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Type is something we consume
in enormous quantities.
In much of the world,
it's completely inescapable.
But few consumers are concerned to know
where a particular typeface came from
or when or who designed it,
if, indeed, there was any human agency involved
in its creation, if it didn't just sort of materialize
out of the software ether.
But I do have to be concerned with those things.
It's my job.
I'm one of the tiny handful of people
who gets badly bent out of shape
by the bad spacing of the T and the E
that you see there.
I've got to take that slide off.
I can't stand it. Nor can Chris.
There. Good.
So my talk is about the connection
between technology and design of type.
The technology has changed
a number of times since I started work:
photo, digital, desktop, screen, web.
I've had to survive those changes and try
to understand their implications for what I do
for design.
This slide is about the effect of tools on form.
The two letters, the two K's,
the one on your left, my right, is modern,
made on a computer.
All straight lines are dead straight.
The curves have that kind of mathematical smoothness
that the Bézier formula imposes.
On the right, ancient Gothic,
cut in the resistant material of steel by hand.
None of the straight lines are actually straight.
The curves are kind of subtle.
It has that spark of life from the human hand
that the machine or the program
can never capture.
What a contrast.
Well, I tell a lie.
A lie at TED. I'm really sorry.
Both of these were made on a computer,
same software, same Bézier curves,
same font format.
The one on your left
was made by Zuzana Licko at Emigre,
and I did the other one.
The tool is the same, yet the letters are different.
The letters are different
because the designers are different.
That's all. Zuzana wanted hers to look like that.
I wanted mine to look like that. End of story.
Type is very adaptable.
Unlike a fine art, such as sculpture or architecture,
type hides its methods.
I think of myself as an industrial designer.
The thing I design is manufactured,
and it has a function:
to be read, to convey meaning.
But there is a bit more to it than that.
There's the sort of aesthetic element.
What makes these two letters different
from different interpretations by different designers?
What gives the work of some designers
sort of characteristic personal style,
as you might find in the work of a fashion designer,
an automobile designer, whatever?
There have been some cases, I admit,
where I as a designer
did feel the influence of technology.
This is from the mid-'60s,
the change from metal type to photo,
hot to cold.
This brought some benefits
but also one particular drawback:
a spacing system that only provided
18 discrete units for letters
to be accommodated on.
I was asked at this time to design
a series of condensed sans serif types
with as many different variants as possible
within this 18-unit box.
Quickly looking at the arithmetic,
I realized I could only actually make three
of related design. Here you see them.
In Helvetica Compressed, Extra Compressed,
and Ultra Compressed, this rigid 18-unit system
really boxed me in.
It kind of determined the proportions
of the design.
Here are the typefaces, at least the lower cases.
So do you look at these and say,
"Poor Matthew, he had to submit to a problem,
and by God it shows in the results."
I hope not.
If I were doing this same job today,
instead of having 18 spacing units,
I would have 1,000.
Clearly I could make more variants,
but would these three members of the family be better?
It's hard to say without actually doing it,
but they would not be better in the proportion
of 1,000 to 18, I can tell you that.
My instinct tells you that any improvement
would be rather slight, because they were designed
as functions of the system they were designed to fit,
and as I said, type is very adaptable.
It does hide its methods.
All industrial designers work within constraints.
This is not fine art.
The question is, does a constraint
force a compromise?
By accepting a constraint,
are you working to a lower standard?
I don't believe so, and I've always been encouraged
by something that Charles Eames said.
He said he was conscious of working
within constraints,
but not of making compromises.
The distinction between a constraint
and a compromise is obviously very subtle,
but it's very central to my attitude to work.
Remember this reading experience?
The phone book. I'll hold the slide
so you can enjoy the nostalgia.
This is from the mid-'70s early trials
of Bell Centennial typeface I designed
for the U.S. phone books,
and it was my first experience of digital type,
and quite a baptism.
Designed for the phone books, as I said,
to be printed at tiny size on newsprint
on very high-speed rotary presses
with ink that was kerosene and lampblack.
This is not a hospitable environment
for a typographic designer.
So the challenge for me was to design type
that performed as well as possible
in these very adverse production conditions.
As I say, we were in the infancy of digital type.
I had to draw every character by hand
on quadrille graph paper --
there were four weights of Bell Centennial —
pixel by pixel, then encode them raster line by raster line
for the keyboard.
It took two years, but I learned a lot.
These letters look as though they've been chewed
by the dog or something or other,
but the missing pixels at the intersections
of strokes or in the crotches
are the result of my studying the effects
of ink spread on cheap paper
and reacting, revising the font accordingly.
These strange artifacts are designed to compensate
for the undesirable effects of scale
and production process.
At the outset, AT&T had wanted
to set the phone books in Helvetica,
but as my friend Erik Spiekermann said
in the Helvetica movie, if you've seen that,
the letters in Helvetica were designed to be
as similar to one another as possible.
This is not the recipe for legibility at small size.
It looks very elegant up on a slide.
I had to disambiguate these forms
of the figures as much as possible in Bell Centennial
by sort of opening the shapes up, as you can see
in the bottom part of that slide.
So now we're on to the mid-'80s,
the early days of digital outline fonts,
vector technology.
There was an issue at that time
with the size of the fonts,
the amount of data that was required to find
and store a font in computer memory.
It limited the number of fonts you could get
on your typesetting system at any one time.
I did an analysis of the data,
and found that a typical serif face
you see on the left
needed nearly twice as much data
as a sans serif in the middle
because of all the points required
to define the elegantly curved serif brackets.
