We nipped over to the ICA at the end of last week to catch their exhibition, Olivetti – Beyond Form and Function, showcasing the spatial and graphic design of typewriter manufacturer Olivetti during the post-war era.
The show featured a mix of advertising posters, magazine adverts, and ephemera from Olivetti, courtesy of the Associazione Archivio Storico Olivetti. Many were designed by Giovanni Pintori, who worked in-house with Olivetti for over 30 years, eventually becoming the company’s Art Director.
It was interesting to see how photographs of the typewriters were kept quite small, if shown at all, letting simple abstracted graphics to do most of the work instead.
(You might recognise the image above from some adverts for The Guardian by Weiden + Kennedy back in 2007. This post from Simon I’Anson about the similarity between those ads sent us off to this fantastic Flickr album of graphic design work done for Olivetti.)
The show also featured some actual typewriters, including the beautiful lightweight and portable Lettera 22. We have one in the studio, and love it:
Here’s what the text from that looks like once it’s typed out:
We were wondering who designed letters themselves. Courier, the standard typewriter typeface, wasn’t designed until 1955, and the Lettera 22 dates from 1949. We’re guessing that quite a few similar typefaces were around at the time – but were wondering where the first one came from (do get in touch if you know). As you can see from the sample above, the characters are monospaced, so they each take up the same amount of space, allowing the creation of tabular information to be done really simply. (Read more about typewriter typefaces over on this Typographica page.)
The first commercially successful typewriter was the Sholes and Glidden Type-Writer, also known as the Remington No.1, which went on sale in 1874. It introduced the first QWERTY keyboard, which lingers on today, despite attempts to update it.
However the Remington was slightly limited because you couldn’t see what you were typing while you typed, and it only had uppercase letters.
Even on the lowercase and uppercase typewriters, some characters were still absent. If you look at the keyboard on our Lettera 22 above, you’ll see there’s no numeral 1, no exclamation mark, a dollar symbol but no cent symbol, and no maths symbols (addition, multiplication, division, equals).
Using a typewriter necessitated some clever tricks – here are just a few:
The dumb quotes we mention there are a massive bugbear of ours. They still linger on modern computer keyboards, when they were only created as a space saving device on typewriters. They should have disappeared years ago. (Read more about that on this old post about dumb quotes.)
If you’re looking for more Olivetti Lettera goodness, check out this Flickr album from Ed Cornish, showcasing the machine’s instruction manual.
The Sussex village of Ditchling was the home of letter-cutter Eric Gill (he’s the chap who designed Gill Sans) and calligrapher Edward Johnston (responsible for the famous Johnston typeface used by London Underground). The museum has collected together works from them, and from the artists and craftspeople who gathered around them.
We took a wander down that way a month or so ago. It made for a fantastic day out, starting with a stroll along the South Downs.
Here’s a sign post set, of course, in Gill Sans.
And an old National Trust sign, set in Albertus.
On the way from the Downs to the museum, you pass the home where Edward Johnston used to work and live. (We believe the security light is a more recent addition.)
The museum’s identity was designed by Phil Baines. And boy it looks great on a sunny spring day. Loving that arrow.
The current main exhibition at the museum is a history of the development of the Johnston typeface, and that alone makes it worth a visit. Just look at this lower case qu ligature. And the alternate versions of the g!
And check out this lovely set of Ws:
If you do one thing this year, go to Ditchling. Twice.
Anyway, we digress.
As part of their brilliant Village of Type events which run throughout May, the museum has put together Interrobang – an international showcase of letterpress print. The exhibition is an open submission, with pieces selected by a panel of typographers and designers.
The journal, designed by Kenneth Gray, and put together by St Jude’s in tandem with the show, features a selection of fantastic articles about the current state of letterpress printing, as well as all the work from the show.
It opens with Phil Baines writing about Hilary Pepler, who set up the local St Dominic’s Press in 1919.
Then there’s an insightful article by David Marshall and Elizabeth Ellis of The Counter Press about the state of letterpress. They rightly point out that letterpress printing is having a moment, with myriad new small presses joining the old hands who’ve been doing it for years. But they worry about whether letterpress printing is being valued purely for its old-world values: ‘it seems that more often than not, people struggle to leave the nostalgia and vintage charm of the aesthetic in the past.’ They warn of the danger of ‘pastiche and unimaginative reproduction’.
Coming from anyone else, this might sound like they’re just stirring the pot. But they’re one of the most exciting design teams working with letterpress at the moment. They specialise in what they call ‘traditional techniques with modern design thinking’. Here’s the cover of their recent publication Extra Condensed.
