71 • View online
Type friends!
Recently, I came across a Slate podcast (about 10 minutes) which provides a different take and perspective on the typeface we all love to hate: Comic Sans. Perhaps it’s time to reconsider an alternate perspective:
“Comic Sans is completely appropriate for your goofy Christmas letter that talks about the things that have gone on in your family,” West says, “and you could probably put it in red and green typeface.” And if the font’s informality helps make computers approachable to the less technologically adept, she believes we should encourage its use.
Shantanu Suman, an Indian graphic designer, has made a complete font out of… shoe strings. A very refreshing exercise on type design, alongside similar work done with grains, fruits, and perhaps coffee beans.
This might be the fourth time that President Trump is linked to typography in the news in the last couple of years, oddly enough, but there is now a typeface based on the President’s handwriting. Its name? Tiny Hands. The possibilities for this typeface are endless, and FastCompany offers a few suggestions which I shall leave at your discretion to read.
In actual type news, LucasFonts announced Koning, a distinctive sans-serif that has been tweaked over 15 years. Sudtipos has a new type / design system over at their website which is a pleasure to look at. And lastly, I am insanely excited by the book-making possibilities of Textus.io, an online service which promises beautifully crafted typesetting capabilities on the cloud.
From the ever so charming Lali Café in Montreal, until next time.
—Ricardo

Words and Phrases derived from Typography
Here’s one of my favourite articles recently, from Ralf Herrmann of Typography Guru, which any language lover will appreciate too. It turns out, there are quite a surprising number of phrases and words which originated in the field of typography that we still use today – often in different contexts — that I didn’t even know about.
The classic example is the term “the press” to refer to the media, which is of course related to moveable type. Printing press, as you, pressing those type casts into a paper medium. But this is by far the least interesting example, and Ralf runs us through a few.
1. Logos
Johannes Gutenberg established the use moveable type for printing texts in the West in the 15th century. There were later attempts to speed up the typesetting process by casting syllables or entire words as one piece. Those pieces were called logotype—from Ancient Greek “lógos” meaning “word”. But handling type cases with hundreds of compartments was just not practical and so this kind of typesetting didn’t really catch on. But entire words cast as one piece of metal type still became quite common—for example for newspaper section headlines, which had to be used every day in exactly the same way.
I’ll be the first one to admit that I never linked the type part of logotype to the printed press.
2. Uppercase and Lowercase
A few fellow type geeks might already know this one, but our terms uppercase and lowercase come from an era where print shops would have different cases for typefaces: traditionally, the capital forms of the letters in the upper case, and the small letters in the lower case. Get it?
Upper and lower cases
Upper and lower cases
3. Cliché
A cliché? Well, yes! To add an image to a letterpress form, printing blocks were needed that behaved just like the metal letters. A few centuries ago, this was obviously a very time consuming process, so Iinstead of creating printing blocks with images for a specific use in a single print-run, generic images were often created and print shops could use them for multiple prints and for various clients.
These blocks allowed then for repetition with the printing process, and these were called clichés — something generic, overused.
4. Cut and Paste
“This is a comparatively young phrase. It was coined in the days of phototypesetting in the second half of the 20th century before the introduction of desktop publishing. Before desktop publishing, the text columns were already created with (phototypesetting) machines, but the make-up or “paste-up” of the pages for printing was usually still done by hand”
In fact, the LRB has an amazing video demonstrating how this process was done not that long ago, which I really recommend you watch. The art of cutting and pasting individual printed words so they would form the desire layout is painstakingly slow and time-consuming; yet, a true art form.
Cut & Paste, a screenshot from LRB's video
Cut & Paste, a screenshot from LRB's video
5. Mind your Ps and Q’s!
While not in the original article, one of the comments makes a reference to the English expression mind your p’s and q’s!, typically used to tell someone not to use bad language. But it originates from the typesetting days, when individuals characters would be stored in those cases we’ve mentioned:
What it actually is about is the compositor telling the poor soul who had to refill the cases with the sorts once finished with. Now, a lowercase p or q could easily be mismatched because they are essentially mirror images so the possibility of putting a p sort in the q area and vice-versa. So out of frustration the compositor would get frustrated and say “mind your p & q’s”.
There’s some more detail information on all of these amazing expressions, so please go ahead and check the original article yourself at Typography Guru.
