Just my type
I learned my original trade as a graphic designer at a college in Basel, Switzerland. I say trade because you were equipped to actually make a good living after graduation. Learning how to set type was one of the practical courses. Yes, I did set type by hand with a stick, assembled the lines of lead by tying them together with a string, applied ink and reproduced the result with a hand-cranked letterpress.
In another course I practiced calligraphy, learned to design a typeface – you start with the lower case letters n and o – and studied the history of the written word which began with the Sumerian civilization.
A Life of Type
Type is everywhere.
Throughout my life, I’ve paid attention to typography whether it was displayed on highway signs or in the archives of calligraphic manuscripts in the British Museum. Readability and legibility were constant concerns in my design career. Functional aspects and aesthetics are two sides of the same coin.
Death to typographers!
Typography has come a long way since my Swiss years. Technically it developed via photo typesetting into desktop publishing. Along the way the typesetting profession became extinct and unfortunately, so did much professional editing and proofreading. Now we blog.
Long live typography!
Typography, however, is still with us. As it happened, nothing proved more difficult to move into the digital world than type. The intricate details of letterforms were hard to render. The first version of Photoshop lacked type altogether. Finally, Adobe PostScript broke the dam.
Here comes the web!
When I taught myself HTML in the early ’90s there were a limited number of web fonts. Creating a decent looking layout was a labor of love. Like many web pioneers, I used tables meant for the display of data as a crutch to place type and imagery. Once cascading style sheets entered the picture website design and layout made a leap forward.
The browser wars
Fighting for the hearts and minds of web designers along the way were the browsers who translated the code into web pages. Netscape’s Mosaic was first, followed and then vanquished by Microsoft’s Windows Explorer. This hegemony, however, was short-lived and successive browsers such as Firefox, Opera, Chrome, and Safari brought back choice for the web consumer along with some renewed angst for web developers.
One of the little-known contributions of Google are Google fonts. The commissioned type creations, specifically intended for screen display, have enriched web page design. I use the Signika typeface created by Anna Giedry, a Polish type designer. Incidentally, use of a singular typeface as a branding device was pioneered by IBM.
That’s the name of the latest edition of WordPress, the platform for nearly a third of all websites. I use WordPress for SERENE, my real estate website. Gutenberg promises to be another breakthrough in website design. It’s main claim to fame is the ability to easily design with a grid system. In other words, I should be able to create layouts the same way I did when I designed annual reports for Fortune 500 companies.
Grid of old
Incidentally, the grid of the print days traces its origins to the Bauhaus. Later, the grid was associated with “Swiss Design” and exported along with Gruyère into the US where it merged with Madison Avenue. One of the exporters was the college in Basel where I learned to set type by hand.
Back to real estate
On August 31st, I closed on the Three Lakes Snohomish home and brought a new listing on the market. It is a mid-century classic tri-level home in the Microsoft neighborhood of Redmond. Read all about it in the Signika typeface on SERENE.
First published by Gerhard as his
August 2018 View from the Street Newsletter.