It is beautiful. And we do care.
This theme continues in Patrick Baglee’s wonderful interview with Alan Kitching: ‘He is a designer that is surrounded by and works with letterpress type and letterpress technology. But it is the ideas and deeper meaning that step forward… This sense of expressiveness, of freedom and joy is still what marks Kitching’s work out from much of what passes for letterpress – where it is the means of production that people believe we ought to care about – rather than the final idea as evidence of artistry, craft and simple, clear thinking.’
Here’s Kitching’s recent print for Monotype commemorating Paul Rand:
Later on in the journal, there’s an article about Adams of Rye, the printshop where Anthony Burrill creates his posters, including this recent one for the museum:
Another piece looks at the collaboration between Tilley Printing and poet Nick Alexander, creating posters which are flyposted in the local Tinsmith’s Alley in Ledbury, Herefordshire.
The bulk of the journal though is a showcase of the prints from the show. Here are just a few of those:
From Nicole Arnett Phillips in Brisbane, an analogue bitmap Q: ‘My intention with this series is to explore the space between analogue and digital type design and lettering. Each print translates form between analogue and digital instances. The letterforms start as pencil outlines. I then use physical type – either the face or the feet – (face being right way up type side of the sort, and feet being upside down backside of the physical piece of type) to typeset an analogue bitmap inside the pencil outlines.’
Artist Ruth Kirkby shows one of ‘a series of prints to represent the Western-imposed state borders and the effects they have had on the Middle East. The text in the prints is taken from recent Al Jazeera articles about the areas affected by the enforced borders.’
From New North Press in London, comes a print from their ‘A23D’ 3D-printed letterpress font, designed by A2-Type, fusing old and new technologies.
One Strong Arm in Dublin submitted a print featuring a quote from Rudolf Koch, but we couldn’t find a picture of it, so here’s one of their other pieces, with a quote from Roddy Doyle.
Tom Pigeon, the studio of Pete and Kirsty Thomas, show one of their ‘Cinematype’ prints. ‘Cinematype is an original sans-serif, geometric typeface designed by us and inspired by the typography of early 20th Century film. We’ve worked with British printmaker Thomas Mayo to create these exclusive Cinematype letterpress numbers prints.’
The next print is from The Print Project in Shipley. We’re rather in love with their fantastic posters for the gig night Golden Cabinet, printed using metal type and overprinted laser cut abstract shapes:
We’re also quite taken by this print from The Wireless Press in Brighton. It’s based on Parisian graffiti from the 1968 uprising (the text translates as ‘Stop clapping – the show is everywhere’).
All in all, the journal is a wonderful record of a brilliant show, giving a really thorough sense of what is being produced by the best designers and artists working with letterpress print today.
You will have seen Alan’s work before, even if you’re not a graphic designer. He’s designed book covers, stamps, magazine covers, protest signs, theatre posters, wine labels and more. All this is done using the traditional letterpress tools – movable metal type, large woodblock letters, ink, paper and a press. His work is immediately recognisable: bold, witty, elegant, colourful and thoughtful, often with a painterly use of ink.
Here are a few of his wonderful Broadsides, the large format typographic prints he has created throughout his career. This is number 1, from 1988, designed to be cut up into individual items of stationery (letterhead, compliments slip, label etc.).
This one is number 5, from 1992. A typographic map, it represents the streets, businesses, pubs and history of Clerkenwell. It’s a beautiful and beautifully considered piece of work.
‘Printing in London: 1476-1995’ (below) was commissioned by Heidelberg for their magazine High Quality, and was reprinted in a folder as Broadside number 8. A visual history of printing in London, it features printers, publishers, art schools and type foundries.
In 2003 Alan produced a dual-purpose petition and poster for The Guardian, ‘Why Iraq? Why Now?’. Published in the newspaper, it was designed to be cut out and pasted onto banners by people who met in London for the anti-war rally on 15 February of that year. (On the day, David Gentleman’s NO poster for the Stop the War Coalition was more visible – though that may partly have been because it was so readily available at the event.)
‘Taxi!’ (below) was commissioned for the London Poster Project, part of the 2009 London Design Festival:
The new book details the entirety of Alan’s career so far, from his beginnings as an apprentice compositor at 15, through his work with Anthony Froshaug, Derek Birdsall and others, to his time running the Typography Workshop in Kennington.
It’s especially wonderful to discover Alan’s early, less familiar work, particularly that created while working with Froshaug at Watford College of Technology.
Here are a couple of great experimental prints from the late 1960s using just metal furniture (normally used for spacing out type).