Prison Gothic • Hong Kong's Criminal Record
Chris Gaul tells us the fascinating story of the road signs in Hong Kong that, by themselves, tell a hidden story of their own. When Chris arrived in Hong Kong 15 years ago, he noticed something odd about the characters in the road signs: they were imperfect, odd, awkward:
Chinese characters are the epitome of balance and proportion, but the Chinese writing on these street signs was often lop-sided or slightly awkward. They may not be graceful, but these characters certainly have character. Their flaws and quirks have an energy and charm that calls attention to the work of the sign-writer. I wondered, who lettered these signs? Not a professional typographer. Certainly not a master calligrapher. Little did I know, these typographic misdemeanours were cryptically pointing to the answer.
This asymmetry and unbalanced puzzled Chris for years. Much unlike the Roman characters, in English words, which were well crafted and precise. Like their British counterparts, Hong Kong roadsigns use the typeface Transport for their English language text. But the English alphabet, with it’s fifty-or-so glyphs (26 uppercase 26 lowercase and sundry), is hardly the fifty-thousand-odd glyphs in the full repertoire of written Chinese.
A hand lettered street sign on Hong Kong Island
A hand lettered street sign on Hong Kong Island
As you can imagine, hand-lettering is playing the role here.
I recently discovered that some Hong Kongers share an interest in this lively character set. Perhaps none more so than Gary Yau 邱益彰. Gary pays close attention to Hong Kong’s traffic signs. He was one of a handful of Hong Kongers who noticed with dismay when the Government switched from using Transport to a sloppy mix of Helvetica and Arial—both less legible in traffic than the original.
Gary Yau has dubbed these hand drawn Chinese letters Gaam Juk Tai 監獄體, or ‘Prison Gothic.’ (‘gothic’ being another name typographers use for ‘sans-serif’ typefaces). That’s because, since the 1970s, Hong Kong’s road signs have all been hand made by prisoners, and here’s a video depicting it how it’s done.
Production of road signs happens at Pak Sha Wan Correctional Institution in Stanley. Under Hong Kong law, adult inmates must be meaningfully occupied for six days each week. Each year, the prison’s residents manufacture around 7,000 roadsigns and 1,500 square metres of way-finding signage. Almost all of Hong Kong’s roadsigns are produced there.
Not all street signs are hand drawn, however, not since 1997:
These days, one-off signs that feature place names or street names are digitally printed. Mass-produced traffic signs, such as ‘No Stopping’ or ‘Pedestrians Prohibited’ are hand printed using precise silkscreen templates. In either case, the new roadsigns have none of the imperfections that characterised their forebears.
Hand-lettered (left) vs typeface (right)
Hand-lettered (left) vs typeface (right)
There’s a lot more to learn from Chris on the original article, including how they’re hoping to digitise Prison Gothic to preserve the prisoner’s work, which I find interesting from an analog-to-digital perspective. Don’t miss it.
Choosing a Font for a Project — Matej Latin
From Better Web Type, Matej Latin enlightens us once again with his capacity to simplify the complexity out of typefaces in design. In all honesty, despite the fact that I’m not personally a designer, I also get this question at least once a week:
What’s the best typeface for this kind of project?
While there are many resources out there, a few of which we’ve already covered, Matej chooses to focus mainly on three:
1. The goal of the website and its content
The goal here is to present my new course and myself as a credible and capable person to teach about the topic. The website is not about reading long articles, it needs to get a visitor’s attention quickly.
2. Body text or headings
Are we choosing a font for body text or for headings? Since the goal is to captivate visitors, I wanted to focus on choosing the right font for the headings.
3. The text
Reading the text we’re designing for is fundamental—how can you choose a font for something you have no idea what it’s about? Reading samples of text should be right at the start of the process. Don’t use Lorem Ipsum, if you can’t get samples of content, try to find a similar website and “borrow” its content until you do get them.
Comparing types of sans serifs
Comparing types of sans serifs
I couldn’t find any fonts like that on those font providers so I went on to look on myfonts.com. I found a couple of great matches there: LarsseitNexaAxiformaMontSofia Pro and Gilroy. I also knew I wanted to use the bold weight as the primary style, to help evoke that feeling of friendliness. Here they are, already set in the primary colour I was planning to use.
Matej also mentions something key: finding a typeface that comes with enough fonts that will suit your needs: if you’re looking for a font for body copy, you will surely want a family with at least Regular, Bold, Italic and maybe even Bold Italic.
If you’re looking for a headline, you may be able to getaway with 1 style only. In fact, performance-wise, it’s probably better (fewer kb’s).
Branding in Larsseit, Nexa and Sofia Pro
Branding in Larsseit, Nexa and Sofia Pro
After narrowing down his choice to the 3 typefaces above, Matej asks us:
Take a look at the UX buddy name set in Larsseit, Nexa and Sofia Pro. Do you notice anything they have in common?
Take a closer look at the letter “y”. See how abrupt and sharp it seems? It looks cold and formal. Even sterile maybe, especially when compared to the other three fonts where the descenders are slightly curled (Gilroy on the right in the image below).
