Just in time for the Twin Peaks reboot...
April 26, 2017 5:59 AM   Subscribe

"With the rise of digital design tools in the late 1980s and early 1990s, 'old guard' design rules were torn down and gave way to new ways of thinking about graphic design. As a result, many new graphic styles were created and came to define an era rooted in remixing and experimentation. One of the best examples of this is in the form of logos for 90s-era TV shows." Typography expert Alexander Tochilovsky, Design Curator of the Herb Lubalin Study Center of Design and Typography in New York City, breaks it down for you (and you can download the fonts for your own experimentation).
posted by carrienation (25 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Each of the colored dots between the seven letters can each be thought of as the different ‘friends’ within the show."

Okay let's break it down, I'm thinking:

Red #1: Monica
Blue #1: Chandler
Yellow #1: Rachel
Red #2: Ross
Yellow #2: Joey
Blue #2: Phoebe

also boy the longer you look at that hand-drawn font the more it looks like it was scrawled by a serial killer
posted by Greg Nog at 6:06 AM on April 26, 2017

If I request a demo by sending them my email do I get to see the content?

Ahhh. No. I have to click. Maybe I need another cup of coffee.
posted by jonnay at 6:06 AM on April 26, 2017

also boy the longer you look at that hand-drawn font the more it looks like it was scrawled by a serial killer.

That's because it's Ross's handwriting. The colors represent the order in which he (as the largest friend) eats the other five. He begins in blood (red), is then riven with fear (yellow) and ends alone in sadness (blue). Then the Ouroboroian cycle repeats, an echo of Nietzsche's Eternal Recurrence.
posted by leotrotsky at 6:29 AM on April 26, 2017 [17 favorites]

I don't know much about design but I do know how to make a non-annoying website that actually works in Safari, unlike some people I could mention. Forcing users to click on every title to see the commentary is not a good idea.

It seems like a stretch to include some of these shows anyway, many have fonts that seem fairly unremarkable to me - just well executed designs with well-chosen type faces. The fonts that these guys link to are all either standard fonts or third-party copies of the title designs. Some, like the Buffy logo, were probably hand drawn and not even a font to begin with.
posted by AndrewStephens at 6:35 AM on April 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

You have to click to see the content, then scroll off screen either up or down to find where the content box appeared. It's complete garbage.

The text is not so great either.
As a TV show, Twin Peaks is anything but normal—and this logotype is the perfect fit for it. Particularly, it’s understated and has a mysterious strange glow to it—just like the show and the characters.
Stick to typography; writing is not your forté.
posted by Nelson at 6:47 AM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

and in true 90s fashion it doesnt seem to render properly on safari
posted by entropicamericana at 6:53 AM on April 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

If they're going to say anything about Twin Peaks is that the logo looks normal, as condensed Avant Garde (without the perfectly round shapes) is as normal as it gets, but the odd combination of colours (eggplant and bright green) and thick outline (as opposed to a drop shadow or glow more commonly used in logos for TV shows) make it look slightly unsettling. Like the show.
posted by lmfsilva at 7:46 AM on April 26, 2017

The key is triangles. Lots of triangles.
posted by JoeZydeco at 7:52 AM on April 26, 2017

This is an advertisement.
posted by pickinganameismuchharderthanihadanticipated at 8:11 AM on April 26, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've never heard of this "Are You Afraid of the Dark" show, but I'm fairly certain the font they say it's using is not Benguiat Bold. Pretty sure it's actually Template Gothic from Emigre.
posted by spudsilo at 8:18 AM on April 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

Grr. No, the typeface in the Seinfeld logo is not italic. It’s slanted. Gloucester is Monotype’s version of Cheltenham, which does have a condensed italic with, you know, a pleasing, actually italic design. Which I guess would have ruined the vibe of that lazy 90s “let’s slant it and slap a yellow oval behind it!” piece of garbage.
posted by mubba at 8:30 AM on April 26, 2017 [4 favorites]

and in true 90s fashion it doesnt seem to render properly on safari

That's what you get for not using Mosaic.
posted by leotrotsky at 8:37 AM on April 26, 2017 [2 favorites]

the colored dots between the seven letters

In the original, unaired pilot (you can see it at the Paley Center), an opening crawl explains that gang was originally a wetworks team with F.R.I.E.N.D.S: Forward Recon, Infiltration, Extraction, Neutralization, Demolition, & Sabotage.

F.R.I.E.N.D.S. operatives are involuntarily retired at age 25, when the bioceramics in their signal plates start to degrade. In the pilot, Ross becomes convinced that "retirement" is a euphemism for execution, and he persuades the others to go AWOL after a bloody mission in East Timor. About eighteen minutes of tradecraft hijinx ensue, during which each friend demonstrates their special skill: artillery sniping (Monica), offensive psychometry (Phoebe), etc.

