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Dumb quotes

Tony's-Cafe

This is Tony’s Cafe. It’s a lovely little place on Leather Lane in Clerkenwell. They do a really fine create-your-own salad for just £4. We go there often for lunch.

But. Their sign. It’s a problem.

Look at it. Just after the Y. Just before the S. What is that? It thinks it’s an apostrophe. It certainly wants to be an apostrophe. Heck, it downright needs to be an apostrophe.

But it’s not.

And you know what’s to blame for that?

Typewriters. Damn typewriters.

Take a look at this. It’s a full set of the characters available on an Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter:

olivetti_characters

Rather beautiful right?

Let’s take a look at the punctuation characters along the bottom row.

Right up front there, that character made of two little vertical lines, like a pair of rabbit’s front teeth? That’s what you’d generally have used to mark out a bit of quoted text. It’s a versatile little thing: you could use it both at the beginning and the end of a chunk of quoted text. You could also use it to indicate various units of measurement – a number of inches, or a number of seconds, or even a number of arcseconds if you were a nagivator. It even doubles (if you’ll excuse the pun) as the ditto symbol.

Further along the line, just after the ampersand, sits its singular sibling. You could also have used that to mark out quoted text, but more frequently you’d have used it as an apostrophe. It also did fine work when it came to measurements, denoting numbers of feet, numbers of minutes, and of course, numbers of arcminutes.

So back up to Tony’s Cafe, we can see that little fella doing his job just fine as an apostrophe, right?

Nope. Uh uh. No sir. Not at all.

You see, although those two characters I just mentioned, which we can call typewriter quotes, were fantastically versatile, they were in truth a mashing together of different characters. It made perfect sense to do that back then, because typewriters only had a set number of keys available.

Here’s the layout of the Olivetti Lettera 22.

lettera_keyboard

The characters that got messed with were the single and double Quotation Marks, which come in left and right varieties; the Apostrophe (which is the same as the single right quotation mark), and the Prime, which is the angled mark used for various units of measurement. Those look like this, when set in the Georgia typeface:

prime-examples_2

So, with typewriters, those characters got mashed together. The left and right varieties of the quotation marks were merged, losing their ears and becoming upright verticals, which meant they could also double for primes. They must have felt good about that versatility, but you can’t help but wonder if they looked at the still-curved comma and semicolon with a sense of loss and longing…

Either way, it was a sensible solution in the days of the typewriter, typing in a single typeface at a single size, when stylistic finesse and grammatical accuracy could be ditched in favour of utility.

But, you know, we don’t generally use typewriters now.

We use computers. Which are just a little bit more sophisticated.

So we shouldn’t really need those vertical typewriter quotes anymore.

But, and it’s a fairly sizeable but, when computer keyboards were put together, they were largely based on typewriters. Here’s the current Mac keyboard, with the key with the quotation marks / apostrophe highlighted.

apple-wireless-keyboard

Theoretically, that key should only bring up left and right quotation marks, either single or double.Those should be the default setting right?

But they’re not. The default characters are the straight vertical typewriter quotes. Characters designed specifically for a drastically reduced set of keys on a machine from the last millennium.

So if we go back to Tony’s cafe, and its sign, this is what you get if you type it out, in AG Book (which is a passable approximation for the actual typeface used on the sign):

 

tonys_dumb

 

And of course, that damn typewriter quote is there, happy as Larry.

Or Tony.

Whose salads, as we’ve mentioned, are really quite good.

Now, of course, there are ways around this intolerable situation. Depending on your software set up, you can tell your machine to ignore the typewriter quotes – sometimes (and entirely justifiably) called ‘dumb quotes’ – and replace them with what are called either ‘smart quotation marks’, ‘smart quotes’ or ‘typographer’s quotes’. Those are all software settings – you might also hear the characters referred to as ‘curly quotes’ or ‘inverted commas’ – really, how many terms to these things need? Smart quotations, smart quotes, typographer’s quotes, book quotes, curly quotes, inverted commas – identity crisis much?

In Microsoft Word, where they’re called “smart quotation marks”, and you’ll find the setting in the AutoCorrect tab of the Word Preferences. This is how it looks in the version we’re running:

Word-AutoCorrect-preferences

Using InDesign, as we are with our revision of Tony’s sign, you switch on ‘Typographer’s Quotes’ in the Type section of the Preferences panel.

With that done, this is how Tony’s looks when you type it out, now with a proper apostrophe:

 

tonys_smart

 

How much better is that? Not only is it the correct grammatical character, its weight and form just fit so much better with the word.

So, we can use the correct characters if we tell our software that we want to. But we shouldn’t really have to do that right? These are hardly obscure characters, only used once in a blue moon. Why on earth do those typewriter quotes even still exist? They were ingenious, but they’re a relic from another age. Stick ’em in a museum.