Here are a few spreads from the book:
Designed by Simon Esterson and Jon Kielty, and written by John L. Walters, three editions of the book are available. The book edition (£40) won’t be available until March 2017, but in the meantime, the Special Edition (£75) is available, and more than worth the cost. It features a three-piece binding with greyboard covers.
Rather wonderfully, that’s the same style of binding as was used for the book Celia Sings, which celebrated the life of Alan’s late wife, Celia Stothard (and which was designed by the same team):
There’s also a boxed Collector’s Edition (£200), with the same binding, which includes a hand printed letterpress signed print, numbered and wrapped round the book to form a jacket. That’s only available in a limited edition of 200.
You can actually get your hands on a copy of the book edition before March. In tandem with the publication of the book, a major retrospective of Alan’s work is touring around the UK, and a few copies of the book will be on sale at each show. We caught the exhibition at the recent Pick Me Up illustration show at Somerset House, and it was an absolute treat to see so much incredible work. Alan was even on hand to run printing workshops and discuss his work (that’s him in the red jumper below, and peering through the doorway).
From 3 June to 20 August the retrospective will be on show at The Lettering Arts Centre in Suffolk. After that it moves to The Lighthouse in Glasgow, from 1 November through to February 2017. More dates are promised. We can’t recommend it enough, so if you get the chance do make the trip.
This short film, created to publicise the book, shows Alan at work, discussing various moments during his career:
Alistair has recently returned from a trip to Australia, where he gave a couple of talks to the good folks at AGDA (the Australian Graphic Design Association) in Melbourne and Adelaide. He also spent a fair amount of time bothering kangaroos and koalas. Here’s one he photographed in Adelaide:
But when he wasn’t molesting marsupials, he found time to pick up this gorgeous Futura Bold stamp set, from Paper 2 in Sydney (we can’t currently see the set on their website, but it’s also available from Honest Paper and Telegram Open House).
Each of the stamps clicks together with the next one, making setting a complete doddle – and perfect for getting your Wes Anderson on.
Delicious. A lower case set, and a set of numerals are also available.
We made our way over to Hixter Bankside yesterday for the annual Clearcast party, for which we’d designed an 8 metre long backdrop.
Clearcast are the clearance service for the TV advertising industry – they review TV commercials at the script stage, checking that they conform to the UK Code of Broadcast Advertising. That way, before production begins, advertisers can make sure their ads aren’t harmful, misleading or offensive.
Clearcast asked us to create an eye-catching backdrop to celebrate the recent milestone of 60 years of commercial television. We looked through the archives of the most popular TV adverts, and pulled together a selection of the best bits from the scripts. We then created a huge typographic backdrop, designed to fit onto a glass partition in the venue’s main room. (The backdrop was produced by the event organisers, PR Live.)
If you click the image below, it should open up the full artwork.
Here are the ads from which those bits of copy come – nostalgia-fest!
Cinzano – with the fantastic Leonard Rossiter and Joan Collins:
Gibbs S.R. Toothpaste – this was the first advert shown on UK television:
R Whites Lemonade
Birdseye Steakhouse Grills
(Going through those ads made us realise that commercials with great dialogue are few and far between these days. We have a feeling that might be because ads are made to work in many different countries now, so dialogue (except in voice-over) is far less common. Or perhaps witty copywriting is just out of fashion? Seems a shame.)
There was also a photo-booth at the party, run by the good chaps from Lots of Little Ideas, and we designed a series of prop-cards for that, featuring taglines from some old adverts – all set with the correct typographic styling.
We nipped along to St Bride’s yesterday afternoon for the launch (the perfect place for it, since much of the archive material featured in the book is held there).
The sumptuous cloth-bound book tells a story that reaches across four centuries, and is a real treasure trove. It features archive imagery from throughout the company’s history, as well as a host of tipped-in samples, used as section dividers, illustrating the range of Baddeley Brothers’ print techniques. There’s also a fine glossary of printing terminology, and an anatomy of envelope design.
Lucinda Rogers’ illustrations document Baddeley Brothers as it is today, her wonderful and energetic line work brilliantly capturing the mood and atmosphere of printers.
David’s quiet and considered design gives the subject plenty of room to breathe; and the tipped-in dividers are just wonderful, all featuring Commercial Type typefaces.
We asked David about his experience of designing the book: “What I loved about it was that the Gentle Author has an uncanny ability to bring people with shared interests together on a project. Commercial Type have long been interested in the work of the Caslon Type Foundry, which was based right next to Baddeley Brothers. I’ve worked with Baddeley Brothers on several jobs, and have a strong relationship with Commercial Type too (many of whose typefaces are based on materials held at St Brides).”
