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Baseline Cover Issue 14


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Cover: Spread from the Haas foundry’s original specimen book for Neue Haas Grotesk, which became Helvetica, from 1951–1953


Editorial Mike Daines

The great ‘Mac’ debate continues. It has several threads and doesn’t quite resolve to the traditionalist versus the robo-typographer. A commonly heard theme amongst those genuinely concerned about the maintenance of standards is a fear for the loss of ‘craft’ in typography. In this issue of Baseline Karen Wilks pursues this argument; if the computer is a timesaver does it also de-skill a generation of typographers?

‘Craft’ is easier to see when examining the fine calligraphy of Donald Jackson. When lettering becomes an art form at this level then the skills associated with craftsmanship are clear and undeniable. Clear, too, is the level of the skill at the heart of the typeface design of Roger Excoffon. This is technique combined with originality, another quality certainly threatened by the computer assembly of easy elements.

But is it necessarily true that substituting a keyboard for a pen or a composing stick will lead inevitably to superficial design and pastiche? There is a proven relationship between the tactile elements of lettering and the letterforms themselves. Was there also an underestimated value in the mechanical constraints imposed by type with boundaries of metal?

At the heart of fine design and typography lies clarity of thought and purpose. Jan Tschichold’s ‘New’ typography created a set of rules, designed to bring order out of chaos, that inspired not only his contemporaries but a whole typographic movement. We admire, and some copy, the Swiss typography of the 50’s and 60’s because we see sense in the careful ordering of the elements of layout. These are examples of the ‘craft’ of typography, the conscious application of fresh design ideas within the constraints imposed by legibility and the need for clear communication. Finding out about the basic principles of type and typography is the starting point for the typographic wisdom which will defend design against the computer-led assault on standards.

There is no automatic link between the use of a computer keyboard and loss of skill and originality. Education is essential to provide that detailed awareness of the centuries of thought which lie behind successful visual presentation of information. Manual craft skills are a vital ingredient in the typographic world but clarity of thought, combined with educated awareness, is what will guide the proper application of computers to design. Then we will achieve the craft of computer-generated typography.

Mike Daines

Reviews Editorial team
Graphic Design as a Life Art Prof. Hans-Rudolph Lutz
Donald Jackson Margot Coatts
Craft Karen Wilks
Image from article Image from article

In the last issue of Baseline (Bodoni) we asked Malcolm Garrett to give us his reasons why he feels that the graphic design world cannot ignore the use of technology such as the Apple Macintosh. We hoped then that somebody would offer an alternative view. Karen Wilks, a graphic designer working in London, has provided another viewpoint. One in which she argues that irreplaceable craft and individualism may be lost through an over reliance on technology and that they may probably be just too great a price to pay.

Today graphic designs faces the reality of the print-houses once again becoming designers with their desktop publishing systems;

Design has come a full circle as the industry originated in just the same way; ‘the look of the page was decided by the printer who locked up the type on the press’. – Loraine Wild.

At the turn of the century the visual vocabulary that these printers employed in designing posters gave their work a brutal charm that appeals through its naivety today. It is a vocabulary shaped by the limitations of wood and metal letters. Part of this appeal may be purely nostalgic, but why does the design work produced by printers today on DTP systems not have this charm that the work of their forefather had? Perhaps it is its polished appearance on screen, the continual distraction offered by the computer nudging you towards countless cosmetic options. Or the fact that it is, at this level, (with its production managers disguised as designers), design by program, lifeless step by step, no-risk easy stages without any intuitive element like those employed by their great-grandfathers’ when making up their mosaic block of letters…

Karen Wilks

Dante’s Inferno – Barrie Tullet Editorial team
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Dante’s ‘Inferno’ has been a source of inspiration for artists for centuries. The descriptive cantos which form the basis of the work are imaginative parables of what awaits Man once his earthly time has expired. The work has recently emerged as the major influence on a young typographer, newly graduated from the Chelsea School of Art in London…

Editorial team

The Sans Serif and the Swiss style Mike Daines
Product types Paul Priestman
Roger Excoffon Julia Thrift
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However you travel to France, by plane or boat, the chances are that you will see some of Roger Excoffon’s typography within minutes of arriving in the country. If it is not the tail of a plane bearing the Air France logo, designed by Excoffon in 1958, it will be a delivery lorry leaving the port with its company name set in Banco, Choc or Mistral, three of his most distinctive typefaces…

Julia Thrift

ITC Editorial team
Printing Pouchée’s patterns Merlin James
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The difficulties of printing from historic types and pictorial blocks are by no means unfamiliar at I.M. Imprimit, the London print studio of Ian Mortimer. A range of hand presses at the studio produce impressions form printing surfaces as various and problematic as fragile sixteenth-
century hey-day or the twentieth-century revival of wood-engraving; rare wood and foundry-
types in the press’s own collection; diverse lino and wood blocks of contemporary artists’ prints…

Merlin James

Desert Island Type (John McConnell) John McConnell
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In each issue of Baseline we invite a well-known artist/designer to choose his or her favourite pieces of typography to take with them to a desert island. For this issue we have asked John McConnell, partner at the international design consultancy Pentagram. Before joining Pentagram in 1974 he ran his own design practice and co-founded the company Face Photosetting. He has won many international design awards and in 1987 was made a Royal Designer for Industry…

John McConnell

Reviews Editorial team

©1991 Published by Esselte Letraset Ltd.