Tiffany Wardle Memorial Liveblogging™ of a presentation at ATypI Brighton 2007 (q.v.)

(The full title is “DIN 1451: The unofficial ‘corporate type’ of Germany?” I came in late.)

Gerrit Noordzij described a typographic universe. Everything inside it is good for body text; everything outside might be readable but that’s about it. My DIN is about here (bottom left).

Worked at Scangraphic (1987), URW (1991), Dutch Design, FarbTon, Dutch Design again. We look now at how many people work at larger companies, it’s nothing compared to the ’80s. Started my own studio.I had to become graphic designer, which I did. If I want to do larger jobs, it’s better to have a company, so we did a lot of corporate design. It turns out you can still make money doing type design, is I am practically a full-time type designer again.

Jet Set Sans for Jet gas stations. Hein Gas in Hamburg (shows two guys in a bathtub: »Etwas Warmes braucht der Mensch«). A new headline font that would fit with the new way of communicating themselves at that time. He designed FF DIN.

The godfathers: German railways. (Shows map of Germany, with its many autonomous regions over the years.) And this is when railways come up. These are the days when you didn’t have E-mail, Handys. Maybe the telephone was just coming up. (Shows a freight car.) You have to know: What can I load in this? How (might) I break it? How do I maintain it? So every car had a number, and all the cars was described how much they weigh, how much you can put on them. And they have to be able to put them in a row. This is where standardization starts to play a big role.

Because Prussians like to control things, they didn’t let the signpainters do this. They thought of a way to standardize it. (Shows 1883 alphabets from Royal Prussian Railways, with very eccentric g.) The Germans very close sticked to these things in the beginning, but a few years alter, a new standard sheet comes out (1897), but they have so many things to combine coming from all these states with their own opinions and from all these companies, sometimes the sheets are just documenting what is done. It is not really working.

So they made a second attempt in 1905. They were partly successful in enforcing this one. Funny thing is that this typeface has been drawn exclusively for the railways. There are no other known drawings that are the same and being used for something else. Its’ also been made fit for the purpose. Spiekermann likes to say a corporate typeface meets the special demands of a company.

The most important thing was of course the number. But they have a lot specified, so there’s never enough room, so you have a condensed letter with wide numerals.

1921: German Railways. Weimar Republic is founded, and the Germans have to pay (reparations). So the state has to bring up billions and billions. They tried to rationalize these kinds of things (e.g., transporting money to the French for reparations). Took the typeface form the biggest company, Deutsche Reichsbahn. It’s all on a very coarse grid so everybody can execute it. The u is three units wide and five high. When you need a little bit kerning, you can shift a half unit. It’s a half-unit system, nothing more.

(Shows locomotives.) But no matter how big they are, everything is regulated by men in black and everything has a number.) (Shows one of few remaining iron nameplates [1945], most of them melted down for their iron.) This is really thick. This is metal that was milled by things. When they don’t melt down, they last forever. Compare this with a computer, which you have to buy a new one every three years.

1954: New logo, typeface stays the same. (Shows Hamburg station-name sign, still, in Hamburg, 2006.)

Other godfathers: Bauhaus (1925–1932), Herbert Bayer, Joost Schmidt. (Shows comparison slide.) Thought that maybe the Bauhaus had something to do with it. (Superimposes a grid.) It’s the same system. (Shows unpleasant transitions in o, then FF DIN.) It’s going from outside the typographic universe to inside. That’s why this (early one) never became a typeface. (Explains how they never made an attempt to figure out another way of constructing a letter, merely stopping when problems begin in a letter.) So did Joost Schmidt design it or not?

Maybe. Their logotypes were used for real, on posters. Also Herbert Bayer (1925; also Architype Bayer). (Unit grid is different, but one of them is the same as the Prussian Railway font.) (Shows illo from 1871 with geometric face.) Constructed type is not only from the Bauhaus.)

As with the guys at the Bauhaus, they figured if you need a new typeface, you just add or subtract a unit. (Shows superfamily 130 years old.) So a superfamily like Thesis is not new.

Is there a connection between the Bauhaus and DIN-Institute? Walter Porstmann invented A4 etc. paper sizes and was promoting a single alphabet (all lower case). He tried to find people to support him at the Bauhaus. And this is exactly how the people at the Bauhaus were brought to the idea of doing type design. Before this, books were all set in something like Jenson (Gensch-Antiqua). So this is just some professor coming in with weird ideas of not typing in capitals. (Shows Futura letterhead by Bayer in 1925.) Bauhaus were taken to task for that.

And it was not only the Bauhaus. Kurt Schwitters, Jan Tschichold, Karl Renner weren’t at the Bauhaus. This is far more widespread. (Shows 1932 lettering handbook.) These ideas are all over the place all of a sudden, and they cite each other.

More godfathers still: Siemens, Halske, Central Office of Factory Standards. you need some other guys to make visions like this, like standard typefaces, to work. You need guys with money. (Bit of a long digression on Siemens, again with a constructed logo that predates the obvious interpretation or an obvious guess about its origins.)

Shows real-world usages: Olivetti typeface, mailbox, telephone rotary dial, car licence plate, drive past road signs, town-line signage, streetsigns, her apartment buzzer panel, Yahtzee, embossed in glass on bottle, Scrabble (DINNORMALIEN, SIEMENS, SCHRINF, BAUHAUS, LUDWIG, DIN), park signage, tram destination slide, tram stop, crosswalk-light actuator, police car, supermarket, honeypot (shows older logo of a fascistic eagle overseeing quality), café, movie posters (“James Din”), road signs, apartment block.

“Dull monotony?” We laugh about this, but there are quite a lot of people who took this very seriously. “The DIN typefaces show us: Don’t let technicians alone to design type!” (G.G. Lange). People stated using i for things it wasn’t designed for, like April Greiman (1986). I made FF DIN because (Spiekermann) asked me.

This is why the DIN typeface is so popular today. When you are seeing this, it is so neutral. When you see an advertisement, you might question its contents, but when I read this (road sign facsimile for FontShop), I do not question the information. It does not seem to interfere between designers and those who are meant to perceive it.

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2007.09.15 13:42. This presentation was designed for printing and omits components that make sense only onscreen. (If you are seeing this on a screen, then the page stylesheet was not loaded or not loaded properly.) The permanent link is:

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