Typography I – Typographer of Week 9: Tobias Frere-Jones

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In his seven years in Font Bureau Inc, Boston as a senior designer, Frere-Jones created many of Font Bureau’s best-known typefaces, including Interstate, and Poynter Oldstyle and Gotham. He began work with Jonathan Hoefler and formed a company operated under the name Hoefler & Frere-Jones,  collaborated on projects for Martha Stewart Living, GQEsquire, Nike, Pentagram, Hewlett-Packard, the New York Times Magazine and the Wall Street Journal.


Frere-Jones wanted to give something to the community, and to users, that would set a precedent. Like his past work, Mallory looks and is timeless, utilitarian and reliable. It’s able to do the heavy lifting for a range of uses, and is intended to be, according to the designer, “an asset to users” and “durable.”

Mallory typeface

Mallory began as an experiment in mixing typographic traditions, building a new design with British and American traits. The family offers a broad range of voices, from the prim and austere Thin to the loud and gregarious Ultra.

Mallory was built to be a reliable tool, readily pairing with other typefaces to organize complex data and fine-tune visual identities. This release also marks the debut of the MicroPlus series.

Till this day, Frere-Jones is still drawing new designs on typefaces and looks forward to designing condensed versions of Mallory.

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Gotham typeface

Gotham typeface is a distillation of the “letters of paint, plaster, neon, glass and steel that figure so prominently in the urban landscape,” create under his collaboration with Jonathan Hoefler.


“Typeface design can be artistic expressions and cultural artefacts if they are…properly executed, they can be a solution to every problem” – from the video in ‘Tobias Frere-Jones: Break Things Deliberately’

I reaaally like this presentation of his in the video. It’s interesting to see this point of view of Frere-Jones where he sees problems as an opportunity because then he can use typefaces as a form of a solution. He taught us to learn to see the beauty in taking risks. Frere-Jones explains that in order to do our best creative work, we must not just permit moments of confusion, but actually, go chase them. Hence how I see this as: see if you can make your typeface worse, then if there is a problem, you sorta know how to fix it. Break it down to know how to make it better. I guess it’s like reverse-manipulation. It shows how a structure can really describe itself as it falls apart and I think this really is something thought-provoking, something I would start thinking about immediately when trying to improve my works/designs.

“In all of that mess, in all of that wreckage, you can find something pretty amazing.”


Typography I – Typographer of Week 8: Herb Lubalin


When I read about the 10 things we didn’t know about Herb Lubalin, it’s interesting to know more about him through those little facts. Like how he supports liberal causes. I wish he was still alive – I would wanna know what are his views on the politics in this day and age.

Like Herb, I would like to devote my life to painting too after I retire! But it’s sad that he did not get to do both the retiring and painting as he died early.

Herb Lubalin was the famous typographer and designer behind the creation of the typeface Avant Garde. Aside from creating works meant for positive political changes, Lubalin was a constant boundary breaker on both a visual and social level. Part of the founding team of the International Typeface Corporation (ITC)  and the principal of Herb Lubalin, Inc it was hard to escape the reach of Herb during the 1960s and 70s.

Coming to terms with Herb Lubalin’s work takes us quickly to the heart of a very big subject: the theory of meaning and how meaning is communicated—how an idea is moved, full and resonant, from one mind to another. Not many have been able to do that better than Lubalin.


The Avant Garde Gothic typeface was originally designed for the Avant Garde magazine. It can also be noted that Lubalin Graph is a typeface family on its own but was derived from Avant Garde Gothic.

The Avant Garde Gothic typeface was based on Lubalin’s late 1960’s logo. Despite the overuse and misuse of Avant Garde Gothic in the 1970s, it’s still extremely influential and remains as one of Lubalin’s most iconic fonts. This font could be described as a reproduction of art-deco and is seen in logos created in the 1990s and 2000s.

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Herb Lubalin devised the logo concept and its companion headline typeface, and then he and Tom Carnase, a partner in Lubalin’s design firm, worked together to transform the idea into a full-fledged typeface.

Announcement for Avant Garde magazine’s antiwar poster contest, designed by Herb Lubalin, 1968.

As mentioned by Adrian Shaughnessy, a graphic designer: “Lubalin was…a political designer. He was never a radical‚ but a progressive liberal at a time when such sympathies were undoubtedly ‘bad for business.’ When this is compounded with his work with Ginzburg‚ which put him at the forefront of the 1960s free speech and anti-censorship movements‚ we see he was unafraid to declare his political allegiances and sympathies.”

