Typography, from a 120 words or less tweet, to a 30 metre billboard at Heathrow … we consume it every day with barely a whisper of a thought. As we move towards an ever more image driven society, can typography hold its own? The use of space versus line and curve, the nesting of one letter to another with the perfect amount of space between characters. Where do things fit now in our fast-paced, image-driven culture … how did we get here, and where to next?

The Printing Press

1440 – The arrival of the printing press by Gutenberg, spread type and print into the mainstream. Individual hand moulded letters were carefully placed in a matrix, and molten metal poured over them to produce a cast. This was cooled, removed and the newly-cast type was ready for print. Sounds simple, but it revolutionised the Western World with the mechanisation of the printed word and books.

Mechanical Casting

1886 – The arrival of the Linotpye typecasting machine, a complicated beast of a device. Instead of each individual letter being picked and positioned, letters could finally be picked by a keyboard – see where this is going? This completely changed typesetting, especially newspapers. If this has piqued your interest, take a look at the trailer to this film out next year http://linotypefilm.com/

Photo typesetting

1972 – Things moved on from here to phototypesetting, and metal casting was assigned to history. Cue … arrival of postscript and lasers (via a short era of paper tapes and glass discs). Text ‘marked-up’ with code, ‘ripped’ through a postscript device and lasered onto photosensitive paper. By now Linotype owned the rights to many of the classic fonts, centuries of work made available at the touch of a keyboard.

Screen to Press

1985 – The start of desktop publishing, and the arrival of the ‘Apple’. Together with its long time partner ‘Adobe’ the world of digital design underwent a quantum shift. Apple Macs and Quark Xpress took the publishing world by storm, typography and a range of fonts became available on a much wider scale. Typography continued its influence as an integrated part of graphic design, with added flexibility of use within the Adobe Suite for text based graphics.

Web-based publishing

1989 – With the arrival of the Internet, publishing started to move online. A limited diet of Arial and Verdana were not quite enough sustenance for an avid typographer. Until … the welcome appearance of web fonts, and the ubiquitous @font-face. At last fonts online, from Collaborate to the downright showy Lobster. Not perfect, but a vast improvement … and overall a big smile from designer/developers. With Font Squirrel and Typekit assisting the spread of web font technology, type online has vastly improved in the last couple of years.

Mobile Devices

2007 – Now. Legibility space and contrast, the same rules apply. As we consume information on smaller devices in less static environments type can sit alongside more attention grabbing media giving users the option to delve further into an explanation of the imagery, or as a supporting text for video. Type allows you to observe and consume at your leisure, with an aesthetic appeal based on centuries of craft, adding balance and depth to an image driven culture.

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