View profile

Issue #75 • Human Type

Coffee Table Typography
Issue #75 • Human Type
By Coffee Table Typography • Issue #75 • View online
Type friends,
In recent weeks, I decided to take a break from the newsletter. As you know, the world is more attuned to pressing and fundamental societal concerns rather than Sunday mornings distractions right now — and that’s a good thing. We need focus, and we need it today. Not only I didn’t want to occupy that space from the voices who matter the most right now, I was also trying to find my own ways of giving back, and to be one of those voices.
I’ve matched all my recent Patreon income in donations to Black Lives Matter Canada and The Bail Project. If you’re looking for a reading list more tailored towards designers on how to educate ourselves and challenge our own privilege, this list is very comprehensive. It’s packed with both books and articles which can help us reframe how we perceive the world around us — and how to act, especially from a perspective of design and engineering.
There are still a lot of new and exciting things happening in the world of words, type and language, and we’ll dive into those in this issue. As a content creator for this newsletter, I am confident I too can do better in terms of curating what goes through and paying more attention to the diversity of the sources published and reviewed. We all have a shared responsibility to be more aware.
One of my first stops was to learn and appreciate the work of some of the most influential Black designers in history, which led me to discover the astonishing typography work of Gail Anderson — which I encourage you to learn more about too.
From my desk,

