Typography I – Short reflective post on Type Speaks (1948)

After watching this, my first thought was “wow, we really take printers for granted”!

Type Speaks is a 1948 film that features an in-depth process of making type. The film emphasizes type as a medium with a mission to improve the world and showcases how they used to be made. Firstly showing a brief history of printing and then followed by the entire process of type making from original design to pattern making, punch cutting, matrix making, and the use of the Benton engraving machine.

I realized how differently a designer is defined now compared to how a designer was defined then. Now with the power of machines such as a computer, it is easy to design a certain typography. Back then, mostly everything was hands-on. The responsibilities of a designer were different as well.

It’s truly amazing how people back then painstakingly carved the letters out from the metal rod and had the patience to file away the outside of the rod, simply to get the lettering right. Everything is done one at a time, even the design of the characters of the letters.

I salute them for the many hours of craftsmanship needed for this whole typography process. Now I have a newfound appreciation for the art behind type and this film educates me a bit, on knowing how important the little details in each lettering are. It gives me a new perspective on designing type and typography itself.

Typography I – Typographer of Week 3: Massimo Vignelli


An Italian, Massimo Vignelli was born in Milan in 1931. There, he first studied art and architecture, until he came to America in 1957. He was the co-founder of Vignelli Associates, with his wife, Lella. in 1971 they formed Vignelli Associates, and in 1978, Vignelli Designs. Vignelli worked in a number of areas ranging from package design through houseware design and furniture design to public signage and showroom design.


Vignelli believes that a designer needs only 6 typefaces and his six preferred typefaces are Garamond, Bodoni, Century Expanded, Futura, Times, Helvetica (shown below):

Here are some of the typographic works he did:

    • Official redesign of 1972 map of the New York subway system
    • Poster and graphics programme for Milan’s Piccolo Teatro, 1964 and 1965
    • the “AA” logo used by American Airlines up until 2013


  • The 1972 map of the New York subway system

Around 1965, Vignelli and his business partner Bob Noorda established Unimark International, a new design consultancy, in New York. They worked with Mildred Constantine, an influential design curator at the Museum of Modern Art, who is well connected in the New York City’s social scene.

There was a desperate need for a transformation of the city’s nightmarish subway navigation system, hence Vignelli helped to redesign the subway map. Following the Beck London Underground diagram, Vignelli produced a diagram of subway lines. Although the map is widely admired for its beauty and utility, it was rejected by commuters as the New Yorkers disliked its indifference to above-ground geography. They felt that it looked too abstract and it did not accurately represent the subway routes and cities.

  • Poster and graphic programme for Milan’s Piccolo Teatro, 1964 and 1965

The Piccolo Teatro di Milano posters such as the one above illustrate the powerful philosophical connection between Zurich and Milan in the 1960s. Vignelli’s uses closely set Helvetica in two sizes and strong horizontal rules. His effortless ordering of information has been echoed in print, blog themes and app design right up to the present day.


In his interview with Big Think, he mentioned how it’s important for graphic designers to stay away from trends and think more about the quality of the typographic design where “a timeless design is powerful”. I agree with him, how when it comes to designing things, I would still want it to be looked in respect in 100 years time and not laughed about. This is reflected in some of his works that are still present up to this day such as the ones mentioned above (Piccolo Teatro di Milano posters and American Airlines logo (1967 till 2013)”. There needs to be “guts, expression, intellectually elegant”.

In most projects he has done, he has this same design: “..the heavy black rules, the red, black and yellow, the large Garamond Italic or Bodoni type going over the gutter..” (like the picture above). He explained that he wanted to achieve an effect and clarity. When comparing his works with Jan Tschihold, both of them are similar as clarity seems to be their focal point for these designers. To create assets that would help people to navigate their daily lives, both of them stand by the idea of limited type fonts and design as well and apply these similar styles to most of the work they do even for different companies.

Vignelli’s work is recognizable, even when working with different companies. Hence, we see that design is a voice, and for him, making a design that is timeless is important. That is his core set of beliefs, and similarly, with other designers, they have their own set of beliefs. And this is something that is incapable of being replicated.

Vignelli is the “fearless critic of junk” and that is a constant reminder for me whenever I feel like my work is junk. He emphasizes the coherence of elements, clarity, discipline and continuity. There’s a certain discipline we must put into our work, and we ought to put pride in it. There is always a way to make our own typography work look better than it is before.






Massimo Vignelli: Creator of Timeless Design and Fearless Critic of “Junk”


Typography I – Typographer of Week 2: Jan Tschichold


Jan Tshichold is a German typographer and author who played a seminal role in the development of 20th-century graphic design and typography. He was largely impressed by one of the first fonts of Rudolf Koch – Maximillian Grotesk. Then the artist was hugely inspired by the Bauhaus exhibition, which then led to his typography where we look at letters with straight edges, made of simple shapes with no flare. He had formulated a set of typographic principles, which he published in pamphlet form under the title Elementaire Typographie. In 1928, Tschichold published Die Neue Typographie, a full treatment of his new ideas for typographic design.


  • The creation of Sabon typeface

The Sabon typeface was inspired by the Garamont typeface that was created by Jacques Sabon and Conrad Berner. Sabon was a result of Tschichold’s efforts of taking Garamond typeface and standardising its construction by removing historic typefaces anomalies, making it more ‘economical’ and ‘narrower’. Tshichold created this typeface so that it could be used in any of the various printing techniques for that period of time. For the italic version, he drew inspiration directly from a model of Granjon typeface in the specimen.

