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Issue #77 • Stranger Fonts

Coffee Table Typography
Issue #77 • Stranger Fonts
By Coffee Table Typography • Issue #77 • View online
Type friends,
There’s some sadness in today’s words. Earlier last week, Ed Benguiat has passed away, at the age of 92. If Ed Benguiat doesn’t sound familiar as a name, you will certainly be familiar with his work. As a designer and a typographer, Ed’s work spans many, many decades and wide domains of work. Ed was responsible for designing the typefaces you see when you visit the New York Times; he designed the infamous ITC Benguiat typeface, which you know so dearly as the “Stranger Things font”, and literally hundreds more. He designed the early logos for Ford, AT&T, Esquire, and the iconic typography featured in the Planet of The Apes movie.
Ed Benguiat’s work is legendary, but it doesn’t just stop at that. Ed famously embraced the times that were a-changing, welcoming the digital era of typefaces with grace and a curious mind, and quickly became an inspirational source for many young designers. It’s no wonder then, that he was also a teacher at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan for more than 50 years.
There is no shortage of interviews, essays and reflections on Ed, which I encourage you to watch. His ability to explain complex design concepts in very simple terms was uncanny, such as this beautiful definition of graphic design:
“Music is placing sounds, to me, in their proper order so they’re pleasing to the ear,” he said. “That’s all. What is graphic design? Placing things in their proper order so they’re pleasing to the eye.”
Until next time,

Why the Wingdings Font Exists
The good people at The League of Moveable Type recently dug up the most fascinating Vox article: what’s up with that Wingdings font?
It’s fair to say most of us are familiar with Wingdings, but to those of you who are unfamiliar, you’ll know it as being that weird symbol font: with the arrows, the squares, the mail box and the zodiac signs. Come on, we’ve all tried it on MS Word at some point.
Wingdings is much more than just a quirky font. It was —and remains — a phenomenon. In the early ‘90s, it was one of the first times people realized fonts could break through to the mainstream. One of the creators of Wingdings, Charles Bigelow, of the legendary design studio Bigelow & Holmes, said that Wingdings marked one of the first times a font became part of the popular culture.
Wingdings, as you can imagine, was never really made for us to write sentences with it. But to understand it, we need to go back to the 90s and remember that pre-Internet, getting images or iconography was just really, really hard:
Today it’s easy to cut and paste images from the internet, but it used to be a lot harder. There were few ways to get images, files were way too large for puny hard drives, and they were of poor quality. Even worse, it was tough to get pictures to play nicely with text. Fonts like Wingdings provided a workaround by giving people high-quality, scalable images that didn’t clog up their hard drives.
Font designers Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes, who were also responsible for the popular font Lucida, were behind the whole Wingdings phenomenon: originally, 3 different fonts also under Lucida’s name (Lucida Icons, Lucida Arrows and Lucida Stars) were released, only to eventually become Wingdings as we know it today. We owe this to Microsoft, in fact, who in 1990 bought the rights to all these Lucida icon fonts and included it with a beta version of Windows.
“From the beginning, Wingdings amazed, amused and confused people”
“It turned out that Wingdings caused more excitement than Microsoft expected,” Bigelow says. “Conspiracy theories sprang up that Wingdings contained hidden messages.” Most famously, Wingdings supposedly contained anti-Semitic messages against New York City (when users typed “NYC,” the Wingdings for a skull, a star of David, and a thumbs-up appeared). Of course, Bigelow notes that the “hidden messages” were simply an accident of the font conversion process — Microsoft hadn’t considered that users would read the grab bag of Wingdings images as a code for actual letters.
Wingdings as a name is actually a combination of two words: Windows and Dingbat. Windows is an obvious choice for the name, since it shipped with it, but what’s a dingbat?
When using a printing press, printers needed a shortcut when it came to ornamenting their text. Every figure or letter had to be hand-carved and laid out before anything could be printed, so it was too laborious to make a new template for every drawing or figure: dingbats.
There’s a lot more to learn about wingdings, Lucida, and dingbats over at the original Vox article, so don’t skip this one.
Local Typefaces in Urban Japanese Cities
On the last newsletter, I went on a bit of a rampage about urban typography and how much I find it necessary to pay attention to. On this World Architecture article, we dive deeper into a good example of urban typography today, as a study case in urban Japan.
“Human experience and a mode of living take on the material and spatial form. Typography in our urban space, too, reflect the unique character of space and people who live there”.
Lettering styles, the typeface of logos and signage do not deserve its neglect, as they cover a considerable amount of urban surfaces. When you exit from an airport and get on a taxi to downtown in a foreign country, it hits you that you are on a foreign land when you start seeing how the signs, storefronts, and advertisements are written that are not familiar to you. You would recognize the iconic Helvetica letters in a New York subway station, or Illuminated Neon Street Signs in Hong Kong. They contribute to shaping the city’s identities as much as the other factors like urban infrastructure and architectural types.