We see this in the above poster he created for. Herb Lubalin’s work punches straight at the gut simply using letterforms. Look at that bold red using every letter in caps-lock. The typeface he uses as well. How smart it is of him to use every negative space (The black but bold exclamation mark at the side catches my attention too somehow).  As a viewer, this whole poster evokes some strong attitude and emotion in you. Don’t you feel it? I do.


Herb Lubalin
U&lc magazine

Lubalin spent the last ten years of his life working on a variety of projects, notably his typographic journal U&lc and the newly founded International Typographic Corporation. U&lc (short for Upper and lower case) served as both an advertisement for Lubalin’s designs and a further plane of typographic experimentation.

Here, he tested just how far smashed and expressive lettering might be taken. Unlike other most designers, he had the freedom of being his own client where nobody tells him what to do, and he enjoys it.


Hence relating that to my learning point: I admire how he had his own personal convictions and stood by them. You could tell his character by the kind of work he produces, and hence has helped him shape his works as a designer. He stands firmly on what he believed in so that he would design works that are true to himself, instead of simply following with the trend. Lubalin is definitely in a class from his own.

Typography I – Typographer of Week 7: Erik Spiekermann


Erik Spiekermann: “You have to think of everything a little more…”

Spiekermann is a German typographer, designer and writer. He and his wife, Joan, started FontShop, the first mail-order distributor for digital fonts. His family of typefaces for Deutsche Bahn (German Railways), designed with Christian Schwartz, received a Gold Medal at the German Federal Design Prize in 2006, the highest such award in Germany. Hence more than anyone else, the Berlin communication and type designer Erik Spiekermann has shaped Germany’s visual culture.

United Designers Network was renamed after him, SpiekermannPartners merged with Dutch design agency Eden Design & Communication and continued its operations under the name Edenspiekermann. Edenspiekermann currently runs offices in Amsterdam, Berlin, Singapore, San Francisco and Los Angeles.


Specimens of typefaces by Erik Spiekermann. 1) Berliner Grotesk (original is from 1913, digitization is from c. 1978) 2) FF Meta (1991–1998) 3) ITC Officina Serif (1990) 4) ITC Officina Sans (1990)

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Spiekermann’s work in communication design has involved so many different projects: books, advertisements, posters, editorial, corporate design—“typography is the element that connects them.”

What I find interesting about Spiekermann is his devotion to clarity and grid-based design. He says that the result of the natural chaos of his mind actually causes this, “I need order. I need systems. I don’t really do anything without a design grid.” And I also think that’s the reason why the kind of fonts he designed could convey information accurately and convey it well.

I can see that Spiekermann strives to always represent content appropriately with the strong discipline and self-awareness he has. He mentioned that “a font must fit into the culture”. And as a designer, he’s done well in doing his job to bring a text to the public. It also shows Spiekermann’s sensitivity to his intended audience, the public, and viewers – the thought that he puts whilst designing something. And I, as a beginner, definitely need to start learning to do that. Also, especially the part of using a ‘design grid’ and not throwing it off like it’s unnecessary because it really is the opposite of that.

Typography I – Typographer of Week 6: Jonathan Barnbrook


Raised in the UK, Jonathan Barnbrook is a famous contemporary British graphic designer, typographer and filmmaker. He is best known for designing David Bowie’s album Heathen in 2002. He has also collaborated with Damien Hirst and Adbusters. He is also seen as one of the early innovators in the world of motion graphics, and his contribution to graphic design was recognised by a major exhibition at the Design Museum, London in 2007. Currently, he runs his own studio Barnbrook Design which he founded in 1990. We can often find him exchanging the measured world of type design for the more spontaneous activity of VJing (broad designation for real-time visual performance).



The infamous and ubiquitous Mason and Exocet fonts were designed by him and were first released through Californian innovators Emigre. In 1997 he established his own font company VirusFonts and that is where he releases other typefaces. The typeface Mason later became one of the first digital acquisitions of the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Mason typeface. Images (including the one below this) obtained from https://www.myfonts.com/person/Jonathan_Barnbrook/

Exocet typeface. Image (including the one below this) obtained from https://www.myfonts.com/fonts/emigre/exocet-ot/


He’s known mainly for designing the packaging for David Bowie’s albums from Heathen (2002) to Blackstar (2016).

Heathen (2002)

Back in 2002, he produced an album cover for David Bowie’s Heathen. Here he incorporated his “Priori” typeface. That was his first time using the font for commercial purposes. Bowie then requested Barnbrook to design cover art for other albums such as Blackstar (2016) and Reality.

