Monthly Archives: February 2004


Well, I don't see what all the fuss is about. I mean, who'd get worked up about a change of font?

As the US State Department have found out, the truth is these days it's not what you say, it's not even how you say it, it's how it looks on the page. Their decision to change from Courier to Times New Roman for their reports is a sign that typography, in this modern, computer-set age, is a world away from the wooden carvings and even the hot metal of yore. Unless, of course, you're a PhD student who pays by the character.

Being mildly obsessive about some things (please, at least look as though you're surprised by that) I like the look of a good font. In the typography sense, of course, rather than the infant baptismal device, though I'll admit, some of those look quite pretty too sometimes. In the right light.

And you don't need to be a graphic designer to see that some (printed) fonts do look better than others. Take, for instance, Cooper Black. Yes, you know what this looks like, especially if you're a Beach Boys fan. It makes some people very passionate, to the extent that they produce a Flash animation describing its origins and its history. By staggering coincidence, Cooper Black is also the typeface used by this fine organisation. I'm not sure whether I like it or not in that context. A bit late eighties, maybe, especially when compared to the stunning stained glass piece used as the logo.

People talk about font families. I quite like the idea of this. Imagine a party with that literary set. "Ah, Mr Cooper Black, meet Commander Wingdings. Yes, he is a bit difficult to understand; he's into these very strange symbols and suchlike. I say, have you tried some of this Frutiger Linotype? A fine vintage. But beware of the Antique Olive over there. Two shots of that, and Poor Richard couldn't decide whether he was a Centaur or an Elephant. What? Oh, yes, those are Garamond and Georgia. Haven't seen them for ages. I think they left baby Arial at home tonight. Childcare is so expensive..."

Well, you get the idea. As those slightly strained examples show, font naming is an art in itself. Some are eponymous (a Mr Frutiger still works for Linotype, and we have an actual Mr Cooper to thank for my church's current look), others are named after places (Aachen, Broadway), but it would take someone braver than me to decide where all these names originated.

In a parallel universe from the traditional font designers, the big news on your computer screen has been Unicode. Since the mid-80s, this has been a grand project to make sure that any possible character in any of the world's real, defunct and artificial languages can be written on your computer screen. They might not quite be there yet, but as they boast their support for Ugaritic, you know they're not far off.

So there you are - my name's Rhys, and I'm a font fascist. I may not go to the lengths of learning about 'glyphs' and 'kerning' and actually create my own, nor may I ever understand the whole of messages like these. But this much I know- sometimes, a well-laid out page, with well-thought out typography, can be beautiful.

Actually, this proportional spacing thing's quite nice isn't it? Might make it a habit...

[Original link via Boing Boing]


The information nation took its clues from all the soundbite gluttons

January was a strange old month, with a particularly odd final week. Frankly, when it takes b3ta to come up with the most pithily poignant comment on the past few days (Edit: Image down because people weren’t quoting the source), you know that something’s very wrong somewhere.

Reluctantly, I think that Lord Hutton probably did reach the right conclusions. The balance of those conclusions we can question, but given his terms of reference (to investigate the circumstances regarding Dr David Kelly‘s death: no more, no less) he couldn’t really teach us much that we didn’t know already. He wasn’t going to tell us about ‘sexed up’ dossiers. He simply said this:

The fallout from the report, though, seems to be disproportionate to even what Lord Hutton might have expected. No-one was sacked or has quit at the MoD, as far as I’m aware. But in the UK, we’ve been following with incredulity the serial resignations from the BBC – its chairman, its director general, and finally one of the reporters at the centre of the whole controversy.

Was this justified? To an extent. You don’t let one of your most controversial journalists sound off, unscripted, on an agenda-setting news programme. And, if you receive a complaint about something they say or write, it should really take more than a “But it’s true!” from said journalist to set your mind at rest. But as Jon Snow points out, let he who has never filed a report cast the first stone. And in any case…

[Click here to find out why] I believe in the BBC Full stop. It’s a strange enough institution. Originally a company set up to regulate radio transmissions, it was taken into Government hands soon after its formation. It’s supposedly free of Government influence, yet it has a Government-appointed chairman and a World Service funded by our Foreign Office. It’s kept afloat by regular reviews of its charter and – I nearly forgot – ten pounds a month from every TV-owning household in the country. Those outside the UK probably don’t understand why we love it so much.

But your cultural life, and certainly my cultural life, would be much poorer without it. From the mainstream to the slightly inaccessible, it sets out to try to please all of the people with something that it does. It generally succeeds. Young and old alike love it. It gives credibility not just to ‘BBC English’, but to many of our other cultures and languages. The UK at large needs it, and as an astute NTK pointed out on Friday, the UK Internet needs it too.

It doesn’t strike gold all the time, but in the world where we can and do create our own TV channels, it manages it more often than most. The BBC asserts that ‘Nation Shall Speak Peace Unto Nation’. In comparison, the clanging cymbals of the other broadcasters go ‘Yeah But No But Yeah’.

We need the BBC to be strong. We need it to be as free of Government influence as its strange composition can allow. We need it to be free of commercial influence too. But most of all, we need the BBC to exist. From Songs of Praise to Dick and Dom, it influences us in ways too numerous to really understand. Let’s hope that the Culture Secretary remains true to her words. Let’s hope that diamondgeezer isn’t a great prophet. Let’s hope that the “soundbite gluttons” don’t win at the expense of truth, honesty, integrity, and the greatest casualty of the last week – trust.

For now, let’s just hope.