Photography by Derek Shapton

Photography by Derek Shapton

Rob Ford, journalism, and typography

I. In 2017, in her presentation at A-B-Z-TXT, designer Michèle Champagne made the case for journalism that can wrap its head around design. 

While I agree with Michèle on almost all of the points she made, both the sound and the sage, the making of a design-literate journalist might be difficult. Some of these impediments are embedded within the culture of the media (in which case some positive change is possible), but others are philosophical (in which case some sort of education is needed). An example of the latter is how it is that an all-caps grotesque or gothic came to “mean” honesty, in other than a randomly associative manner? [1]

Of her sage points, two stand out. The first is that a typographically-aware journalist, or media critic, might have seen Rob Ford’s campaign for mayor of Toronto in 2010 as more sophisticated and more organized than it may have appeared on the surface, and would therefore not have regarded his subsequent win with shock. The second is that Ford was constantly pointing away from his deceptions, lies, and scandal to “a higher truth”. This “truth” was Ford’s successful self-presentation as a working-class suburbanite, who shared the worries and aggravations of his neighbours, and honestly told it like it was — mixed into the usual populist bullshit that only Ford could speak for the people, and that only he had solutions to the city’s challenges. The only part of this which was true was that Ford lived in Toronto’s suburbs. [2] So how could this “truth” have such purchase?

The outrage of the Riesling-sipping elites at Ford’s ignorance and profanities only served to burnish his reputation, but in the end those elites were correct: Ford imploded in 2013. Even the Toronto Sun, a reliably right of right-wing newspaper, abandoned him, and Toronto City Council felt compelled to strip him of his powers. Ford died in 2014, just before the next election. 

The first point (typography) takes and builds on the second, (“honesty”), and they intersect in Ford’s campaign materials. These leaned on condensed sans serifs, frequently (but not exclusively) using Trade Gothic. But how did this binding of “honesty” to a particular typographic style happen? As Champagne showed, there are strong parallels between Ford’s materials and the business signs, [3] telephone pole posters, and street flyers that dominate the visual environment of Toronto’s suburbs.[4] It’s important to note that the businesses in question are small: a painting business with one pickup or a single-branch nail spa. 

Some questions we might ask are:

i. What do the sign makers and jobbing printers who are using this typographic language think they’re doing in adopting it? And what did the designers working for Ford think they were doing? (My wife Lisa, an anthropologist and sociologist, asked these.)

We sense they are reacting uncritically to their surroundings, but they can express their influences and attitudes, however vaguely — they might say, ‘this is a template, it’s cheap and will sell well’ or a little closer, ‘this speaks the loudest,” or “it’s the strongest.’ On the Ford side of the equation, it’s worth nothing that Richard Ciano, a highly experienced conservative political operative who also runs a market research firm, worked on Ford’s campaign.

ii. How did this typographic language come to Toronto? 

A search of the ads in a good newspaper morgue, or of street scenes showing storefronts in the CP or Toronto Star archive, might yield some insights, in terms of dating.[5] Were publications such as the Enquirer and the World Weekly News partially responsible? [6] And if so, the question is when would this jump have happened, and when did the positive linkage between these types of media and a commercial message (power-washing decks, TV wall mounting) emerge? Because this linkage could also flow the other way: publications such as the Enquirer are effectively lying, constantly, and that could have rubbed off on people adopting their visual language.

iii. Do the historical roots of this typographic language shed any light on the rhetorical role it’s asked to play? 

By rhetorical I mean that a typeface has tone (in the sense that Beatrice Warde initiated [7]) or better provides elocutio (style, in a purely rhetorical sense) to the words it sets. How are messages like “authentic,” “the little guy,” and “honest,” reinforced (or undermined) by a typeface? I suspect that type and typography doesn’t so much provide an ethos but a way of communicating ethos, in a way analogous to the way that elocutio works in speech.[8]

Bold faces are not just akin to speech, but speech with volume. Michael Twyman, pointed out that “bold-looking” styles, like fat face, first made their appearance in the 1820s in advertising, noting, “the more printed matter there was around, the greater the load on the reader; the more critical an issue, the more important the information was presented clearly;  the more competitive the markets, the more advertising had to shout its message.”[9] In our contemporary context it’s as if this shouting is equated with both passion, importance, and the positive aspects of commercial struggle — the merits of hard work, for example.[10]

