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Out of thousands of typefaces, all we need are a few basic ones…
August 11, 2014 11:04 PM   Subscribe

…and trash the rest. Massimo Vignelli's design canon circa 2008, in PDF form.
posted by klangklangston (38 comments total) 44 users marked this as a favorite

 
Great interview; I love his design philosophy and the highlighted point regarding typography. I myself have come to realize that while I delight in playing mindlessly with fonts, I really need only Garamond, Avenir, Futura, Bebas, and [any nice-enough script typeface] to be happy.
posted by youarenothere at 11:31 PM on August 11 [4 favorites]


This goes way beyond typefaces.

Cheap shot:

The attention to details requires discipline.
There is no room for sloppiness, for carelessness,
for procrastination. Every detail is important


And yet, Massimo, you cannot be arsed to spell the word 'stationery' correctly...
posted by Segundus at 1:45 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


As long as Ubuntu and Ubuntu Mono are on the list.
posted by GallonOfAlan at 2:47 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Thank you, KlangKlangston. I'm busy preparing for the three design classes I teach this semester, and this will be a great addition to the class materials. Vignelli was one of the greats.
posted by Mcable at 5:50 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Out of thousands of typefaces, all we need are a few basic ones…

But that is the problem. Every few years, I spend hours and hours searching through thousands of fonts to pick a new set of basic fonts. I get bored with the same old fonts.

Old fonts never change, but their impression does. Ever since companies started requesting business letters sent as PDFs, I have been using a very strict copy of the same business letter format I learned on a manual typewriter in junior high school typing class. I used Letter Gothic, since it was my favorite font on the old Selectric. But recently I started getting odd reactions to my letters. I realized that by using a manual typewriter font on a computer, people thought I was mocking them. So now I mostly just use Times or Helvetica.
posted by charlie don't surf at 6:21 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


And yet, Massimo, you cannot be arsed to spell the word 'stationery' correctly...

Perhaps he's just spectacularly old-school.
posted by maxsparber at 6:33 AM on August 12


Superb design reference. So nice to have the PDF. Thank you, klangklangston.
posted by rmmcclay at 6:52 AM on August 12


The United States uses a basic letter size (8 1/2 x 11”) of ugly proportions, and results in complete chaos with an endless amount of paper sizes. It is a by-product of the culture of free enterprise, competition and waste. Just another example of the misinterpretations of freedom.
posted by MtDewd at 6:55 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Perhaps he's just spectacularly old-school

Not so fast, Descriptivist Man!!! In fact 'stationary' for paper, envelopes, etc has never been acceptable! 'Stationery' simply means 'stuff sold by a stationer', and 'stationer' has always been spelled with an 'e' - since stationers first existed! Cite me an example of 'stationar'! You can't!!!

Ha ha! Ha ha ha! (twirls moustache)
posted by Segundus at 7:43 AM on August 12 [3 favorites]


Wow. This PDF is just... amazing reading. Thanks!
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 7:55 AM on August 12


Cite me an example of 'stationar'! You can't!!!
OED:
stationer, n.1
Pronunciation: Brit. /ˈsteɪʃn̩ə/ , /ˈsteɪʃənə/ , U.S. /ˈsteɪʃənər/
Forms: ME staciner, ME stacionere, ME stacyener, ME stacyner, ME stacyonere, ME–15 stacioner, ME–15 stacyoner, ME– stationer, 15 stacioner, 15–16 stationar, 16 stabiner (Sc., transmission error). (Show Less)
In other news, the amount of worry and handwringing over fonts has always amazed me. Here are the three simple guidelines:
  1. Don't use something utterly ridiculous, like Wingdings.
  2. Don't use something mostly ridiculous, like Papyrus.
  3. Use proportional width unless you specifically want things to line up.
FINI. Nobody cares about your special snowflake font choice.
posted by Flunkie at 8:17 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Cite me an example of 'stationar'! You can't!!!

It's appeared on MetaFilter at least once.
posted by maxsparber at 8:17 AM on August 12


Garamond, Bodoni, Century Expanded, and Helvetica
I can't really fault him on the typeface choice.
posted by Talez at 8:23 AM on August 12


Optima, Futura, Univers, Caslon, Baskerville
Futura is still a sore spot for me. Every time I see an Ikea catalogue I weep.
posted by Talez at 8:27 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


Gotham, Lobster, Dolly, Museo Slab.