In Japan, the team at the NORAMOJI Project knows this well, and they’re paying attention to typography in the urban settings, both perfect and imperfect. In fact, as you can imagine, sometimes it’s exactly the imperfect and the raw and crude quirkiness of past designs that make us remember them with fondness.
NORAMOJI has made a quick video showcasing their findings on older neighborhoods in Japan, which, given that right now you’re probably daydreaming of going to Japan and you, well, can’t, might be a good thing to watch.
Most of the Noramoji happen to be from the post-war period. They represent certain characters that are specific to the era, Shimohama says. “Black markets that are created in a post-war era resulted in many subsequent small businesses. The storefront and posters they created back then have completely different characters compared to the mass-produced, streamlined typefaces that are created by marketing/advertisement companies.”
Keep reading over at WA for more pictures and references to learn more about urban type.
A Deep Dive Into the Gentrification Font
When we think about “gentrification”, hardly any of us associate it with design, or a visual trend, at least on a first pass. But this article tells us something interesting: that sleek, sans serif numbers, are becoming more and more the visual look of neighbourhood change.
The “gentrification font” recently hit meme status with a tweet from April of this year that showed the number 2815 in matte black, metal signage against the recognizable slats of the gentrification fence. With “this is the gentrification font” as its caption, the image earned upwards of 134,000 likes, and it captured such a common look that one other person posted the same building number in similar signage, but on a totally different facade.
In New York in particular, numbers like these are becoming more and more associated with tech employees, startup hubs and the likes. There’s even an Instagram account, although frankly quite short on content, dedicated to the use of the “gentrification font”.
Among a few typefaces that follow the trend, Neutraface seems to be heavily used. In fact, professor Jonathan Crisman immediately identified Neutraface, a typeface based on the work of modernist architect Richard Neutra which, funny enough, was all about low-cost housing.
Unlike most type design projects, which Schwartz called a “slow burn,” Neutraface took off quickly. Crisman—who studies the connection between art, culture, and gentrification in cities—recalled the rise of “gentrification font” as part of the post-Great Recession period when people were snatching up cheap houses to turn a “quick flip” with “grey paint, horizontal wood fencing, and adding house numbers using the gentrification font.” He described it as part of an aesthetic he called “generic authentic,” which attempts to convey a sense of “authenticity” through “classic typefaces, raw materials like wood and cement, and these nostalgic nods to older artisanal craft.” 
This is interesting because now typography meets architecture meets meets social statuses, and all of a sudden design choices can’t be unlinked from all these concepts.
There’s a few interesting discussions happening in the original article that are best left unsummarized, so I invite you to continue reading over at Vice.
Other Typographical Delights
There was too much that happened in the world of typography lately that I am getting FOMOPIT (fear of missing out publishing interesting things). So here’s a quick list of what else was happening:
  • On Femme Type, Olivia Kane gives us a wonderful, sweet and short interview about her work towards a more accessible world in Typography. Not only that, but you’ll also get a glimpse into Olivia’s fantastic graphic design work and the satisfaction of physical type.
  • Reagan Ray published a long, fascinating collection of Jazz Musician Lettering. It’s a journey in time, and music, to see such an eclectic collection of typography and its associations with some jazz heroes. Bill Evans and Jay Jay Johnson were, “like”, so avant-garde.
  • Via Present & Correct , here’s Truck Typography. I promise it’s better than it sounds.
Typeface Du Jour ✍️
Neue Montreal, by Pangram Pangram
Okay, look, sure I may be biased. Scrolling through the beautiful type specimen of Neue Montreal, a new release from Pangram Pangram Foundry, gives me warm and fuzzy feelings because it’s my city. But it’s not just because I’m self-centred that I share it this week.
Neue Montreal is an incredibly stylish and versatile Grotesque typeface, coming at a whopping 8 styles, that can both suit your display and copy needs.
Just look at it.
Just look at it.
Almost shockingly so, it’s free for personal use and there’s plenty of commercial licenses available. Get it at Pangram Pangram.
Value Serif, by Colophon Foundry
Colophon Foundry continues to amaze me every time I stumble upon one of their typefaces. This time, after spotting it in the wild, Value Serif (the counterpart to Value, the sans-serif) became a mild obsession.
The Sans was drawn first by The Entente (Edd Harrington & Anthony Sheret, UK); the Serif was drawn shortly after, by Benjamin Critton (US). Each borrows their geometries from the other, and nuances were finalized by all parties as Colophon Foundry. Here’s its wonderful specimen (PDF).
Have a closer look over at the foundry.
On the Coffee Scene ☕️
Patreon and Thanks ❤️
As always, a massive thank you to all of you who’re supporting this newsletter on Patreon. Even just $1 a month helps this newsletter going, helping with the costs and keeping me accountable to deliver great value to your inbox, with no ads or sponsorships. Thank you, type friends.
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