II. Some cultural impediments to seeing design issues as worthy of attention:

iv. One cultural issue is the lack of education and interest in issues of design, on the part of journalists and media critics. Even with the relative increase in the visibility of “design” in North American culture,[11] it carries more associations with fashion or interior design than with method. In spite of the Dean of the best MBA program in the country championing design thinking,[12] as A-B-Z-TXT participant Sam Dal Monte pointed out after Champagne’s talk, design, in the Toronto media, is largely confined to luxury marketing. This ghettoizes design as a species of fine art (meaning elitist) or fashion (meaning vapid). Of course these readings are highly problematic. 

But what never gets talked about — except in the context of spectacular design failures like the Florida butterfly ballot — is the quotidian work design does.[13] When the city got new streetcars did anyone interview the design team? When the city cooks up new “neighbourhood” identities, buys new street furniture, or commissions new parking systems [14] are the results reviewed? Are there essays about the subway ads, or the look of the city’s newspapers? And as we designers know, the everyday work design does is not trivial.[15] Anyone who has traveled as an adult knows that all of these things effect the character of a city. It’s as if for journalists, even some design journalists, design is so in the background of our lives as to be beneath notice; the sexy parts of the interface are all that’s worth paying attention to. 

This is surprising because it’s like a vintner being indifferent to the barrels, the bottles, and the corks. The words a reporter writes, or an editor commissions, have to be held by something — and that something invariably has a typographic form. And due to the relentless cost-cutting that has been the norm at newspapers and magazines for the last 20 years, many editors design their own pages. Whether they use LayoutChamp or InDesign, they have become the paste-up department.

v. There’s a larger cultural factor here, too. Journalists work in a relentlessly Darwinian environment. Even in the glory days of the early 1900s most reporters were not paid well, but things are particularly bleak now.[16] In this environment, what are journalists rewarded for? Getting the facts right and connecting the dots for one, and turning in clean prose for another. If they know what interests the public they get to keep their heads. And if they have an eye for human character, skill at painting a scene, and what the Russian Formalists termed “narratology”, they will thrive. Theory doesn’t come into it. 

I have been impressed with the courage, sagacity, and skill of the journalists I have worked with. But journalists are human, and can be as “superficial, sensationalist, unfair, defensive or diverted by shiny objects”[17] as the rest of us. As a result, big-picture issues can be lost. Look at science and economic reporting. And in political reporting, too, as the last American election showed. 

In the case of typography, a negative feedback effect is at work, where a lack of education (or self-education) leads to invisibility, because the journalists don’t have a vocabulary with which to speak about design issues with.[18]

I don’t mean to let those journalists and critics off the hook. But they ignore design just like they generally ignore the complexities of useful or newsworthy fields like sociology or biology. Although this is clearly due to the limitations of space, time, and storytelling, one sometimes gets the feeling that Canadian journalists and critics (unlike the folks at WNYC’s On The Media or KALW public radio’s 99% Invisible) haven’t read Marshall McLuhan, much less Richard Ohmann, Alexander Galloway, or Benjamin H. Bratton. And they behave as if there aren’t any larger structures to human social experience, other than (deontological) ethical ones. Media criticism in particular, as it’s currently practiced here, is a species of journalism, which presents a methodological paradox.

III. In (§II) the examples I’ve pointed to, to the tradesmen and the tabloid press, and the methods I tied them together, were associative.

Perhaps this shows what a seductive explanation it is. But some larger points will open this up more, or at least point to a place where structure might be found:

vi. Because typefaces are in part visual objects, conversations about them are limited by the ability of critics to understand, and critique, images. This is a less common ability than one might hope, and when one swims in an ocean of words, like an editor does, it can be hard to see images as anything but slippery fish. Or, more commonly, to imagine that definitive, complete statements can be easily applied to them. [19] Print, for all the gifts it has given the world, might be one of the culprits here. 