There’s a wonderful alchemy going on there, and it’s a rich mix that has produced a stunning result. We can just imagine the joy of some young graphic design student picking it up off the St Bride Printing Library shelves decades hence. No doubt Baddeleys will still be going strong.
Paul Haslam, director of the fantastic printers Benwells (we designed their identity a few years back) recently asked us to create a promotional mailer for his business. Paul wanted to have something to send to existing clients, and also to send out to potential new clients. We decided it would be great to create something that not only showcased Benwells’ particularly fine work, but which was also something that people could actually use.
So, we had a think about the sort of things you might send or receive in the post. Which got us thinking about postcards.
Now, it’s not that often you get sent a postcard these days. Email, texting and social media have usurped that role for themselves.
But when you do receive a card – well, it feels just great. It shows that someone thinks you’re worth just a little bit of effort – they’ve stepped away from their computer, found a card, then found a pen (that works), carefully hand-written the card, found your address, bought a stamp, and even walked to the postbox. Probably in the rain. (Actually, that’s quite a bit of effort – they must really like you.)
So we teamed up with Benwells to create some postcards that are a pleasure to send, and a joy to receive. A couple of limited edition packs of postcards in fact – one pack, ‘Thanks’, to say thank you; the other, ‘Greetings’, to say hello.
We created two alternate sets of packaging for the postcards – one set for Benwells, and another for We Made This. Both feature white foil-blocked Nomad Buff sleeves, and are sent out in tear-open Colorplan envelopes – green for Benwells, grey for We Made This.
Each pack contains ten different cards, all using delicious G·F Smith papers.
We don’t want to give the game away by showing you the whole lot, but here are just a few from the Greetings pack.
‘Howdy’ features a white foil on Woodside Garden Pine:
‘Hola’, echoing the Spanish flag, uses a yellow foil on duplexed Colorplan Bright Red and Factory Yellow:
‘Ey up’ features a white foil on a fantastically thick (1200gsm) Nomad Bedrock:
And then there’s the Thanks pack:
‘Much Obliged’ is blind debossed on 400gsm Moondream:
‘Lots of Thanks’ features white and super-diffuser foils on Colorplan Dark Grey (with a Buckram emboss) duplexed with Colorplan Factory Yellow:
‘Fanks’ uses a copper foil, again on the Nomad Bedrock:
The reverse of each card details the process used to print it, and what stock it’s printed on. So even if you don’t decide to send them on to anyone, they’re still really useful.
We (and Benwells) will be mailing the packs out over the next couple of weeks – so keep an eye on your postbox.
It showcases Alan Kitching’s extensive wood-letter fount collection, which he’s amassed and restored over years in his south London print workshop.
The book is divided up alphabetically, with each chapter featuring a single letter shown in up to thirty nine different founts. The chapters are divided up by spreads which each feature an additional full alphabet (so the one above, preceding the A chapter, is Latin Old Style).
This trick of separating out single founts across the whole book prompts you to examine each letterform on its own, and in contrast to the neighbouring designs of the same letter. We have a sneaking suspicion that it might also have been done to discourage people from just scanning in entire alphabets for their own use, rather than, say, going to an actual printer to have something set in actual type.
The book is beautifully printed in five spot colours, onto quite a bulky uncoated stock, giving it a lovely feel in the hand. These images make it look quite large, but actually its roughly A5 size (just a bit squatter).
For those of you not familiar with it, The Prisoner is one of the most iconic TV shows to have come out of the 60s.
It ran on ATV from September 1967 to February 1968. While any TV programme is obviously the work of a huge team of people, this show had one powerful force at its core: it was co-created, directed, and produced by Patrick McGoohan, who also starred in the lead role of No.6.
McGoohan had made his name in the black and white spy show Danger Man, and had even been asked to be the first Bond on the back of his work on that. He turned down Bond, but after more than 80 episodes, had grown bored of working on Danger Man. He proposed a new show to Lew Grade (the cigar chomping head of ATV) – The Prisoner.
The plot revolves around No.6 – we know little about him, not even his name. The fantastic opening credits (above) show him resigning from some sort of governmental position, and then being abducted, and waking up in The Village – a mysterious community in an unknown location. Over the course of the series, his captors use any means necessary to find out what he knows, and why he resigned. It’s a psychological battle of wills in each episode, as each new No.2 tries and fails to break him. It’s an incredible show, well worth checking out.
But what’s particularly of interest from a graphic design point of view, is the rich use of a single typeface, Albertus, during the show.