Anyone can pare it down to a tight font selection, but there's an expanding universe of beautiful typography now which it would be foolhardy to ignore. Now that anyone can design fonts without needing a lengthy apprenticeship in punch-cutting, anyone does.
posted by zadcat at 8:36 AM on August 12


times new roman, arial, courier new, comic sans
posted by jfuller at 8:39 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


times new roman, arial, courier new, comic sans

Use of Comic Sans makes me rethink my stance on the death penalty. Or at least putting more bleach into the gene pool.
posted by Talez at 8:44 AM on August 12


Cite me an example of 'stationar'

It's the title of a senior political officer in the Hynerian Empire, senior enough to report directly to the frelling Dominar himself.
posted by justsomebodythatyouusedtoknow at 8:50 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Related, Michael Bierut: 13 Ways of Looking at a Typeface
posted by zbsachs at 9:02 AM on August 12


As a professional designer, this really spoke to me:

Whatever we do, if not understood, fails to communicate and is wasted effort.

We design things which we think are semantically correct and syntactically consistent but if, at the point of fruition, no one understands the result, or the meaning of all that effort, the entire work is useless.

posted by annekate at 9:21 AM on August 12


Anyone can pare it down to a tight font selection, but there's an expanding universe of beautiful typography now which it would be foolhardy to ignore.

If you actually read what he says about font choice, it's less draconian than the pull-quote suggests. He isn't actually saying that you should never, ever, ever use any other fonts than the ones he lists--nor does he say that you should pay no attention to new fonts or that it's impossible for anyone to come up with an interesting and useful new font.

As always with design texts, though, there's a fair amount of room to get irritated with designers' characteristic unwillingness or inability to distinguish between personal prejudices/tastes and actual, testable "principles" of design. There's also room to get irritated with the often atrocious writing, but I guess that you have to cut him slack for writing in a second language.
posted by yoink at 9:27 AM on August 12


Justified is used more for text books,
but it is not one of our favorites because it is
fundamentally contrived.


What? Fundamentally contrived? By fundamentally contrived do they mean, as old as the history of type? It's true that digital justification has only ever been really really good on computers in one software package, but that doesn't mean we should let the difficulties of getting perfectly justified text lines to happen on the now obsolete Linotype machine or the sadly-still-used-for-books-when-its-really-just-for-bad-tabloids InDesign stop us from producing beautiful, justified text, especially since in the past few years TeX has gotten even better than ever with microtype extensions.

I hate ragged right. I hate bad typography, especially with an italian name and alleged excellent pedigree.
posted by dis_integration at 9:30 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


It's the title of a senior political officer in the Hynerian Empire, senior enough to report directly to the frelling Dominar himself.

And the most common route to the nobility for ambitious commoners. Stationars can deliver reports directly to the Dominar at their initiative, but it's up to the Dominar to decide whether or not to actually receive it or declare the subject seb caram, or not of sufficient importance to be considered at the present time. This traditionally means that subject cannot be raised with the Dominar again for at least a cycle.

On the other hand, having one's report accepted by the Dominar in open court is considered a mark of great favor, and acceptance of five consecutive reports automatically elevates a stationar to the eshk, the empire's deliberative/advisory body. This confers a title of nobility and grant of one or more of the suborned estates held by the Imperial court.

Thus, Stationars are very prolific, generating endless streams of reporting on their particular districts in hope of gaining the Dominar's favor. The Empire has thrived largely because it has some of the most effective middle level bureaucracy in the galaxy.

Also, fuck Vincent Connare. Fuck his typefaces. Fuck his cat. I kid, I kid
posted by Naberius at 9:45 AM on August 12 [2 favorites]


"The United States uses a basic letter size (8 1/2 x 11”) of ugly proportions, and results in complete chaos with an endless amount of paper sizes. It is a by-product of the culture of free enterprise, competition and waste. Just another example of the misinterpretations of freedom."