Perhaps I am wrong, but I suspect that there are fundamental difficulties in adequately explaining just how typefaces communicate, and what they communicate. If the means by which “meaning” or “voice” is acquired by a given face are not randomly associative [20] (Helvetica is used by Coke,[21] therefore Helvetica is corporate), then all sorts problems arise. They’re knotty problems, but they’re good.

Good because they reveal typefaces to be rich and interesting, to have as much going on inside of them as in their coronas. Typefaces are “difficult objects,” neither fish nor fowl. They carry meaning from the substrate to the brain, but they aren’t the text itself. They are sculpted forms (to use the engravers’ term), and in this sense visual objects, but also linguistic ones. In both cases the values assigned to them seem entirely arbitrary, in the semiotic sense.[22] And yet they can gently put English on a text.[23] How can they do this?

vii. Their difficulties go one step deeper, as reading is a wildly strange beast.[24] We didn’t evolve to convert squiggles into words (like mudskippers evolving to breathe air), we built a clever system that is essentially parasitic. If the neurologist Mark Changizi is right, writing, and by extension typefaces, take advantage of our ability to analyze the position of objects based on edge detection [25] (something we are hard-wired for).[26] Like synesthesia’s joining of music and colour, reading joins two regions are not necessarily related, akin to a rupture or tunnel under one of Deleuze’s folds.[27]

Another step: If a given font is legible, the design features are stripped away by the brain when reading.[28] We really do get to the “crystal goblet”[29] moment, but it happens over a wider range of circumstances than perhaps Warde thought. At the same time, no text can exist independent of its typographic (or manual) carrier and the shapes of a glyph do effect our judgement.[30]

viii. We as designers know this, but it’s hard to explain to journalists (and clients), because it’s bound up in all the implicit knowledge we gain through practice. Like a longtime cab driver whose peripheral vision and reactions are particularly well-developed, we, as typographically-aware designers, know a lot, and feel a lot, but underestimate the complexity of the internalized calculations we make.[31]

And design and typography may be more complex than perhaps we think. Like cooking a five-course meal, a lot of complex things — such as biochemistry and cultural forms — are glossed over by craftlore. We undergo a lot of training to acquire our craftlore, but to help our journalist sisters and brothers we would have to pass on the assumptions behind this knowledge, as well as the knowledge itself. Because exposing the assumptions allows for their grounds to be questioned — and built upon when these prove sound. Which is not to say journalists and critics — or ourselves — shouldn’t try,[32] but maybe we shouldn’t be surprised when they (and we) don’t. •

From The Untold Story of Rob Ford, Journalism, and Typography ABZ-INE, (2018). Edited by Michèle Champagne.  

Originally published in ABZ-INE. Editing and design by Michèle Champagne.

Originally published in ABZ-INE. Editing and design by Michèle Champagne.


1. An interesting question is how the condensed sans means one thing, and the normal width sans means another. This distinction becomes clear when you line up Rob Ford’s materials against Hillary Clinton’s (Art Directed by designer Michael Bierut, using a version of Lucas Sharp’s Sharp Sans Display No.1, stripped of its more Lubalin-esque features). The colour schemes and geometries are similar, but the big difference — apart from the copy writing and Bierut’s hand in the designs — is the type face. It’s as if condensed faces imply urgency, and regular widths imply calmness, or as Sharp suggests, “friendliness.” One approach has a natural valence to tabloids, the other to Kinfolk-era fashion and avant-garde culture: the former is full of breathless urgency about the right-wing triggers and the latest celebrity breakup (as well as the fun of bat babies and aliens having been elbowed aside by Infowars-type stories), the latter jumped from austere gallery ads in Parkett and clever Werkplaats Typografie experiments, and is now seeking a certain pure experience of clean interiors and a subtle ingenuity in consumer goods.

2. Note that the polity of Toronto was intentionally messed with as part of former Ontario Premier Michael Harris’s “Common Sense Revolution,” which was none of these things. The dense City of Toronto was merged with its formerly autonomous suburbs in 1998. A  The explanation was that this would make the city more efficient, but of course no savings were realized. The real motivation was to gerrymander a conservative majority by lumping the politically right suburbs with the politically left city centre. This initially gave Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman, and latterly Rob Ford. Good explanation of this (with maps) here.