And actually, you know what, the problems don’t really end there anyway.

Because even if you have your smart quotes turned on, you’re not guaranteed to be getting things right.

Have a look at these three examples, set in Georgia again.

The first one uses the default typewriter quotes:

prime-examples_a1

Unpleasant. Deeply unpleasant. And more than a little confusing.

 

The second one uses typographer’s quotes:

prime-examples_a2

Better. But wait – punctuation klaxon! That height measurement? That’s totally wrong. For that you need to use primes, as we have done in the third version. The eagle-eyed amongst you will also notice that the apostrophe before ’70s is wrong. Despite being called smart, sometimes these quotes can still be a little dumb. When they appear with a space before them, they automatically assume they’re at the beginning of quoted text. But here, we’re using the mark as an apostrophe (marking the absence of 19 from 1970s), so the mark needs to face in the other direction. So in this instance, despite having smart quotes on, we have to use a key command to insert the right character.

So, with all that in place, it should look like this:

prime-examples_b

Peace at last! Typographically and grammatically wonderful.

Headache much?

And it doesn’t even end there. Many contemporary fonts don’t even feature primes in their character set. They’ve just sort of been forgotten about. Instead, those inferior usurpers, the typewriter quotes, have taken their place. You can sort of fudge them, by italicising the dumb quotes, but that’s hardly an ideal solution.

And this isn’t just a problem for purveyors of fine salads.

You’ll notice the problem most online, where typewriter quotes are slung about with a hideous abandon. That’s not a giant problem in body text (though it still irks), but it’s grimly obvious in headings. Here’s a recent post from the very popular tech site Engadget:

Engadget-UK-post

Those typewriter quotes must be laughing it up. Relics they may be, but there they are, in the heading of a post about Google Glass – they could hardly be hanging out anywhere more modern!

This seems to be something to do with the software used for most blog posting, which is less than eager to insert smart quotes.

So, you’re smart people. And you probably know even smarter people. How do we fix this? Surely we can get rid of those dumb typewriter quotes?

Because dumb isn’t clever.

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Oh, and if you’re looking to read a little further on any of this, we’d like to highly recommend Matthew Butterick’s wonderful online book, Butterick’s Practical Typography, which is a treasure trove of learning. His article about this very topic is brilliant, and far more concise than this one.

Lettering: Objects, Examples, Practice

Earlier today we finally made it along to the fantastic Lettering: Objects, Examples, Practice exhibition at Central Saint Martins. The show is a potted history of lettering and typography, featuring examples from the college’s Museum & Study Collection and its Central Lettering Record, as well as some bits and bobs from alumni.

There are a whole series of photographs of Edward Johnston’s incredible type drawings on blackboards:

It’s an absolute feast of a show, which we can’t recommend enough. It’s only open for a few more days (it ends on Saturday 12 April), so if you haven’t been, get along, you won’t regret it. (Oh, and Professor Phil Baines, co-curator of the show, will be giving a tour of the exhibition on Thursday 10 April at 1pm.) Read more about the show on the Eye blog.

Penguin Random House Learning Journal

Often, when you get a job back from the printer (having laboured over it for hours, days, weeks, and often months), there can be a certain sense of disappointment, with the final result not living up to your by now unjustifiably elevated expectations. That’s not to say that the finished object isn’t worthy of love and pride, just that you can easily have an idealised view of what you hope to have created, a view which reality can never match.

But every now and then, the reverse happens. Despite having those same supposedly unrealistic expectations, the finished object manages to exceed them.

This happened to us with this learning journal we created recently for the Penguin Random House Academy – the in-house training programme for the company’s UK staff.

We were hoping it was going to look great, but once we got it in our hands, we couldn’t help but grin. It just felt right – the cover stock, the text stock, the print process, the finishing – it all came together in one lovely package. (And yup, we know we’re blasting away on our own little trumpet here, but heck, sometimes it’s okay to do that.)

We started out by designing the identity for the Academy, a simple circle. We then carried that circle through as a motif throughout the book.

The book is designed in two separate sections, each of which has its own front cover. Start at one end and it’s an informative guide to all the training and career development possibilities at the company; flip it over and it’s a travel journal, where you can make notes and doodle.

The text pages are printed onto a cream stock using the CMYK process, but with the black swapped for a Pantone grey.

The two halves of the book meet at a spread which reads in both directions, letting you know that it’s time to flip the book:

The covers are 2000 micron greyboard, foil-blocked in white.

The travel journal pages are a mix of blank pages, inspirational quotes, and many different types of lined paper pages:

Our thanks to Jo, Bethany and Erica at Penguin Random House, and printers Colophon and Lavengro for their help in creating something we’re dead proud of.

Tony’s Chocolonely

Alistair was out in Amsterdam this weekend, and stumbled across this fantastic typographic packaging: Tony’s Chocolonely.