Two styles of descenders: very sharp, abrupt and cold on the left, curled and thus slightly warmer and more pleasant on the right. Another thing we can also look at when comparing between two styles of fonts is how their descenders draw attention in a sentence. Matej gives us the following example:
Descenders in Axiforma curl upwards at the edge while they’re cut off abruptly in Gilroy.
Descenders in Axiforma curl upwards at the edge while they’re cut off abruptly in Gilroy.
There are a few more examples in the original article, and if you’d like to dig deeper, Matej’s free typography email course still stands as one of the best free courses out there that I’ve ever seen. He also published A Guide To Combining Fonts, which might also be of valuable help to you in this type quest.
Anatomy of Arabic Type • TypeTogether
Arabic type looks complex, particularly for those unfamiliar with Arabic languages. In this article, Azza Alameddine attempts to simplify and standardise the different parts of Arabic letterforms.
Type anatomy
First off, we need to make sure we’re all on the same page when we say “type anatomy”. For Roman based languages, type anatomy refers to the understanding of the different parts of a character, as if you were dissecting them. Arms, legs, descenders and ascenders; just a few of the body parts of a roman character which is traditionally easy to learn and recognise.
A great example of ascenders/descenders in Roman type
A great example of ascenders/descenders in Roman type
You can continue to learn and study about Roman type anatomy, if you haven’t already, but let’s focus for a bit on Arabic, which looks like a complex beast.
In calligraphy books from the 19th century, the most recurring terms used were to describe alternate shapes of one letter rather than parts of a letter. Those alternates were descriptive of three features of a letter: its width, shape, and style. For example, a ‘seen’ (س) could be compact (مجموعة), extended (مبسوطة) or halted (موقوفة). An initial ‘ha’ (ه‍) could be cat-faced or horse-eared. A ‘LamAlif’ (لا) could be of Muhaqqaq style (محققة) or paper-like (ورقية).
Alternate forms of the letter "seen" in black in the same Arabic style
Alternate forms of the letter "seen" in black in the same Arabic style
Because Arabic calligraphy follows a very strict system based on rhombic dots, my assumption is that it did not have the need to describe part of a letter but rather to show the specific number of dots for each of its parts. In a teaching context, the student’s job was to simply imitate their master’s ‘mashq’ or guidebook, where each letter’s proportion would be accurately drawn. The teacher would then make corrections directly on the student’s calligraphic sheet by pointing out the wrong shapes or proportions.
In Latin calligraphy, models for a specific hand-style existed as well but they were not definitive. Proportions were not explicitly set and therefore the black and white space of a letter needed to have names. Most of those names ended up having a connection with human anatomy — arm, leg, shoulder, ear — the same terms we use today for Latin typography.
Some of these terms also exist in Arabic typography (head, body, neck), although they are of more modern origin. So what does it look like, in practice? The article uses Adelle Sans Arabic as an example (which, by the way, looks absolutely stunning), and some of its anatomy can be classified as:
You can expand the image to full view here.
Just like its Latin counterpart, the anatomy of Arabic typography would eventually borrow terms from calligraphy. The ones that will most probably survive are the most intuitive ones: those that refer to body or nature. Below is a summary of the most common terms that will be helpful to use in Arabic typography.
Summary
• The established terminology in Arabic type anatomy is: headbodyeyetoothneckcup.
• The terms ascender and descender may be used for Arabic because it has characters that extend below the baseline and others that stand out higher than middle heights.
• Some technical terms could be borrowed from Latin typography, such as kerning and ligature.
• Do not use ‘x-height’ and ‘cap height’ simply because there are no ‘x’ or capitals in Arabic.
Typeface Du Jour ✍️
I’ve recently came across FrosType, an independent type foundry run by Harrison Marshall with very few, but high-quality typefaces under its wing. I quickly fell in love with FT Made:
FT Made is a transitional serif. The first release of this editorial typeface is set in 1 weight. 5 more weights and another serif style is on the way.
It’s a wonderful typeface that you could even pair with a potential sans-serif counterpart from FrosType, Base.
Simula • SharpType
SharpType’s Simula is a beautiful thing from end-to-end: designed by Justin Sloane over 4 years, it defines itself as a mechanical re-interpretation of calligraphic form that flouts convention with every stroke. And boy, do I agree.
You just gotta love the attention to the natural calligraphic motion put into this typeface.
The typeface comes in a regular (Book) and italic (Book Italic) styles. Have a look at SharpType.
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On the Coffee Scene ☕️
Decaffeination 101: Four Ways to Decaffeinate Coffee
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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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