3. (Photo below) Business signs: “Immigration Services”, “Law Office”, “Driving School”, “Walk-In Medical Centre”, “Randhawa Jewellery”, and “Yes! Education”. Albion Road and Islington Avenue. Toronto, 2016.

Photo by Alex Bozikovich.

Photo by Alex Bozikovich.

4. (Photo below) Telephone pole posters and flyers on the side of a newspaper dispenser: “Power Wash & Seal”, “Interlock Decks Concrete”, and “TV Wall Mounting”. Highway 7 and Weston Road. Vaughan, just north of Toronto, 2011.

Photo by Michèle Champagne.

Photo by Michèle Champagne.

5. A cursory search suggests the cover of the Toronto Sun, the organ of the populist right in Toronto, went from having a conventional mess of newspaper types in the 1970s, when it started, to a style that emphasized condensed sans serifs, starting around 1980. 

The Toronto Sun adopts its first condensed gothic, 1980.

The Toronto Sun adopts its first condensed gothic, 1980.

The Toronto Sun grows tired of Rob Ford, 2013.

The Toronto Sun grows tired of Rob Ford, 2013.

Papers like the Toronto Daily Star used all-cap Gothics since the 1930s but have used them for “streamers heads,” some even above the paper’s nameplate, but reserving them for the major page-one story, or for really big news (e.g. “Kennedy Shot”).

The Toronto Daily Star, 1930. (Lest anyone thinks that Canada has always been racially tolerant, note the headline; that’s a local chapter of the Klan.)

The Toronto Daily Star, 1930. (Lest anyone thinks that Canada has always been racially tolerant, note the headline; that’s a local chapter of the Klan.)

The Toronto Daily Star, 1963.

The Toronto Daily Star, 1963.

Stanley Morison complained of the “extreme Americanism” in London Daily Express’s use of 36-point De Vinnie all-caps — in 1901.[A] 

London Daily Express, September, 1901, the object of Morison’s ire.

London Daily Express, September, 1901, the object of Morison’s ire.

This usage in the Daily Express is very tame by the standards of the 1940s Daily Mirror: 

The Daily Mirror adopts its first condensed gothic, 1945.

The Daily Mirror adopts its first condensed gothic, 1945.

And it’s here that we start to see the modern tabloid structure settled.

A. Morison, S. (1932). The English newspaper, 1622–1932. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 305. 

6. Because of time constraints, Champagne left out a large part of her research (into book, magazine, and newspaper design, on- and off-line) from the talk, but her work links the “urgent” or “higher truth” meanings a condensed sans serif typeface can emit in the context of British tabloids like the National Enquirer.

The National Enquirer, 1958.

The National Enquirer, 1958.

7. Warde, B. (1956/1930). The crystal goblet: sixteen essays on typography, edited by Henry Jacob. Cleveland, OH: World Publishing, 137.

8. Rhetorics offer a useful lens for speaking about typography, they also contain a caveat, “There are a number of incalculable features of style about which we might never be able to secure general agreement...”[B] This is a species of a larger set of problems identified by figures like Jacques Derrida, with regards to meaning.[C] Of course, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to pin some of these elements down.

B. Corbett, E.P.J. (1990). Classical rhetoric for the modern student, 3rd ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 405.

C. Derrida, J. (1978). Writing and difference. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press, 278–93. Charles Saunders Peirce also touched on this with his notion of infinite semiosis. (A useful discussion of problems of reading the world, through the lens of reading the actions of others, can be found in Bell, C. (1992/2002). Ritual theory, ritual practice. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, ebook, ch. 4.)

9. Twyman, M. (1993). “The bold idea: The use of bold-looking types in the nineteenth century”. Journal of the printing historical society, 22, 111. A further genealogy of bold-looking types can be found in Gray, N. (1981). “Slab-serif type design in England 1815–1845.” Journal of the printing historical society, 15, 1; and of course Gray’s excellent book, Gray, N. (1976) Nineteenth century ornamented types and title pages. London: Faber & Faber. 

