Typography Can Save Lives

According to Lena Groeger of ProPublica, “type choices are a big deal — and can, in fact, have life or death consequences.”

See the article from ProPublica entitled “How Typography Can Save Lives.” It’s full of interesting tidbits, e.g. why big blocks set in ALL CAPS are still so common.

Apparently, the U.S. government defines “conspicuous” as “a heading in capitals equal to or greater in size than the surrounding text.” Why? Because back in the day of typewriters, capital letters were the only emphasis option available.

Graphic illustration of the changes made to a humanist typeface by MIT and Monotype.

MIT collaborated with Monotype to design a typeface that cuts down on driver distraction. A square-shaped typeface (Eurostile) on top compared to the humanist typeface (Frutiger) on the bottom. Source: Monotype Imaging.

Personally, I’m delighted to know that NOAA, the National Weather Servce whose forecasts I consult every day, has made their hazardous weather alerts legible. Now I’ll be able to find Rockingham County in a list of affected counties ten times faster.


The Pianist

It’s the mid 1980s, probably December, early evening, dark, very wet and very cold. I was picking up a typositor font from an unknown supplier. The entrance to his big apartment building on the northwest corner of Amsterdam and 72nd St. turned out to be some distance up the side street. No doorman, an unprepossessing foyer and only one elevator. When the doors opened, I turned right as instructed and froze: a Chopin étude was roiling out of one of the apartments off the narrow hallway ahead. Sure enough, the Chopin was coming from my supplier’s apartment.

I stood at the door. The bass rumbled through me while the melody’s longing turned into plangent defiance. I refused to allow guilty thoughts of my 2-year-old and the babysitter at home detract one iota from the music’s searing immediacy. Please, don’t stop. But he did, of course, and reality settled in. I pushed the bell. The lid dropped over the keyboard, the deadbolts retracted and the door opened.

“Hi. Berling, right?” I handed him a check; he gave me a little white box. All business. “Thanks. Good night.” I seriously considered leaning on the doorbell and begging him to let me sit under the piano for the next two weeks or so.

How does someone who can play like that end up making alphabet filmstrips for a living?


Keys to the Kingdom

I thought The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web might be the Holy Grail of web typography but this adaptation of Bringhurst’s principles to a typographically-hobbled web ground to an unexplained halt in 2006. Most of Richard Rutter’s Web Typography and Clagnut site files were lost to a “catastrophic database failure,” aka no database back-up, but he’s gradually restoring as much as he can from archives.

Do any of my fellow TypeManiacs believe The Elements is still a feasible project? If they do, and If Mr. Rutter is too busy to finish it, would they be interested in collaborating?