Blackstar (2016)

Image (including the one below) obtained by https://www.itsnicethat.com/features/review-of-the-year-2016-graphic-design-jonathan-barnbrook-151216

Look at those lines above. Oh my goodness. Symmetrical and carefully put together. And then down to the middle, he slowly created curvy ends, making it look like there’s a hole beneath.


Barnbrook Bible, 2007

17th Biennale of Sydney Catalogue, 2010

The design above was inspired in part by the work of Harry Everett-Smith and his Anthology of American Folk Music. It also takes heavy influence from antique educational books and encyclopaedias. It is a catalogue design for the 17th Biennale of Sydney: Beauty of Distance, Songs of survival in a Precarious Age. The publication features 17 individually designed essays, an extensive plates section and a series of typographic interludes.

Daydreaming with Stanley Kubrick, 2016

The usage of bold and bright complementary colours, orange and blue, really makes the cool weird eyes stand out in the book. I think it matches up with the ‘daydreaming’ part and overall a lively design. I noticed the typefaces used here are all different yet SO suitable. They look just right together.


Friendly Fire at Ginza Graphic Gallery

Image (including the one below) obtained by http://www.barnbrook.net/work/ggg-friendly-fire/

I personally like the one above. This poster was designed to announce the Barnbrook retrospective exhibition at Ginza Graphic Gallery, Tokyo, Japan in 2005. The poster features a detail of Barnbrook’s self-generated works, which is a Tibetan mandala made up of corporate logos.



I really don’t know where to begin. After learning about Barnbrook, now I’m wishing I work for him, or at least be a student of his because I admire so much of his works. I want to compare his works to another of my favourite typographer, Paula Scher, as I feel that they are quite similar in terms of the colours they choose to use, which are most of the time so very colourful. Both are also similar as they differ – you can tell both of their works apart very easily as they are both unique with the way they put their words out to create the visual aesthetic of a document.

I find it interesting how Barnbrooks managed to create unique typefaces that embody personalities and moods, but at the same time, refrain from making it look too tacky. Like for the Mason typeface, you could tell it’s representing the medieval period. This can be seen in the sharp ascender on the uppercase of ‘M’ that reminds me of the boldness in a knight’s armour back then. Also, the curved-in bowl (?) in ‘A’ makes it look like a knight’s shield (in the medieval period) turned upside down.

Here’s how I pictured it for the letter ‘A’:

– original medieval knight shield– turned upside down. LOOKS LIKE THE ‘A’ RIGHT? Looks like it to me.

OR it could even be the knight’s helmet:

Alright alright, I’m done with the examples but you get what I mean.

The typeface is unique and different from today’s modern-looking ones but the readability is still there and remains visually-pleasing to the eye.

As for the designs, oh I’m completely in love with them. Minimal but yet it gives me the fun vibes – like I might actually enjoy reading the books because of how the design is like at the front. And even inside (like the ones in 17th Biennale of Sydney Catalogue, 2010).

Kudos to Barnbrook. I’ve found yet another favourite typographer of mine.

Typography I – ‘The Elements of Typographic Style, The Grand Design’ reading

Here I will review some points that I find interesting from the ‘The Elements of Typographic Style, The Grand Design’ reading by Robert Bringhurst. I’ll start off with his saying, “Typography must often draw attention to itself before it will be read. Yet in order to be read, it must relinquish the attention it has drawn.”

Saying “many a book….a warrior or dancer of either sex, may look well with some paint on its face, or indeed with a bone in its nose” is to make a metaphorical relation to how some documents such as magazines or children’s books, do need a creative typography presented on their front cover to make them look wholesome and enticing. Whereas for some others like telephone directory or classified ads, it only needs a simple typeface that’s readable and classic, perhaps a sans serif throughout and presented in a good layout, to direct viewers easily into reading important information. Similarly to formal things like newspapers, that simply needs a transitional typeface like Baskerville as Baskerville is a font that means business, making it a great fit for more formal media.

It’s interesting how he says “Typography is to literature as musical performance is to the composition”. Like music, it can be used to manipulate behaviour and emotions. I agree that sometimes typography feels like a musical performance when I see posters that are very well done and I could feel the letters dancing in swirls, or give a certain vibe. If it draws my attention as a reader, makes me feel something and even pleased with the typography or the whole book that has good typography, I’d say it has succeeded in achieving an exceptional typographic style.