10. Weber, M. (2001/1930). The Protestant Ethic and Spirit of Capitalism. London: Routledge, 105.

11. One can think, for example, of the rise of Apple.

12. The Dean in question is Roger Martin, of the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management. Martin, R. (2009). The Design of Business: Why Design Thinking is the Next Competitive Advantage. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

13. Within the concept of embedded cognition there’s the notion that we offload cognitive work onto our environment, and particularly our man-made one. In this sense, typography would fall victim to this as well: we use the character of a layout or a typeface as tags or shorthands for cultural meanings, but they stay very much in the background until we call on them. If this is correct, it makes sense that typography would be used to buttress and transmit authority, as designer Chris Lee pointed out in his A-B-Z-TXT talk, since that work in the background would only serve to make the exercise of power appear more “natural.” 

14. A case of Father John Culkin’s observation (misattributed to Marshall McLuhan) that “We shape our tools and then our tools shape us,”[D] or the effect of André Leroi-Gourhan’s “rideau d’objects” between them and the world.[E] 

D. Culkin, J.M. (1967, March 18). “Aschoolman’s guide to Marshall McLuhan”. Saturday Review, 51–53, 71–72.

E. Leroi-Gourhan, A. (1945/1973). Evolution et techniques, no. 2: Milieu et techniques. Paris: Éditions Albin Michel, Sciences d’aujourd’hui, no. 2., ebook, ch. VIII, §. Économie technique.

15. Nelson, H.G. & Stolterman, E. (2012.) The Design Way: Intentional Change in an Unpredictable World, 2nd ed. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, ch. 1; Fry, T. (2012). Becoming human by design. London: Berg, ebook, preface; Bratton, B. H. (2016) The Stack: On Software and Sovereignty. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, ebook, introduction.

16. Canada’s major newspaper chain, CanWest, has undergone repeated rounds of “asset stripping,” where the owners “squeeze the goose”[F] without a view to long-term business health. The paper is then sold to a group who buy it with debt (which is tied to the paper). The goose is squeezed again, the valuable assets disposed, and the cycle renews as the paper is sold again. CanWest has endured this three times. Market conditions are difficult, but this stripping has turned a sector where the ROI was 20-40% to one where it’s 6-7%. “Never has an industry gone out of its way to chase its customers away like the newspapers,” as one of my bosses used to say. 

F. Philip Meyer, 2009. The Vanishing Newspaper: Saving Journalism in the Information Age (2nd ed.). Columbia, MI: University of Missouri Press, ebook, ch. 2.

17. Kristof, N. (2017, August 24). “We’re Journalists, Mr. Trump, Not the Enemy”. The New York Times. < > Accessed August 24, 2017.

18. “Because you have spent little or no time analyzing prose* style ... you are almost tongue-tied when asked to point out what it is you particularly admire about [a writer’s] style.” [G] *or in this case a design.

G. Corbett, op cit., 405.

19. “From the perspective of anthropology, we are not the masters of our images, but rather in a sense at their mercy; they colonize our bodies (our brains), so that even if it seems that we are in charge of generating them, and even though society attempts unceasingly to control them, it is in fact the images that are in control.”[H] 

H. Belting, Hans. (2001/2011). An Anthropology of Images: Picture, Medium, Body. Thomas Dunlap, translator. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 9.

20. Some arguments contra a solely associative understanding of typographic meaning: How is it that new uses for the same faces can be found? And once found, how can they seize the zeitgeist and “feel” right aesthetically, such as Peter Saville’s re-purposing of Modernism in the late 70s? And, if associative meanings be imposed, why do we then need to put new typefaces in circulation? Can’t we just re-purpose what we already have? Like representations of Christ changing over the course of history,[I] in some sense the design of a typeface communicates something to us. The face of Christ changed because each change accomplished a purpose. The form change so that the message could. Maybe every new, successful typeface just presents a better adhesive to the cultural world, but it’s hard to say that there isn’t something within the face that limits and inspires certain readings.[J] But if so, what are these limits, and how are they established? A thin, graceful gesture seems to imply something different from a blocky gesture (Chiswick Serif (Commercial) vs FF Karbid (FontFont)).