  • Die Neue Typographie, (The New Typography)

This above is known as the definitive manifesto on graphic design in the machine age. It provided a set of rules that standardized the practices relating to modern type usage. All typefaces were condemned, except for sans-serif types. He standardized the sizes of paper for all printed matter and made clear explanations of why they were preferable and effective. This book was followed with a series of practical manuals on the principles of Modernist typography which had a wide influence among ordinary workers and printers in Germany.


  • Below: an example of his work where the typography is thick and bold and clean-cut. You can tell that it is largely inspired by the Bauhaus movement.

  • Refinement of Penguin book design

Tschichold refined the Penguin emblem and tidied up the horizontally banded covers of the standard Penguins. Penguin Composition Rules was the standard he created, embodied in a four-page booklet of typographic instructions for editors and compositors. Tschichold was meticulous in detail, and the guidelines “addressed all the important aspects of book design: Text Composition; Indenting of Paragraphs; Punctuation Marks and Spelling; Capitals, Small Capitals, and Italics; References and Footnotes; Folios; The Printing of Plays; The Printings of Poetry; Make-up”.

  • Page Canons

Tschichold developed a system of page harmony where there is a 2:3 page-size ratio rule.

Through that ratio rule (seen above), it allows us to have an exact positioning where we will end up with a 9×9 grid, with the text block 1/9th from the top and inside, and 2/9ths from the outside and bottom.

With that, the text block is in a relatively exact position and size, with echoed margins, all of which are elegantly rational.

The development of ratio rule is practical when applying to various layouts (such as magazine spreads, book illustration, etc) as the text block sits in the upper section of the page, which is more in line with where our eyes rest on a page, as well as giving space at the bottom for our hands to hold the book open without covering any content.


  • It’s really not as easy as we think Typography is. I used to brush it off and think it’s just letterings but after reviewing and learning about Jan Tschichold, there’s a lot of effort and deep research put into developing typefaces and standardisations such as the one above, just to make a cleaner-looking typography structure and layout required for books. And it is still used up till this day. Amazing. Thankful for those creations so we don’t really have to go through the painstaking effort of developing a standardisation.





Jan Tschichold

The Secret Law of Page Harmony



Typography I – Type in the Wild

I went to USS a few days back and decided to take some shots of the letterings in some buildings.

Here’s some that I don’t like:

Processed with VSCO with nc preset

If you look into the right side of the image above, the shop ‘Safari Outfitters’ uses 3 different typefaces for their shop signages. I feel like there’s no need to unless you could make the main signage (at the very top) a bold typeface but in a funky fun serif like maybe Futura. Or maybe just have the main signage and the signage below as the same typeface but with a little tweak and the ‘outfitters’ below to be a brighter red so that it doesn’t actually camouflage itself onto the black window pane.

When I think of the words “Minion Mart” I immediately associate it with BIG, BOLD, YELLOW. ‘Minion’ to me is something that screams joy and fuzzy, adorable, weird creatures. And with the word ‘mart’? Something fun. How they portrayed it here, is the total opposite of all that. The colour in ‘minion’ is somewhat okay (it stands out) but the typeface used is such a turn-off. It doesn’t give that exciting feeling of skipping into the mart like “Oh yes, I WANNA GO IN!”. The colour in ‘mart’ is even more disappointing because it’s black and it blends in with the background colour which is the big brown building. You want to entice visitors and create participation on the part of the customers, so come on.

Here’s some that I like:

The spacing between the letters in this one is cool, and how the letters are thin and elongated. They made the typography somewhat rounded which is even cooler as it closely resembles the idea of ‘universal’ (the image in our head that it’s all-rounded, curved). So in a way, they look tall but curved (gives me the image of looking upwards and all around you). Big and bold and white and gold: totally the way to attract visitors and tourists. Similarly to the bold, red in “studios store”. Overall it gives me a big welcoming and exciting “W O W” feeling.

I love the cursive typeface in this ‘Celebrity’. It looks a bit like the ‘Snell Roundhand’ typeface but gives off this retro vibe. Even when contrasting with the thick lettering of the words below it, overall it still gives a good balance in the outdoor signage design. The glow in the wordings, as well as the zig-zag and purple-coloured element in them further amplify the funky, retro vibe.


This was fun! But I realised I can’t see outdoor signage the same way ever again (like totally just not care about it but now I do).

Typography I – First Impression

I used to think Typography was “meh”, thinking that it’s boring or just something I’ll just sweep off my shoulder. Because people don’t talk about it much and I felt like there’s not much to talk about. It’s like studying a dry subject (science).  “It’s just typography – not so important” (a year ago)

But boyyy was I wrong. I started taking interest in it when we had an assignment where we had to create/portray our names in a visual way (?) last semester. I was inspired by other people’s works and even mine where I did it traditionally, by using food materials or other materials. It got interesting pretty fast. Then I also learnt that it’s important when it comes to visual communications – how you want to attract your viewer’s attention in a certain way and give off a certain vibe. I realised Typography emits this sort of feeling, you know, you can feel your way through some typefaces and that affects the reader’s thoughts first hand. It’s on the typography that makes them want to stay and read further on. And THAT, I feel, is so powerful. So I know for sure it’s important and I want to learn how to do that – to understand further in depth how typography works so that I know how to actually use it and not take it for granted.