The brand has a fascinating story behind it. It was set up in 2005 by Dutch journalist Teun Van de Keuken. A couple of years before he’d done an investigation into the cocoa industry, particularly in the Ivory Coast, where he discovered a significant percentage of the cocoa farm owners were engaging in what he saw as slave-labour practices. As an avid eater of chocolate, he saw himself as complicit in these practices and handed himself in to the Dutch authorities for trial. The case was thrown out, but on the back of it he set up the Chocolonely brand, to create chocolate that is produced entirely ethically.

It’s really interesting to see an ethically-based brand that looks fun rather than worthy.

They produce a line of bars that are shaped as big chocolate letters too. Brilliant!

Even the inside of the packaging is great, with a spot-the-difference illustration for the kids.

As it says on the inside of the label, “Crazy about chocolate, serious about people”. Lovely stuff.

Graphics Summer School 2013

Alistair was teaching on the Graphics Summer School at Central Saint Martins for the last couple of weeks, so we thought we’d present a small sample of the students’ work here.

The summer school allows students from a mix of backgrounds, experiences and ages to sample four disciplines in rotation across two weeks: illustration, advertising, photography and typography. For the typography section, Alistair set a brief to the students: create your own personal alphabet.

There was a fantastic variety of responses. Kaja Slokewska created a bubbly alphabet (above) from acrylic and glue, to represent her love of diving; while Gina Hollingsworth created an alphabet out of a single sheet of paper, just with cuts and folds. Beautiful.

Jonathan Yip created a really pleasing set of letters using guitar strings – first playing about with them in real life, then vectorising the results. Mighty fine.

Meanwhile, Andrea Sartini revealed a love of ice-cream with his set of melting letters (below).

Chris Hall created a fantastically complex grid for his alphabet, and went to town creating a set of properly bonkers letters.We particularly love his 3.

The students also had a half day introduction to the delights of letterpress, thanks to the wonderful Helen Ingham, which featured a quick whip through the history of type, followed by the chance for each student to set a line of metal type, which was then combined together in one souvenir print.

Check out more of the work over at Alistair’s Flickr set. Lovely stuff.

Carters Steam Fair

A couple of weekends ago we got the chance to visit the fantastic Carters Steam Fair while it was visiting Clapham Common.

Carters is a vintage travelling fun fair, entirely run by the Carter family, after John and Anna Carter bought their first ride, the Jubilee Steam Gallopers (below) in 1977. The ride was originally built by Robert Tidman & Sons of Norwich, in 1895; and the Carters extensively repaired and renovated it to get it looking as fine as it does today.

The other main ride they have that’s run on steam is the glorious Excelsior Steam Yachts ride (top and below), built in 1921.

The whole fair features a staggering wealth of traditional fairground art and signwriting, featuring work by Hall and Fowle:

“The later rides owned by Carters Steam Fair are painted in a style of dramatic three-dimensionality by the masters of fairground painting in the first half of the 20th century: Hall and Fowle. Edwin Hall was a master painter producing some beautifully set out and composed Art Deco designs that still stand out to this day; Fred Fowle joined forces with him later. Fowle’s work is unmistakeable in its design and skill, using gold and aluminium leaf, flamboyant enamels and a lot of guts he made some of the most extraordinary and exuberant artwork that can be seen on the fair to this day, most notably the Skid, the Octopus, and the Hook a Duck hoopla stall which are owned by Carters Steam Fair.”

Everything on the fair is still hand-painted, with incredible skill and style, by the Carter family. Indeed, Joby Carter even runs 5-day signwriting courses – the next one coming up this November.

It’s just an amazing place to visit. They even have a coconut shy, and a fantastic penny arcade, which even has a suitably creepy Jolly Jack:

And of course the rides themselves are brilliant.

The fair will be at Belair Park in West Dulwich for the next two weekends, and travelling all round London through to November (check their full diary here). Do go along if you get a chance.

London Transport Museum Acton Depot

We made our way over to London Transport Museum’s Acton Depot yesterday – it’s where they house the majority of the collection that’s not on show at the museum itself. As part of the tube’s 150th anniversary they’re having a series of events there, and this weekend was their Open Weekend.

The depot houses a selection of retired tube trains, buses, trams, trolleybuses; and a densely packed mezzanine full of an incredible selection of old signs.

It’s an amazing treasure trove.

And there’s a host of other wonders too. Back on the ground floor there’s a cabinet of woodblock letters, featuring various versions of the Johnston typeface designed  in 1917 by calligrapher Edward Johnston (who actually lived not so far away from Acton, in Chiswick). This was the typeface used throughout the London Underground, and still in use today (in the slightly modified form of New Johnston).

There are some bits of metal type lying around too:

There’s also a model of Strand Station, a now defunct station which you can occasionally take tours around.

