The Spring 2009 Eye, borrowed from the library at zero cost (cover price: $33), is ostensibly a Type Special. They do this every year, and it makes just as little sense every year. Surely type is an eternal component of graphic design?

“Type special”

Purple cover The issue’s type articles have the feel of catching up grandpa. As with design “criticism” in general, type discussions have moved almost wholesale to the Web. There are no happier days than when I receive a type sample in the mail, which I can pore over during coffee, but that is mere icing; I get my cake every single day from Typophile and other sites, not all of them in English. (You should not hesitate to subscribe to design blogs you cannot actually read; pictures are worth well more than a thousand words.)

Eye’s type articles give the impression of standing with grandpa on Christmas Eve, mulled cider in hand, giving him a quick rundown of what everyone’s been up to since the Stone Roses called it quits.

  • Most rudimentary was Sofie Beier’s “DNA of ABCs,” a tritely-entitled piece on type superfamilies. (Editors tend to choose heds.) I note a suspiciously small number of direct quotes from designers, and the quotes actually given obviously came from E-mail interviews, the lazy nonjournalist’s choice.

  • Next up is yet another piece on expressive untutored lettering, offering standard-equipment condescension for this genre (“This is not lettering for the purist”). Yet mighty editor John L. Walters failed to notice a structurally identical photo feature earlier in the book, on “tractor badges.” I’m not paying 33 bucks for an unedited magazine. (I thought editors were the most important thing about design criticism. Isn’t that what those doomed D-Crit students are being taught?)

  • Paul Shaw could have done better with his article on size-specific typefaces, which spends ages listing font names and years of production. Talk about and show the differences in sizes, please, and do it by displaying faces in intended and unintended sizes. (There’s some of that. But that’s what the article is trying to be.) Really, why is this not an online slideshow?

    And isn’t the description of these faces as “the ‘slow-food’ trend of typography” a total groaner?

  • We are presented – yet again – with an omnibus piece (“Golden age?”; confusing byline, Deborah Littlejohn) featuring about five grafs each from a dozen “practitioners.” To their credit I hadn’t heard of most of them (the inverse of Women of Design), but we already have a name for 300-word aperçus – postings.

    They’d work better as Brief Messages.

    One cannot seriously propose that these opinions are more consequential or make more sense or are in any way superior or more important because they are issued in print.

  • An article on Margaret Calvert’s revived Britanica typeface New Rail Alphabet could have been just what the doctor ordered had it not been written by the Eye of the storm himself, John L. Walters.

    It is reasonable to expect precise terminology in a specialist publication. Yet this is not what Walters is able to produce.

    “You do different things when you do text faces and signing faces,” says [Henrik] Kubel. He points to small changes he has made in the original alphabet’s capitals (to stop the[ir] “spotting out” in text) and x-height.

    What this is supposed to mean? The British love their “spots.” They use “spot” for everything. Your acne is a constellation of spots, and when you get a question right on a quiz show, you’re spot on. But how do capital letters “spot out”? (Is that effect related to the “ ‘halo’ fonts” Paul Shaw mentioned but did not explain?)

    And again Walters doesn’t know his history. “A solution” for a light version “came from Calvert’s own body of work: Her slabserif typeface Calvert (1980). Gosh, didn’t the same sort of thing happen with Lubalin Graph Condensed? (You don’t know that story? The editor of Eye doesn’t either.)

  • Jan Middendorp suffered considerably in his translation from the original Vlaams, or whatever, in “Is type-design teaching losing its ‘soul’?” “The current era of type design and typography recalls that famous phrase that is often quoted as being an ancient Chinese curse (but probably isn’t): ‘May you live in interesting times.’ ” He’s groping for cliché, a word I believe Europe’s ugliest language also managed to borrow. The piece goes straight downhill from there and makes no sense whatsoever.

    By the way, is Unicode really “like a worldwide alphabet”? And with InDesign smart defaults, as for small caps, has it really become “frustratingly easy to make mistakes”? (Compared to, say, PageMaker or Quark?)