Affordance theory might be useful here, but to map and establish the limits certain readings, while still making room for the possibility of genealogies of associations. In 1979, J.J. Gibson proposed that objects, environment offer “affordance” to certain actions by a human, or an animal agent, to provide a grounding for his theory of vision.[K] Affordance was later taken up by those studying human–computer interactions (HCI) after the term was adapted, and its scope narrowed, by Donald Norman in 1988. For Gibson, affordances are the opportunities (and dangers) the environment and objects present for action, something that, “implies the complementarity of the animal and the environment.”[L] A shelf at the right height could be a seat, or “[a]n elongated object, especially if weighted at one end and graspable at the other, affords hammering.” [M] For Norman, affordances offer clues and limits to use. Speaking of the panic bars on fire doors, Norman observed that, “The best push bars offer both visible affordances that act as physical constraints on the action, and also a visible signifier, thereby unobtrusively specifying what to do and where to do it.”[N] There is a useful path between these two notions that parses the complexities of typographic tone. 

A typeface, and its use in a layout, is a much more complex cultural object than a panic bar, but in a similar manner, the face offers readers a set of possibilities, outside its function as a carrier of meaning. A typeface presents clues about how a text is to be treated: Is what you are reading an academic text, a novel, or a set of instructions? Typefaces allow certain readings. 

Reading is intensely cultural. The context in which reading — the reading of forms — takes place is subject to change, both between ages, regions, and cultures, but also between individuals. A Didot that seems like the height of authority in one context might seem like pomposity in another. A parallel might be made with clothes: at one moment Lavoisier’s silk culottes give him authority, and at another they damn him to execution. The breeches haven’t changed, but have the affordances? In the Gibsonian sense they have not, since silk culottes will never be good to wear when one is building a stone wall. 

The space between the two definitions, that of Gibson, which stresses the opportunity to the user — and opportunities can be missed, can be misleading — and that Norman, which stresses the limits that an object can place on possible readings, offers us a tool for handling cultural complexity. The former sense represents the possibilities afforded us, and the latter the shifting cultural frame within which we can read those cues. While Norman treats a well-designed door as one which specifies, through design “what to do and where to do it,” this specification has an inescapable cultural dimension. An adult from 21st century Western Europe will have different reaction to what the door is communicating than will an adult from the highlands of pre-contact Papua New Guinea. What you see here is the giggle between the various types of relative affordance (Norman), which sit on top of an absolute affordance (Gibson). There is space, possibly even generative space, for ingenuity, but also, of course, misunderstanding.

Whatever John Baskerville or Zuzana Licko might have been thinking when they’re working on a given set of punches or computer typefaces, the world that they will release their work into will create new and varied meanings. In a strong sense these will be limited by the forms that Baskerville and Licko make. This is not strictly deterministic. Shakespeare’s Hamlet will never be about spawning salmon, nor the Noh play Dōjōji about solar neutrino flux, but both involve spirits (Hamlet’s father and Kiyohime): there will never be an end to possible readings, but there are limits.

I. Bacci, M. (2014). The many faces of Christ: Portraying the holy in the East and West, 300 To 1300. Islington, UK: Reaktion Books. 

J. The formation, maintenance, and change of social meaning like this is of course tied to the organization and regulation of social practices (Hall, S. 1997). “Introduction.” Representation: Cultural Representations and Signifying Practices. London, UK: Sage, 3.), but at this level it almost seems too crude. What would the difference between ITC Baskerville italic and Simoncini Garamond italic “regulate”? We have, in an instance like this, something akin to the Wilson Cloud Chamber, where something fundamental can be seen though a sensitive apparatus. 

K. Gibson, J.J. (1986/1979). The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception. Hove, UK: Psychology Press, ebook, ch.8.

L. Norman, D. (2013). The design of everyday things, revised and expanded edition. New York: Basic Books, ebook, ch. 4, “Applying affordances, signifiers, and constraints to everyday objects.” 