There are also examples of the logo designed for the Victoria Line:

and some lovely old ticket machines:

How binary are those? Put your money in, get a ticket. Or don’t put any money in, push a button, and get an Authority to Travel. Brilliant.

Fantastic stuff.

If you missed it this weekend, they’re having a series of guided tours throughout the year.

If you’d like to find out more about the London Underground’s design history, then you should really get yourself a copy of Mark Ovenden’s truly marvellous book London Underground By Design.

Poster Art 150

We dropped in to the London Transport Museum over the weekend to check out their truly fantastic new show, Poster Art 150.

Put on to celebrate the 150th birthday of the London Underground, the densely packed show is a collection of 150 of the best posters produced for the tube. It features a stack of brilliant designs from the big names in poster design, including Abram Games, Edward McKnight Kauffer, Frederick Charles Herrick, Tom Eckersley, Edward Bawden, Fougasse (above); as well as a few fine artists, including Man Ray and Howard Hodgkin.

The show is split into six thematic areas, which neatly sidesteps the possible problem that might have occurred had the exhibition been chronological – namely that the more recent designs just aren’t as good. Partly this is due to the rose-tinted nature of nostalgia, but it’s not just that – the earlier designs have an energy, simplicity and wit that seems to have faded away from most of the contemporary designs we see now on the tube. Hopefully this show might serve as an inspiration though, both to the commissioners at the tube, and also to designers.

And you know, it’s interesting to stop there and linger on that word ‘designers’.

It feels like most of the contemporary commissions on the underground are given over to fine artists rather than designers. Witness the Olympic and Paralympic Posters for London 2012, Mark Wallinger’s Labyrinth, and The Roundel: 100 Artists Remake a London icon – all commissioned through the Art on the Underground programme. Where are the commissions for designers? Surely a show like this demonstrates just how brilliant a tradition of design London Transport has – it’d be great to see them embracing that by commissioning more contemporary designers, rather than just fine artists.

Anyway, here are some of our picks from the exhibition:

‘A train every 90 seconds’, the first poster Abram Games designed for London Underground, in 1937.

‘Behind the seen’, one half of a pair poster by James Fitton from 1948.

‘The lure of the Underground’, by Alfred Leete (the chap behind the Britons: Lord Kitchener Wants You poster) from 1927. This is a glorious poster – a fantastic economy of line, with wonderful characterisation, as you can see in the detail below:

Austin Cooper’s poster advertising the V&A’s first major poster show in 1931, and depicting Mercury, the winged messenger of the gods.

One of the highlights of the show is the fantastic array of different and frequently bonkers typographic styles. Here are some lovely ligatures from Frederick Charles Herrick’s ‘The lap of luxury’ poster from 1925:

And two Os getting up close and personal in Charles Paine’s ‘Boat Race’ poster from 1921:

And Alan Rogers’ lovely styling of the word Underground from his 1930 ‘Speed Underground’ poster:

Tasty stuff.

‘For the Zoo’, from 1933, by Maurice A. Miles, one of many posters for London Zoo featured in the show.

‘Away from it all’ by M.E.M. Law in 1932 – has a tube train ever looked so dynamic?

And finally, ‘Cup final’ by Eric George Fraser in 1928, which puts you right in the heart of the action.

The show runs until 27 October, and is really outstanding – do get along if you can.

God’s Own Junkyard

We nipped into Chris Bracey’s God’s Own Junkyard in Soho yesterday – what a treasure trove!

Bracey creates neon signage for fashion and film, and the exhibition / pop-up shop collects together a stunning mix of his work as well as some found signs, old movie props, and other bits and bobs. He started making signs in Soho back in the 70s (his work feels entirely at home on Beak Street) and he’s since worked with the likes of David Lachapelle and Martin Creed, Tim Burton and Stanley Kubrick. Not a bad client list.

God’s Own Junkyard is at Circus of Soho, 47 Beak St, London W1 until the end of January.

Revamped

Sorry, we know we’ve been blithering on about Hoxton Street Monster Supplies a lot, but we’ve just been doing a heck of a lot of stuff with them lately.

Since there’s been such a lot of new stuff going on inside, we thought it would be a good time to refresh the outside too.

So we commissioned traditional signwriter Nick Garrett (and his partner Mat) to completely revamp the shopfront. We gave Nick a carefully set layout of all the text, and he tweaked and nudged it to make it appropriate for the front of a shop.

They then marked up the facia with a chalk trace down, and set to work.

Nick used a bespoke colour mix of signwriting enamel for the lettering.

Mat, getting busy with the Ministry of Stories logo.

That’s rather a lovely Q isn’t it?

The panels beneath the windows and on the doors detail all the products the shop sells.

Particular respect to Mat for the many many hours of care and attention he lavished on the Official Notice on the shop’s door.

Lovely stuff.