When I read that I cracked up and read it out loud to my fiancee. It balances out, though, since he thinks that Americans are masterful at the use of whitespace. Probably from all the weird sized paper.
posted by klangklangston at 9:47 AM on August 12


And I found this last night when I was fuming over a design meeting with our new ED where I got raked over the coals for design decisions that I protested loudly at the time, then was told that the intern should be in charge because his dad is a designer. He's very concerned with being "on trend," and people declaiming on iron laws of design always cheers me up after having to humor the inarticulate vagaries of people who want to be hip over connecting the design of something to the message it's supposed to communicate. (Why would vintage posters communicate being future looking? That retro-futurism is inherently ironic, that's the point.)
posted by klangklangston at 9:56 AM on August 12


The United States uses a basic letter size (8 1/2 x 11”) of ugly proportions, and results in complete chaos

This is so entirely a matter of what you grow up with. I grew up with A4 (at least from late primary school days onwards) and when I first encountered US letter size it seemed really weird. Now that I live and work in the States I find A4 weirdly long and skinny. Neither of these views is, of course, an insight into any inherent property of the format--it's purely a matter of what I become used to.
posted by yoink at 10:21 AM on August 12


but but golden rectangle
posted by klangklangston at 10:30 AM on August 12


klangklangston, you are being wrong on the Internet. A4 aspect ratio is 1.414+ (square root of two), not φ.
posted by Rat Spatula at 10:53 AM on August 12


From the text: "The international Standard paper sizes, called the A series, is based on a golden rectangle, the divine proportion. It is extremely handsome and practical as well."
posted by klangklangston at 11:16 AM on August 12


8-1/2 x 11 is very close to 4:3 ratio in portrait mode so if you grew up watching non-HD television, it looks like a pretty normal size.
posted by octothorpe at 11:17 AM on August 12


Whenever anyone starts talking about the Golden Ratio they're nearly always talking out of their arse. There's no evidence, at all, that we inherently find the Golden Ratio particularly attractive or harmonious, nor is it anything like as widely found in the natural world as people like to claim. And, in any case, the dimension of A4 paper have nothing to do with the Golden Ratio. They are, rather, based on the Lichtenberg Ratio. Which has to do purely with saving waste paper and, again, has no particular aesthetic implications.
posted by yoink at 11:32 AM on August 12 [1 favorite]


Nonsense! Even brawling Ukrainian politicians display this fundamental natural proportion!
posted by Naberius at 11:36 AM on August 12 [4 favorites]


Say what you will, but handwriting and distressed typewriter fonts are aces for creating Call of Cthulhu player handouts. Please, won't someone think of Cthulhu?
posted by SPrintF at 12:35 PM on August 12


Why couldn't unicode support the entire Gothic/Black Letter alphabet? I'd use it everywhere!
posted by jfuller at 2:58 PM on August 12


So, wait -- this is supposed to be good typography, with no indent or spacing between 'graphs? Ehh, no. But I'm just going to look at the pictures anyway, so I guess it's okay.

Speaking of page layout, here's The Secret Law of Page Harmony.
posted by Bron at 6:03 PM on August 12 [2 favorites]


The reason why it's good typography is that even without indents or line breaks after every graph (they separate thoughts instead), it's still easily readable.
posted by klangklangston at 12:49 AM on August 13


The lack of indents or special spacing between paragraphs is a European thing. Or, at any rate, I see it fairly often in German books, like the complete editions from Suhrkamp Taschenbuch. You get used to it, and it's only a challenge for the English speaking world, which loves its paragraph indents.

Which is telling: there is no natural law of type design. Type is a human invention and its formal principles are just as much learned response as they are raw phenomenology.
posted by dis_integration at 8:15 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


I swear to God, for about a half second I misread annekate's comment thusly:

"As a professional designer wrestler, this really spoke to me:
Whatever we do, if not understood, fails to communicate and is wasted effort."

Part of my brain was definitely making the slow nod of "hey okay, never thought of it that way" while the other bit was running up with the news that no wrestlers were harmed in the drafting of this comment thread. It's a beautiful thing that the atmosphere of acceptance and considered response around here allowed such a thought to blossom, if only for a moment.

And actually, I guess it kind of works. I mean, some wrestling is better than others at communicating.
posted by aesop at 10:33 AM on August 13 [1 favorite]


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