Their commanding officer (Patrick McGoohan) finally runs them to ground in Manhattan, where he reveals that Ross was just being paranoid: "retirement" really means nothing more than a little party, a gold watch, and a six-figure pension from the Green Budget. McGoohan helps them pick out a spacious apartment and suggests, with a wink, that it would make a fine office for a private detective agency.

Things were retooled a little for production, of course. The ex-military angle was de-emphasized, and Matthew Perry was brought in to replace Paul Gross, who was already committed to Due South.
posted by Iridic at 8:48 AM on April 26, 2017 [14 favorites]

I don't mean the following as a criticism of the posting of the link to MeFi, but this is surprisingly thin gruel... I am a design professor (although IANYDP), and yeah, these explanations are either way too compressed or, miss the mark, such as spudsillo points out. The "Are You Afraid of the Dark" type definitely struck me as an Emigre face, which was the very epitome of the phenomenon being discussed - that the rise of digital design allowed graphic designers and typeface designers to break a few decades of typeface rules that had built up to that point.

Emigre was a pioneer in the development of digital typefaces, both from a technology standpoint and in an aesthetic or experimental fashion. To miss the explicit use of one of their faces in a conversation like this is pretty poor.

A few things I would add that flesh out the transitions we are seeing in these television show type treatments:

Television at that point was a starkly low-res medium. I remember designing for WebTV and the overall "resolution" was tiny - I think it was the equivalent of 500 pixels across and 300 pixels tall at 72 dpi. So, this meant that things that would look garish to print designers of the period, such as the combination of drop shadow and glow on the "Law & Order" type treatment, were almost a necessity for effective TV type. Because of the low resolution of the medium, especially compared to print, tricks to increase the contrast of type were much more acceptable. On the other hand, notice that more type in these examples is light-on-dark, as opposed to dark-on-light, which is an inversion from the tradition of print. Showing a light screen on television was/is considered too jarring to viewers, so light text on dark backgrounds looks more pleasing. In print, this can be technically more demanding, as ink can run into the tiny spaces in print when you "knock out" text and ruin the legibility.

The explanations about meaning are surprisingly simple. Perhaps this Tochilovsky fellow was creating these analyses for free, or just didn't want to do them?

Take Buffy for instance... what could be said about why the type treatment looks the way it does? Tochilovsky says it's "artistic" and the "f" could look like a stake. Okay, when we say it's artistic, why not point out that the texture of the letters mimics wet media when applied by brush? Further, because the letters look like dried liquid, you could argue that it subtly evokes a word written in blood. Add to that the letter shapes evoke a middle-ground between traditional black letter and Carolingian miniscule, and it's pretty clear that the letters are supposed to resemble a suburban person's idea of letters in a spell book. Again, this goes to the point that the 90s allowed much broader creative expression in type, but it's also an actual analysis beyond "artistic."

I could write more, and might dip in later to talk about Twin Peaks but... my morning design class is just getting ready to start up again after break!
posted by Slothrop at 8:49 AM on April 26, 2017 [14 favorites]

The example they have for 'are you afraid of the dark' is very 90s but isn't in Benguiat Bold -- although the older title plate for the series is. I've definitely seen it on a few rave flyers back in the day. (ahh, Template Gothic, thanks spudsilo!) The 'Stranger Things' title is in Benguiat Bold too, not quite 90s though ;)
posted by alex4pt at 8:52 AM on April 26, 2017

The "Twin Peaks" font actually used in either of two logostyles shown in the piece clearly NOT the one identifed and linked. I'm pretty skeptical it's any flavor of Avant Garde, although it does share some similarities with some of the lighter weights shown in that second link.

Which, honestly, seems kinda lame. If you're gonna ID fonts, why not identify them correctly?
posted by mwhybark at 9:50 AM on April 26, 2017

what the smut is happening to the header copy here http://imgur.com/a/NjWMW

weirdly enough it seems to have gone away now that I closed the tab and re-opened it, but geeze, what the hell is this page doing

I started to poke around and discovered that it's a giant pile of machine-generated HTML and life's way too short for digging through that. It sure isn't functioning very well as the stealth ad for a Rich Content Creation System that it's obviously intended to be.
posted by egypturnash at 10:45 AM on April 26, 2017

mwhybark, the 90s Twin Peaks end credits font is definitely one of the condensed heavier weights of ITC Avant Garde. After further examination, the bright green outline on the opening credits is an outer stroke, which makes the typeface a little tricky to ID, but the way the leg and bowl connect to the stem in the narrow triangle shape is characteristic of ITC Avant Garde.