However, whatever it is, after reading this I highly believe then that an essential principle to typography is to give full typographic attention, especially to incidental details. Like the saying goes by Massimo Vignelli “it’s not entirely about the letters, it’s more about the white spaces between the letters that matter”. Little things like negative spaces, the kerning and such, plays a huge part. Because if not, how does one read? Where is the balance in the words or even the page itself? These incidental details, play a crucial part to make typography work, even when trying to make a visual aesthetic out of it.

Typography I – ‘The Crystal Goblet’ reading

In the reading The Crystal Goblet, Beatrice Warde tries to convey the message that typography is not merely just a type.  It has a deeper purpose and more technical than we think. She uses metaphors of “solid gold, wrought in the most exquisite patterns” versus “crystal-clear glass” as the virtues of the perfect wine-glass, and parallel that to typography.

She does this to infer the purpose of type and the effects on communication between humans. To her, the crucial thing about type or printing is to “convey thoughts, ideas, and images from one mind to other minds.”  With a ‘transparent’ type, typography will then help to highlight the thoughts and ideas contained in the written word. 

Beatrice also commends that typography will not qualify as an art “until the present English language no longer conveys ideas to future generations, and until printing itself hands its usefulness to some yet unimagined successor”. Meaning to say that to her, as long as it still serves an active form of communication and language, it proves that typography cannot be an art. A fine art artist reflects feelings and emotions, whereas a typographer and designer tend to think more than they feel.

However, I only agree to a certain extent. I say yes to the fact that the primary purpose of typography is the communication between human to human and to what’s written. That a responsible typographer is like a crystal goblet that is transparent enough to hold the wine (the author’s mind) allowing the connoisseur (the reader) to see directly and clearly on the wine. Which is why typography could be said as more technical — to make the message clear to the reader as they read along the lines of the text.

But then, what if the typographer wants to portray an underlying message behind his typography? Then shouldn’t that have a considerable amount of art included to express it? What if the purpose is to attract different kinds of audiences? Yes, a typographer does think, but he/she must also feel their work. I guess this is subjective. For some, we feel the way we want our work to be like, we feel through the different types of typefaces and fonts, and how to document them to make a certain piece look the way we want it to. I believe a text would have no visual characteristic without typography. Hence, I largely disagree with Beatrice’s idea of typography being simply ‘transparent’.

Typography I – Typographer of Week 5: Paula Scher


Paula Scher is an American illustrator, painter, graphic designer, and art educator. She moved to New York City and worked as a layout artist for Random House.

She worked in CBS Records for eight years as the cover department art director; during that time, she designed several hundred album covers.  She then left CBS to pursue her own work, including the development of a typographic solution based on Russian constructivism and Art Deco.

Scher joined Pentagram in 1991, becoming the first female principal to join the company. The following year, she became an art educator at the School of Visual Arts in New York, and since then, she has received hundreds of design awards. She even has her own exhibition in New York. Many of Scher’s designs have become synonymous with New York City culture.

Paula Scher is one of the most influential graphic designers in the world. Described as the “master conjurer of the instantly familiar,” Scher straddles the line between pop culture and fine art in her work. Iconic, smart, and accessible, her images have entered into the American vernacular.


She has so many to even start with. Here are some below.

Scher developed a typographic solution based on Art deco and Russian constructivism, which incorporated outmoded typefaces into her work. The Russian constructivism had provided Scher inspiration for her typography; she didn’t copy the early constructivist style but used its vocabulary of form on her works.

The Public Theater logo evolution


In 1994 Paula Scher designed a poster for the New York Shakespeare Festival that introduced a new identity for the Public Theater, a program that would eventually influence much of the graphic design created for theatrical promotion and for cultural institutions in general. She said “You can basically take any version of sans serif font, organize it in the same way and with the same proportions and it would be recognizable as The Public’s logo,” says Scher. “The system was designed to be flexible because we knew it would need to be handled by individual designers over the years.”

Reflect Us

Artwork published recently in March 2018.

Reflect US is a “nonpartisan coalition of eight leading women’s political organizations working together to increase the number of women in office and achieve equal representation across the ideological, racial, ethnic and geographic spectrum.”

The visual identity created by Paula Scher here is obvious. The colours used to present ‘democracy’ with the big bold red screaming “JOIN US” – bold and encouraging for the women in USA.


You can sort of see that the Swatch poster she did above includes inspiration derived from Russian constructivism artworks.


