Last week, I was privileged enough to attend a talk by Tobias Frere-Jones of Typography.com. It was an interesting lecture on the design process followed by the typographer when designing Gotham, Mercury & Archer respectively. A very detail account of the birth of each typeface from one of the world's leaders in this field was really something to hear and his slides where of the quality you would expect. I only wish the organisers (or Tobias) had allowed for a Q&A session at the end to ask a few left field or pointed questions, as the talk itself was very, very narrow and focused. However judging by his monotone and style, Tobias probably isn't the most confident public speaker.
You can get a good gist of what Tobias spoke about by visiting Typography.com and you'll find lots of praise of his (and his partners) work all over the place, I don't want to repeat any of that, suffice to say the guy is a type genius. The only point I want to raise here was that Tobias was quick to point out that a typeface (or font as he refers to them) wasn't simply something created ad-hoc but rather the result of a long intense process, the climax of an important journey so to speak. So then I ask, what about Sentinel? The latest from Typography.com which states:
"For everyone who’s ever wished Clarendons had italics, everyone whose favorite slab serif is shy a few weights, and everyone who’s ever needed a slab serif to thrive in text: we designed Sentinel for you."
That sounds great and I have no objection to that idea but referencing a popular typeface, adding some weights, styles, etc is hardly anything but a money making exercise. I agree it is very useful (Clarendon was a key typeface in the Westfield brand guidelines, so no one is more understanding about its limitations) but let us not pretend we are being high and mighty all the time. Sure some projects are amazing odysseys of discovery full of twists and turns, but sometimes we just need to churn out something functional to help pay the bills. It's okay to do your job just to earn a buck, we all have, let's drop all the pretense and get our heads out of our arse.
Please don't see this as an attack on Tobias, this smug attitude toward design is all too common throughout the graphic design industry as if it is more important to drop the right names and have perfect kerning than actually get a message across. A piece of work doesn't have to have high artistic integrity to be worth while, sometimes you can just help out by adding a few useful variations to a typeface and make it more accessible to users, it's okay, we forgive you...
Originally posted 24 May 2009 at www.lorenzoprinci.com