Of course Fire Walk With Me used Futura Condensed Italic in its credits as a way to distance itself from the TV show.

I have no information I can share with regards to the credit typeface(s) of the new series, which debuts quite soon.
posted by infinitewindow at 11:15 AM on April 26, 2017

The "Family Matters" font in the graphic is NOT the one described in the blurb. The one they talk about, Bookman, is my favorite font going back to the late '70s when I was looking for a font to use for a masthead for a funny newsletter and found the typeface in rub-off letters with some perfect 'swash' variations. I've continued to go back to Bookman Swash (regular and italic) ever since, as it has gone from almost-obnoxious ubiquity, seen on the titles of half the movie posters in the '70s (even when it wasn't used for the on-screen titles) to near extinction, only noted when a brand drops it and the logo critics go "yay". But it was a "sitcom credits" mainstay for so many years, it had to be used for the too many cast members in the "Too Many Cooks" bit.

It's too bad this survey doesn't go back to the '60s and '70s because my second favorite font, Peignot (and which I respected so much I didn't DARE use it), was known as "The Mary Tyler Moore Show Font", although my favorite use was on "The Movie of the Week", which also used the 'slit screen' effect made famous by the psychedelic sequence in "2001".
posted by oneswellfoop at 1:21 PM on April 26, 2017

Apologies, the font for FWWM is ITC Franklin Gothic Demi Condensed Italic stretched to 120% of the standard x-height.
posted by infinitewindow at 1:45 PM on April 26, 2017

I definitely do not see Avant Garde as far as the title logo is concerned (the first set of images are screen caps from the font-family site that the article links to).

The only subset of these samples that even comes close to either of the logos used in the article are the very light weights seen in my third image cap, as noted in my prior post (where I linked to my fonts.com). In particular, the ligature of the capital K changes from offset to a centered left-pointing caret shape as the font weight increases in the family.

Now, I noted that you specified the end credits, but the images used in the article are not of the end credits and the copy does not specify that the end credits are the subject of the discussion.
posted by mwhybark at 4:45 PM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

I know! It seems completely incorrect that ITC Avant Garde would be the correct font, because of the K! But it is... and yet isn't.

Here's a link to the Font Book samples of my copies of ITC Avant Garde Gothic Pro Demi and ITC Avant Garde Gothic Demi Condensed. I note that your first link goes to a font with a center caret K—ITC Avant Garde Gothic Condensed Demi, another font entirely. My copy of ITC Avant Garde Gothic Demi Condensed has the offset K present in Twin Peaks and Kyle MacLachlan but keeps the right triangular R ligature in Starring and Mark Frost.

I did a quick and dirty screen grab from this link and was able to match almost precisely the opening titles through only playing with letter tracking in Photoshop CC using ITC Avant Garde Gothic Demi Condensed. The only thing that eluded me was the exact size of the counter in the A, the vertical positioning of A's bar, and the roundedness of the S. I bet playing with Photoshop's text rendering (crisp, smooth, strong, etc.) or using optical film-based processes instead of Photoshop CC would reduce the S and A variation to almost imperceptible.

Other people who do this kind of thing for fun on the internet have specified other slightly different variations of ITC Avant Garde Gothic with Demi and Condensed somewhere in the typeface name.
posted by infinitewindow at 6:39 PM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

Noting again, my first link, and the screencaps thereof, is the link provided in the article. Granted, the destination font name and the font name specified in the piece differ. But it's not my link, it's the link which was provided as reference.
posted by mwhybark at 7:25 PM on April 26, 2017

mwhybark, I am embarrassed that I didn’t notice that the Seinfeld logo isn’t even in Gloucester / Cheltenham. According to a few sources it’s in Fenice Regular Oblique. It’s pretty obvious when you see it. Whoever wrote this article has no credibility.

(But the Seinfeld logo and its slanted serifs are still crappy.)
posted by mubba at 8:20 PM on April 26, 2017 [1 favorite]

you know what did amuse me about this piece is that I hadn't ever really looked at these logos, and the Seinfeld one in particular amused me, because the oval and the triangle-dot i are, it seems to me, references to the first season Jerry-on-stage bits, the i as the mic and stand and the oval a spotlight. The hacky logo is a reference to the hackiest parts of the show.


I also very much appreciated this thread's mystic exegeses of the six colored dots in the Friends logo and only wish for one more harmonizing them to the five colors of the pentagram's points.
posted by mwhybark at 8:55 PM on April 26, 2017

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