I’m very intrigued by Scher’s use of bold colours and unusual layout of text because she actually makes it work. It looks great and not messy at all. She places her text in a certain flow or a different direction, and that creates movement in the work. To me, that really gives an overall refreshing look.

Most of her works have this energetic vibe towards it and I guess that’s partly due to her use of contrasting colours as well. That’s why it’s so mesmerising to look at. It’s cool how when you look up on her name, she is known for a lot of her amazing works, plastered everywhere such as famous brands like Swatch or Atlantic Records. Even designing works advocating women power lately in 2018? That is very inspiring.









Typography I – Reflection on TED talk: My life in typefaces

I had to rewatch some parts of the talk to get myself feeling inspired by the things Matthew Carter shared. One of which is the part when he was told by the engineers that the problem in the typeface was solved and so Mr Carter’s draft design was not needed. BUT he didn’t stop there. In fact, he was interested in the ‘aesthetic exercise’ and loved the idea of type-making and the typeface he made.

Far right, the edit he made in the typeface design so as it doesn’t look so technological-like.

A problem-solver and also someone who perseveres and not just scrap off his work. And hence leading to some popular typefaces such as Verdana – working directly onto the screen from the pixel app. (It’s interesting to me how he designed a typeface for Microsoft using a Mac.)

I see it as, him adapting to the future without rejecting it and adapting (transforming) a rigid technology into a sensitive, more human “being”. Matthew Carter’s experience shares a tiny bit of what he’s accumulated over decades of honing his skill. This should be inspiring to all of us, at least it is to me. Very fascinating and enriching.

Typography I – Thinking With Type (Reflection)

I swear I wish I stumbled upon this website waaaaay earlier.

It goes in-depth on the anatomy of type and now gives me a better idea of what to look out for when analysing a certain font, and the criteria to set when selecting fonts for a piece of design.

It intrigues me how there is a power in the sizing and scaling of letters in typography, how it really makes a huge difference in the spaces between the letters and how warped a text is, gives a different effect. And that there’ such a thing as ‘Optical sizes’??? “Optical sizes designed for headlines or display tend to have delicate, lyrical forms, while styles created for text and captions are built with heavier strokes.”

I’m brought into a new perspective especially when it came to the ‘Mixing Typefaces’ – that there’s actually a way to make a sentence look as good as a good salad, and not end up making the sentence messy.

As a beginner in typography, it is one of my weaker elements of design. Thus this reading allowed me to have a clearer view on how to integrate typefaces into the design pieces (and at the same time, making them visually appealing and complementary to the other visual elements). It also helped me in familiarising important terms, as well as what to refrain from doing in future!




Typography I – Typographer of Week 4: Neville Brody



Neville Brody is an English graphic designer, typographer and art director currently working in his own design practice called Research Studios.

Back then, he enrolled himself at the London College of Printing for a 3-year Bachelor of Arts degree in graphics but his designs were often condemned by his teachers for having ‘uncommercial’ quality to them. The era of punk rock highly influenced Brody’s work and motivation in the late 1970s. However, his tutors disagree with his experimentation of punk rock art and got him almost expelled. Even then, he continued to explore the new boundaries in graphic design.  Therefore, his first-year thesis focused on the subject of comparison between Dadaism and Pop Art.

He’s also a leading typographer and internationally recognised brand strategist.


He is best known for his work on ‘The Face’ and ‘Arena’ magazines and various record covers for several famous music artists, including Cabaret Voltaire and Depeche Mode.

‘The Face’ and ‘Arena’ magazines
Cabaret Voltaire Record Cover – Designed in 1984

Brody is also one of the founding members of Fontworks and the leading website the FontShop. He designed numerous notable typefaces for the website. A well-known FUSE project was also the result of his initiation which featured the fusion of a magazine, typeface and graphics design.

He co-founded a typeface library, the FontFont, with Erik Spiekermann, in 1990.

Typefaces by Neville Brody

He has designed many typefaces such as Industria, Insignia and Blur, which was included in the Museum of Modern Art’s architecture and design collection in 1992.

Industria font by Neville Brody
Insignia font by Neville Brody (image obtained from https://www.behance.net/gallery/21328109/Insignia-Type-Specimen-Poster)
Brand Strategy for Nike – Designed in 1988



I’m inspired by how his experimentation of the punk rock art was noticeable in some of his works and that created an interesting approach in forming portraits. And for his typefaces, it’s interesting how he could make them look simple but at the same time, possessed features that made them distinguishable and less boring.