The numbers at the bottom of the slide, by the way,
they represent the amount of data
needed to store each of the fonts.
So the sans serif, in the middle,
sans the serifs, was much more economical,
81 to 151.
"Aha," I thought. "The engineers have a problem.
Designer to the rescue."
I made a serif type, you can see it on the right,
without curved serifs.
I made them polygonal, out of straight line segments,
chamfered brackets.
And look, as economical in data as a sans serif.
We call it Charter, on the right.
So I went to the head of engineering
with my numbers, and I said proudly,
"I have solved your problem."
"Oh," he said. "What problem?"
And I said, "Well, you know, the problem
of the huge data you require for serif fonts and so on."
"Oh," he said. "We solved that problem last week.
We wrote a compaction routine that reduces
the size of all fonts by an order of magnitude.
You can have as many fonts on your system
as you like."
"Well, thank you for letting me know," I said.
Foiled again.
I was left with a design solution
for a nonexistent technical problem.
But here is where the story sort of gets interesting for me.
I didn't just throw my design away
in a fit of pique.
I persevered.
What had started as a technical exercise
became an aesthetic exercise, really.
In other words, I had come to like this typeface.
Forget its origins. Screw that.
I liked the design for its own sake.
The simplified forms of Charter
gave it a sort of plain-spoken quality
and unfussy spareness
that sort of pleased me.
You know, at times of technical innovation,
designers want to be influenced
by what's in the air.
We want to respond. We want to be pushed
into exploring something new.
So Charter is a sort of parable for me, really.
In the end, there was no hard and fast causal link
between the technology and the design of Charter.
I had really misunderstood the technology.
The technology did suggest something to me,
but it did not force my hand,
and I think this happens very often.
You know, engineers are very smart,
and despite occasional frustrations
because I'm less smart,
I've always enjoyed working with them
and learning from them.
Apropos, in the mid-'90s,
I started talking to Microsoft
about screen fonts.
Up to that point, all the fonts on screen
had been adapted from previously existing
printing fonts, of course.
But Microsoft foresaw correctly
the movement, the stampede
towards electronic communication,
to reading and writing onscreen
with the printed output as being sort of secondary
in importance.
So the priorities were just tipping at that point.
They wanted a small core set of fonts
that were not adapted but designed for the screen
to face up to the problems of screen,
which were their coarse resolution displays.
I said to Microsoft, a typeface designed
for a particular technology
is a self-obsoleting typeface.
I've designed too many faces in the past
that were intended to mitigate technical problems.
Thanks to the engineers, the technical problems went away.
So did my typeface.
It was only a stopgap.
Microsoft came back to say that
affordable computer monitors
with better resolutions
were at least a decade away.
So I thought, well, a decade, that's not bad,
that's more than a stopgap.
So I was persuaded, I was convinced,
and we went to work on what became Verdana
and Georgia,
for the first time working not on paper
but directly onto the screen from the pixel up.
At that time, screens were binary.
The pixel was either on or it was off.
Here you see the outline of a letter,
the cap H,
which is the thin black line, the contour,
which is how it is stored in memory,
superimposed on the bitmap,
which is the grey area,
which is how it's displayed on the screen.
The bitmap is rasterized from the outline.
Here in a cap H, which is all straight lines,
the two are in almost perfect sync
on the Cartesian grid.
Not so with an O.
This looks more like bricklaying than type design,
but believe me, this is a good bitmap O,
for the simple reason that it's symmetrical
in both x and y axes.
In a binary bitmap, you actually can't ask
for more than that.
I would sometimes make, I don't know,
three or four different versions of a difficult letter
like a lowercase A,
and then stand back to choose which was the best.
Well, there was no best,
so the designer's judgment comes in
in trying to decide
which is the least bad.
Is that a compromise?
Not to me, if you are working
at the highest standard the technology will allow,
although that standard may be
well short of the ideal.
You may be able to see on this slide
two different bitmap fonts there.
The "a" in the upper one, I think,
is better than the "a" in the lower one,
but it still ain't great.
You can maybe see the effect better
if it's reduced. Well, maybe not.
So I'm a pragmatist, not an idealist,
out of necessity.
For a certain kind of temperament,
there is a certain kind of satisfaction
in doing something that cannot be perfect
but can still be done to the best of your ability.
Here's the lowercase H from Georgia Italic.
The bitmap looks jagged and rough.
It is jagged and rough.
But I discovered, by experiment,
that there is an optimum slant
for an italic on a screen
so the strokes break well
at the pixel boundaries.
Look in this example how, rough as it is,
how the left and right legs
actually break at the same level.
That's a victory. That's good, right there.
And of course, at the lower depths,
you don't get much choice.
This is an S, in case you were wondering.
Well, it's been 18 years now
since Verdana and Georgia were released.
Microsoft were absolutely right,
it took a good 10 years,
but screen displays now do have
improved spatial resolution,
and very much improved photometric resolution
thanks to anti-aliasing and so on.
So now that their mission is accomplished,
has that meant the demise
of the screen fonts that I designed
for coarser displays back then?
Will they outlive the now-obsolete screens
and the flood of new web fonts
coming on to the market?
Or have they established their own
sort of evolutionary niche
that is independent of technology?
In other words, have they been absorbed
into the typographic mainstream?
I'm not sure, but they've had a good run so far.
Hey, 18 is a good age for anything
with present-day rates of attrition,
so I'm not complaining.
Thank you.


【TED】馬修·卡特: 我與字體的一生 (Matthew Carter: My life in typefaces)

3655 分類 收藏
Mimi Chang 發佈於 2016 年 6 月 1 日
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