  • A lengthy interview with a classic set of British teeth, Ian Anderson of the Designers Republic (shown in full-page close-up), borders on unreadable, as it consists of nothing but overheated, overstuffed, overrehearsed E-mailed quotes, still the lazy nonjournalist’s choice. He just doesn’t make sense. (You’d think I’d be used to that in design writing. It seems to be what people pay for.)

  • A solid piece on Metahaven carries a surprise byline: Rick Poynor. (Or, as he is invariably called in design-blog comment fields, “Poyner.” Are you poynering? Have you been poynered lately?) I guess we can add this to his thin list of creditable accomplishments, alongside that appearance in Helvetica and his smashing piece on Crash covers.

    Anyway, the focus here is Metahaven’s Affiche frontière project of bus-shelter advertising interventions. They take over JCDecaux caissons with self-commenting, self-deconstructing symbol libraries. Somehow this turns out not to be poststructuralist wankery but a rather stunning set of graphic artworks.

    Poynor also discusses some rather abstract postage-stamp designs, complete with perforations lancing diagonally across the artwork. (They’re Lars von Trier–compliant stamps for the nation of “Europa.”)

    This is a design firm to watch – in the real world. Online, they are a design firm to be shunned, as their hideous Web site announces the following: “It is highly recommended to view this Web site in Mozilla Firefox, Safari 1.2.4 and up, Internet Explorer 6 and up. It is not recommended – almost forbidden – to view this site in Explorer for Mac. It is required that your browser [be] set to allow for pop-up windows.” And in fact it detects if you block pop-up windows and tries to defeat your choice. I am not completely surprised that a design firm that understands physical works completely breaks the Web.

This issue’s Ill-Will Ambassador

Eye’s reviews section is the back room where the enforcers polish their brass knuckles. Roger Sabin, who learned Eye’s official countenance of arched eyebrow and sneering lips at the feet of the master, preserves the magazine’s tradition of condescension. He’s so advanced he’s functioning at Alain de Botton levels. In fact, he pulls a full Hootie & the Blowfish manoeuvre on Overspray, Hathaway’s book about California airbrush art in the 1980s. (Photos.)

For those who aren’t rock snobs, i.e., for people who actually enjoy music and know how to dance, in the late ’90s the entire rock-critic establishment lined up to lap at the shimmering fountain of contempt for Hootie, a Southern bar band variously ridiculed as cornball or derivative. I distinctly recall a Rolling Stone review that was the most vicious, of any genre or for any work, I’d ever read. It has vanished down the memory hole (even paid databases don’t include it; perhaps the writer stuck up for his rights), so please just take my word for it. But actually, the introRS” now provides says a lot:

At press time [the Web has a “press time”?], 16 million Americans had purchased a copy of Hootie & the Blowfish’s Cracked Rear View. However much music snobs may shake their heads in disbelief, the major-label début by these four South Carolinians touched a lot of people, many of whom probably didn’t listen to much pop music or hadn’t in a long time.

If only the little people would do as they’re told.

Now, what is the object of derision here? “Unapproved” graphic design. Certain kinds of untutored lettering (comic books, ghost signs, engineering templates) are now venerated by design snobs because they’ve been run through the cleansing wash of theory, then hung out to dry in august journals. (Would anyone have cared about Template Gothic if Emigre hadn’t fluffed it quite so much?)

Who was the last victim of Eye’s condescension? Barney Bubbles. This time it’s airbrushing. Airbrush art requires now-unfathomable fine-motor skills, and quite frankly it looks amazing. It looks awesome. But you aren’t allowed to like it:

You may agree with Hathaway… that the work represents “the æsthetic choice of a generation.” That’s fine, and who can deny its technical wizardry? But at the same time, æsthetic choices can be the wrong choices, and for many Eye readers the book will be a reminder of why the punk wars had to be fought in the first place.

I’ll see your Buzzcocks and raise you Electric Light Orchestra. Handbags at dawn.

I still⁷knew Beijiong when it was Euros 55

Did you know the most expensive graphic-design magazine on the planet still does not know how to typeset a euro symbol?

The foregoing posting appeared on Joe Clark’s personal Weblog on 2009.07.12 13:32. 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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None. I quit.

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