M. Gibson, J.J. (1986/1979). Op. cit.

N. Norman, D. (2013). Op. cit.

21. Quote from designer Michael Bierut in the fim Helvetica.[O]

O. Hustwit, G. (Producer & Director). Helvetica. UK: Veer & Swiss Dots. 

22. Arbitrary both in the sense of Saussure’s and Peirce’s semiotics; the latter’s more precise term would say a legisign or better still a sinsign, but with more than one legisign ‘above’ them, governing their meaning.[P]

P. Jappy, T. (2013). Introduction to Peircean Visual Semiotics. London, UK: Bloomsbury Academic, 30–31, 67–69

23. Errol Morris on the impact of Baskerville on readers’ trust. Morris, E. (2012, August 12). “Hear, All Ye People; Hearken, O Earth (Part 1)”. The New York Times. < > Accessed August 24, 2017. 

24. Dehaene, S. (2009). Reading in the Brain: The New Science of How We Read. New York: Penguin.

25. Marr, D. (2010). Vision: A computational investigation into the human representation and processing of visual information. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

26. Changizi, M. (2009). The vision revolution: How the latest research overturns everything we thought we knew about human vision. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books, 163–209. Changizi suggests that the logic of glyphs is related to the way that we see objects and their edges.

27. Deleuze, G. (1988). Foucault. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 109.

28. Dehaene, S. (2009). Op. cit..

29. Warde, B. (1956/1930). Op. cit., 11. 

30. Morris, E. (2012, August 12). Op. cit.

31. Say we are considering a geometric sans serif. It’s a bit older (2010), but let’s use Benjamin Critton’s Raisonné (Colophon). When we think of a face we ask ourselves all sorts of questions we don’t necessarily verbalize, questions that pull in, like a species of Actor–Network Theory,[Q] all sort of non-typographic questions. How do people feel about geometrics now (mass psychology, anthropology)? Are they starting to feel like tiny succulents in faceted white pots (marketing, fashion)? Does the age that a face came from have useful connotations or does Rudolph Koch’s Kabel (Critton’s inspiration) have good associations right now (history, historical memory)?

Benjamin Critton, Raisonné (Colophon, 2010).

Benjamin Critton, Raisonné (Colophon, 2010).

Rudolph Koch, Kabel (Klingspor, 1927).

Rudolph Koch, Kabel (Klingspor, 1927).

Or do the overtly mechanical means that Raisonné is made with suggest experimentation (psychology, art history)? In which case, does this type of experimentation make people think of the Bauhaus (psychology, historical memory)? Does that imply a yearning for Utopian future, a moment when the left was ascendant, or a feeling of intra-war confusion (politics)?[R] And those are just a few random associations, which might be standing proxy for something else, some more elemental discussion about the way that form evokes emotion. There are also all of the familiar technical concerns about how tightly the side-bearings are set, how well-kerned the face is, or how much whitespace it might need. And there is of course a whole other level of calculation, having to do with paying for type. 

Q. Latour, B. (1993/1991). We have never been modern. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, p.4. The designer in this sense resembles Michel Callon’s engineer-sociologists in: Callon, M. (2012/1987). “Society in the making: The study of technology as a tool for sociological analysis.” The social construction of technological systems, Wiebe E. Bijker, et al, editors. Cambridge, MA: MIT press, 2012. It could be argued that the journalists and editors are doing this sort of multi-level analysis, too, in their search for the perfect story.

R. Or maybe Raisonné means something else? Many of the faces of inter-war German foundries seem to aspire to a union of classical grace and modern efficiency, with an emphasis on the former. If Critton says that Raisonné was inspired by Koch, we can just move from Kabel to Koch-Antiqua to see this. A face like that is a compromise with Capitalism. Like the neoclassical courthouses and banks that dot the North American landscape, it summons an impossible position between Classically-clad aristocratic Greeks listening to a lyre player, and a well-oiled machine turning out shell casings. We’ve grown inured to this visual language, but maybe it’s a compromise that needs to be called. Maybe Raisonné’s seeming naïveté is a strategy to jab the lyre player in the eyes? 

32. In this context, it’s worthwhile asking four sets of basic questions about a typeface: 1. Expression: how the font is printed or displayed (on a substrate). 2. Construction: how the font is put together. 3. Reference: how the drawing and metrics (or the punches and justification) relate to a visual logic either within or external to the font. 4. Memory: in Peircian terms the dynamic interpretant and the final interpretant.