History of Typography for graphic designers and graphic artists

Picture writing

The first type of messages that we find in the history records were a series of pictures that told a story known as pictographs.

From pictographs developed more sophisticated ways of communicating through ideographs. Ideographs substituted symbols and abstractions for pictures of events. A symbol of a star represented the heavens or a peace pipe represented peace. Native Americans and Egyptians are examples of some folks who used ideographs. Chinese alphabets are still based on ideographs.

From ideographs developed a system pioneered by the Egyptians known as hieroglyphics. The Egyptians still used drawings to represent objects or ideas, but were the first to use objects to represent sounds.

Letter Development

At around 1200 BC, the Phoenicians gained their independence from the Egyptians and developed their own alphabet that was the first to be composed exclusively of letters.

The Greeks adopted the Phoenician language and began to develop the true beginnings of our modern alphabet. The Greeks refined the Phoenician language by adding the first vowels (5 of them). Their language did not have punctuation, lowercase letters or spaces between words.

The Roman Revolution

The next great civilization, the Romans further developed the alphabet by using 23 letters from the Etruscans who based their language on the Greek. They took the letters ABEZHIKMNOTXY intact, they remodeled the CDGLPRSV and revived two Phoenicians letters discarded by the Greeks, the F and Q. The Z comes at the end of our alphabet because for a while the Romans discarded it, but then brought it back when they thought it was indispensable. The Romans contributed short finishing strokes at the end of letters known as serifs. Roman letters feature the first examples of thick and thin strokes.

Lowercase letters developed because all type was hand copied by scribes who developed less ornate handwriting styles and started using quicker and smaller versions of the letters. The first system of lowercase letterforms was known as the semi-uncial.

The U and W were slowly added and based on the letter V by the year 1000 and the J, which was based on the I was added by 1500. Spacing between words was not generally adopted until the eleventh century. Punctuation marks developed in the 16th century when printing became prevalent.

Miniscules & Printing

Around 732 Charlemagne ordered a system of writing called the Caroline Miniscule which for the first time was the first lowercases that were more than just small versions of uppercase letters.

In the 1400's Guttenberg invented a system of moveable type that revolutionized the world and allowed for dramatic mass printing of materials.

In 1500, a printer by the name of Aldus Manutius for the first time invented the concept of pocket or portable books. He also developed the first italic typeface, one of the first typeface variations.

The Type Designers

Claude Garamond from France was the first that developed the first true printing typeface not designed to imitate handwriting, but designed on rigid Geometric principles. Garamond also began the tradition of naming the typeface after himself. Garamond became the dominant typeface for the next 200 years.

In 1557, Robert Granjon invented the first cursive typeface, which was built to simulate handwriting.

In 1734, William Caslon issued the typeface bearing his name which included straighter serifs and greater contrasts between major and minor strokes.

In 1757, John Baskerville introduced the first Transitional Roman which increased contrast between thick and thin strokes, had a nearly vertical stress in the counters and very sharp serifs.

in 1780 Firmin Didot and Giambattista Bodoni of Italy developed the first Modern Romans. The moderns carry the transitionals to the extreme. Thin strokes are hairlines, plus a full vertical stress.

In 1815 Vincent Figgins designed a face with square serifs for the first time and this became known as the Egyptians or more recently as the Slab Serifs.

In 1816 William Caslon IV produced the first typeface without serifs (sans serifs) of any kind, but it was ridiculed at the time.

In the 1920s, Frederic Goudy developed several innovative designs and became the world's first full time type designer. We owe the Broadway typeface to him.

In 1954, Max Miedinger, a Swiss artist created the most popular typeface of our time...Helvetica. The Swiss also championed the use of white space as a design element.

History of Computer Typefaces

The Macintosh

The Macintosh was the first commercially produced computer to showcase the concept of the Graphical User Interface (GUI). It also helped develop the concept of WYSIWYG (What You See is What You Get) printing. What you saw on the screen was similar to what you saw when you printed. The concept was developed at the Xerox Parc research center and pioneered by John Warnock and Chuck Geske, the founders of Adobe, Inc.

Originally, the Macintosh came with ten bitmapped city-named fonts (New York, London, Monaco, Geneva, San Francisco, Venice, Chicago, Los Angeles, Athens, and Cairo). They were wonderful, but have not survived because they were only printable at one size.

Adobe

Adobe invented Postscript which used mathematical calculations to describe typefaces instead of relying on pixel by pixel definitions of fonts.

The original Laserwriter was developed by Adobe in 1985 and came with 13 fonts. It was developed in close association with Apple, and was in fact an Apple branded product, because the first Laserprinter worked only on Macintoshes.

The first 13 fonts were: four variations of Times, Helvetica, Courier and one variation of Symbol. Afterwards, the Laserwriter Plus added 22 fonts for a total of 35 fonts. They included four variations of Times, Avante Garde, Bookman, New Century Schoolbook, Palatino, Courier, Helvetica, and Helvetica Narow. Plus Zapf Chancery Medium, Symbol, and Zapf Dingbats. This was a great group of typefaces which dramatically affected typeface choices for years to come.

For years after that Adobe led the way in developing fonts for personal computers, but Adobe got too greedy. Adobe owned the PostScript language and therefore controlled the way that computers talked to most laserprinters.

The Postscript language supported two different types of fonts. Type 1 and Type 3 postscript fonts. Of the two formats, Type 1 was the more powerful. But Adobe prevented anyone else from developing fonts in the Type 1 format (other vendors were able to develop fonts in the less capable Type 3 format.

The Truetype Revolution

Adobe also developed a version of postscript that could run on personal computer screens called Display PostScript. Adobe offered PostScript to both Apple and Microsoft, but they rejected Adobe's proposal and decided to jointly develop their own font technology called Truetype.

The Truetype format is not as clean and reliable as the type 1 format, but it allowed for an explosion in font design.Unfortunately this explosion caused a large quantity of low quality or designer impostor fonts. Most professional print houses to this day refuse to support Truetype fonts because of their low quality.

The Online Solution

Because of the nature of the online world, you should only specify typefaces in web pages if users have those typefaces installed on their computers. However, it’s impossible to know which typefaces users have on their computers, so this was difficult to do until Microsoft’s Internet Explorer started shipping a set of typefaces with all of their browsers. Since Internet Explorer is by far the leading browser on the web, we call the set of fonts that used to come with IE “Web Safe Fonts”. The list includes: Andale Mono, Arial, Arial Black, Comic Sans, Courier New, Georgia, Impact, Times New Roman, Trebuchet, Verdana and Wingdings.

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