Used far more extensively than just on the credits, the typeface appears on props and signs throughout the series. It represents the Village as much as the sets, the costumes or the characters.
Sometimes the lettering was very professionally rendered, other times slightly less so:
Occasionally another typeface sneaks in, but often this just highlights the ubiquity of Albertus everywhere else. Futura shows up a couple of times for example (decades before Wes Anderson made it his own):
The typeface was designed by Berthold Wolpe. Born in Germany, Wolpe had apprenticed at a metalworkers, becoming proficient at engraving in gold, copper and silver. He travelled to England in 1932, where he met Stanley Morison. Morison saw some photographs of a set of Wolpe’s bronze inscriptions, and asked him to create a typeface for Monotype based on the lettering. So in 1935, Monotype Series No. 324 was born: Albertus Titling.
As you can see, it’s a beautiful typeface, somewhere between a serif and a sans-serif, with a few rather tasty alternate characters, and a frankly wonderful number 2. (Oddly, it doesn’t seem as if the Titling set has ever been digitised. What’s that all about?)
The marketing material of the time described it as follows:
“It is obviously a cut, and not a drawn letter, and possesses that squareness which in Roman inscriptions so notably serves legibility; but while true to the orthodox proportions, displays a marked individuality in the treatment of detail. The main strokes so terminate that the alphabet stands midway between the classical inscriptional letter and the modern sans serif.”
Albertus Titling was uppercase only, but a lowercase set followed in 1937, with bold and light versions arriving shortly afterwards in 1940.
We’ve not been able to find any direct statements from the McGoohan or any of the other creators of the show about why Albertus was chosen. It has a strong flavour to it, which will have helped to define the Village as somewhere out of the ordinary, and perhaps its duality fits well with the feeling of the setting as somewhere both old and new.
At the time the series was made, people would mainly have been aware of the typeface thanks to Wolpe’s vast number of book covers at Faber & Faber, where he used it extensively:
But we should perhaps look a bit closer at the way Albertus was used within the show. As with all things in The Prisoner, first appearances can be deceptive.
In the opening credits, the typeface is tweaked here and there. In the instance above, the ‘G’ of McGoohan has an extended stem that drops below the baseline.
The programme’s title was carefully adapted too:
The dot of the ‘i’ has been removed, but most distinctly of all, the lowercase ‘e’ has been attacked! The right hand side of the bowl has been lopped off, so that it resembles a sort of epsilon (the fifth letter of the Greek alphabet).
This adaptation was extended across nearly all appearances of Albertus in the programme. We’ve hunted high and low for information about why this was done, but as yet we haven’t discovered any facts. Obviously it makes the typeface feel much more bespoke, but we’d love to know if there was any reason beyond that. Was it perhaps done to instil a feeling of discord?
Here’s a look at the difference between a regular setting of Albertus, and a Prisoner style setting:
We created those two slides for this post, but here’s how it looked in the show itself:
As you can see, the sign is hand-rendered, and the ‘e’s have been given their own little flared terminals. A little bit bonkers. By contrast, in the credits, the ‘e’s have clean sharp ends:
Here the ‘e’ has a distinctly even stroke, and a vertical terminal at the top:
And in fact, the lettering changes constantly throughout the show, presumably depending upon who created each piece, and how much time they had to work on it:
Check out this heavyweight version:
And what’s going on here?
That poor ‘e’ looks a little bit stretched out.
And sometimes, the customised ‘e’ was forgotten about entirely:
You can picture the scene on set when that was produced:
Art dept guy: ‘So here’s the map you asked for.’
McGoohan: ‘Great, that’s looking really… Wait. What. Is. This?’
Art dept guy: ‘Um, is something…’
McGoohan: ‘What is this ‘e’? What the hell is this ‘e’? What the bloody hell is this ‘e’ doing here? Answer me that. I want information. Information.’
And it happened more than once:
Sometimes they even got it right and wrong at exactly the same time:
Regardless of any inconsistencies though, The Prisoner is a fantastic example of using typography as a key part of the creation of a fictional world.
We’d love to know more about the specifics of why the typeface was chosen, why it was adapted, and who actually created all the props and signs. So if you know anyone involved with the show, do get in touch.
Oh, and if you’d like to play around with making your own Prisoner bits and bobs, there’s a downloadable font called Village, created by Mark Heiman in 1994 in homage to the show, which features the lopped off ‘e’, and which also has ‘i’s and ‘j’s with their dots removed.
And remember – you are not a number.
This post is an adapted version of a talk given by Alistair Hall at Grafik’s Letterform Live event on 25 February 2015. Larger images are available on Alistair’s Flickr set.