Typography In an Industry dominated by White Men
From Eye On Design, here’s an article that will likely catch your attention a bit more than it did when it was written in 2019. It tells an important story about typography and the colour of our skins — and how the world of typography also has room for growth in terms of diversity.
Letterforms are loaded cultural objects—they often reflect the people who made them and the story they want to tell. In the history of type, not every story gets told, though, and Tré Seals wants to change that.
Seals started a type foundry called Vocal Type with the aim of creating typefaces that reflect a more diverse perspective. In his words:
“This is a type foundry for creatives of color who feel they don’t have a say in their industry. This is for the creative women who feel they don’t have a say in their industry. This is for the creative who is tired of being ‘inspired’ by the same creations from different people and wondering why.”
Vocal Type, one of the very few foundries founded by a black designer, founded has already published a fair number of great typefaces since 2016 (6 as of today), and they all possess or have been inspired by strong cultural significance.
From Trés himself:
And when I discovered that only 3–3.5% of all practicing designers in America are Black, and ±85% White (depending on the source), a lot of things started making sense. And I understood why everything looked the same.
This matters because “when a singular perspective dominates an industry, regardless of any advancements in technology, there can (and has been) only one way thinking, teaching, and creating. This lack of diversity in terms of race, ethnicity, and gender, has led to a lack of diversity in thought, systems (like education), ideas, and, most importantly, creations.”
Martin typeface in use
Martin typeface in use
Every typeface has its origins on collective efforts of research of a community, and based off of mtl plenty of source material. Often, these will be archival photographs of protest signs, writing on the walls. For example, Seals was inspired by photos of typographic broadsides reading “HONOR KING: END RACISM!” and “I AM A MAN” printed in a church print shop in runs of 400 for the 1968 Memphis Sanitation Workers Strike, during which more than 1,300 black employees of the Memphis Department of Public Works protested dangerous working conditions.
Eva typeface in use
Eva typeface in use
Eva, for example, was inspired off of hand-drawn banners from a 1946 women’s demonstration in Buenos Aires, which was lead by Eva Perón. She paraded in front on the National Congress with signs stating “WOMEN CAN AND SHOULD VOTE”. Seals views typography as a vocal means of communication, rather than just a tool.
Seals recently completed a suite of custom typefaces for Umber, an Oakland, California-based printed publication that focuses on creative culture and visual arts from the perspective of people of color.
In the long history of type design, designers of colour have had limited access to the tools and knowledge necessary to create typography. This form of technological discrimination has had the effect of limiting the groups of people reflected in—and represented by—the typography we see in the world. To create typography, that’s a political act too.
You can read the original article in its entirety, and visit Vocal Type’s website to learn more about its history, mission, and the typefaces.
Letterforms and Humanforms
From the Letterform Archive, here’s an interesting piece which explores the relationship of typography with the human body. As some of you may already know, is it quite an intimate one.
In 1985, Apple designer Clement Mok designed a set if pixel drawings used to demonstrate how to display recognisable human forms. There’s a bunch of hand gestures too, extremely detailed, as a set of motion studies — with just a few pixels.
Long before the computer screen, however, putting human bodies into letterforms has been a way in which designers and artists have tried to merge the human body and with the flat forms of disembodied communication. Some of the earliest examples of these mergers are found in illuminated manuscripts created when religious imagery was used to educate, although the wealth required to own such a manuscript was likely accompanied by literacy.
Goudy goes on to write that “The hypothesis that there is an ideally correct form for each letter of the alphabet is just as erroneous as Geoffroy Tory’s simple assumption that there is a relation between the shapes of the letters and the human body; erroneous, because the shapes of letters have been in constant process of modification from their very beginnings.”
We’ve seen it elsewhere, too. Letterforms merging with human forms are often painted in old medieval manuscripts; anthropomorphising letters similarly to what happens with shaped text. There’s also the big and obvious elephant in the room, the fact that most of the typography jargon is actually based in the human body: the spine of an S, the arm of a K, the eye of an e.
There is a fine line between personifying letters and dehumanizing people that comes into consideration when a body is objectified as a letter. In Emory Douglas’s Reparations, the implicit harm toward human bodies is topical, not incidental. The people he depicts are demeaned by systemic racism and slavery. These degradations are made vivid, even amplified, by the human body’s painful contortion into letterforms. These individuals, bent into letters, speak loudly from the page.
Diabolique, one of Jean Midolle’s highly complex alphabets, is far more irreverent. Despite the fierce religiosity of France at the time, Midolle uses humanesque devil forms to create a blackletter-style alphabet that challenges both the eye and the peace of the viewer. Glancing over Diabolique is a bit like wandering through the landscape of Milton’s Paradise Lost or a Bosch painting; the detail of bodily interaction (devils piercing snakes in D) overwhelms orientation.
There are a lot more intricate and irreverent examples of type-meets-body and the personification of letters (often with cultural symbolism attached) over at the original article, so head over to Letterform Archive to read it.
The Death of a Typeface
From I Love Typography, here’s the death of a typeface, an article which explores how in the 16th century, we almost had a French typeface. The, French typeface.
Robert Granjon (1513–90) was a type designer in the pre-industrial era of typography, and and influential one at that. Granjon designed about 90 different typefaces (let me remind you, this was the 1500s), and one of the most important ones was perhaps Civilité.
In addition to designing numerous Romans and Italics, Granjon designed and cut Greek, Hebrew, Arabic, Syriac, Cyrillic, and Bastard types, and quite a few fleurons and ornaments. In 1557, he designed an entirely new style of typeface, one modelled closely on Secretary Hand, a popular contemporary form of Gothic cursive handwriting.
An example of its model after handwriting
An example of its model after handwriting
Sixteenth century Europe was host to intense linguistic and philological debates: about the standardization of language, of grammar and spelling, for example. Looking around, Granjon saw that the Italians had their Roman and Italic (even now named after their place of origin), and the Germans their evolved Gothic, or Schwabacher. Granjon wished for Civilité to be France’s national typeface, something that was instantly recognizable as French, but also practical and familiar enough to be easily readable.
Attempting to truly capture the attention of the French audience, Granjon even called this typeface “lettres françaises”. It was used in a few interesting books, including a book of jokes set both in French and Italian. It made it look more elegant than what its content likely was.
So why didn’t it catch on? Why aren’t all French books typeset in Civilité? It’s often repeated that it simply has too many characters with numerous alternate forms and ligatures, thus making it more expensive and more complex to typeset. Perhaps that contributed to its relative unpopularity but it’s hard to believe that it was a significant factor in its failure. And, although some of the later Civilité types got a little carried away with huge numbers of characters or glyphs, Granjon’s ‘first Civilité had at least 138 sorts, as compared with some 120 usual at the time for Roman or Italic’.
Typeface Du Jour ✍️
FK Grotesk Neue, by Florian Karsten
A new release by Florian Karsten, FK Grotesk Neue is simple, swiss-inspired, elegant sans-serif that gets more than the job done.
Despite clear references to the iconic shapes of the flowing lowercase “a” or the uppercase “R”, FK Grotesk Neue represents a contemporary, more mechanic and rigid approach to the neo-grotesque genre. Lower contrast, rather geometric outlines and wider proportions (courtesy of FK Grotesk) make the typeface a unique addition to the large group of common-looking utilitarian typefaces.
It comes in several weights, from thin to bold, and they pack a very elegant punch when used as a headline. See more of Florian’s work.
On the Coffee Scene ☕️
Ethiopian Coffee Ceremony
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.

In order to unsubscribe, click here.
If you were forwarded this newsletter and you like it, you can subscribe here.
Powered by Revue
With 💙 from Montreal, Canada