Harry Turner's Episodes of Personal History
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Philip has also complained at all the extraneous fonts that come with some programs, and the amount of zapping that has to be done to keep things manageable. With our limited memory [hard disk space Ed.], I limited the fonts installed on the 386 to a select few that I knew would be useful; there just didn't seem any point in loading the machine up with a vast array of fonts we were unlikely ever to use.

It seems a pity that in the early days of computers, there were few, if any, programmers with a real appreciation of typography... how else explain the predilection for Times New Roman as a default font, when it was primarily designed for newspaper use, i.e. intended specifically to be set in narrow columns, and be of a weight that would survive casting in linotype metal slugs, being assembled as a page, over which a flexible mat is impressed, from which a curved metal printing plate is finally cast. Times survives all that and works fine in those circumstances, but visually it leaves much to be desired when put to blanket use as an all-purpose typeface.

At least the typewriter gave you a limited choice—pica or elite—and then we moved on to daisywheel models, with a wider choice of styles (even Cyrillic), which seemed quite a breakthrough. Now, anything's possible. But there are all sorts of subtleties to be considered if many of the faces available are used as they were intended. Like this Papyrus face, as it's presented, is not sufficiently leaded: the spacing between the lines needs opening up slightly so that ascenders do not foul the descenders of the line above. (Note for example that g/h and g/d sequence at the start of the lines above). I've had to open it up by 0.05" to achieve this present spacing. [OTHER on the Layout menu, then PRINTER FUNCTIONS, then LEADING ADJUSTMENT]. So why didn't the installers sort that out beforehand?

In the days of metal type there would have been no complications: the metal base on which the individual characters appeared would have automatically determined the basic visual spacing of the lines, and any increase required in the space between lines would have been made by dropping a strip of metal between the lines of type. The automatic imposition of these restrictions was lost as soon as photo-typesetting replaced cast metal. Now there's too much freedom and too many amateurs floundering in it...

Wow, you've got me on a hobby-horse again!

Was doing a listing of all typefaces currently available on No.2 computer; you have reminded me that I intended to revamp the file as a more convenient A5 folder that can be kept handy for quick reference. Will run off a copy to pass on... I reckon this selection is sufficiently varied to meet most eventualities. The typewriter faces were included to cope with producing (near) facsimiles of old fanzine pages, incidentally, and are unlikely to be used for text otherwise! Can't honestly see the average computer user using these thousands of typefaces that some progs boast! Rather like these zillions of colours that allegedly can be summoned up... how often d'you need ‘em? ■

Letter to Brian Varley, October 1998.


Our 386 Fontlist was not produced from a built-in prog; it's a home-made document, done to provide a brief, handy reference when inspiration is needed, or a name/style refuses to come to mind. (Having memorised, over the years, the names that typefaces were given by the designers, it's annoying to have so many familiar faces now given unrelated fancy names by computer software folk; like I notice that Optima has been redubbed Omega on your listing for no very good reason. And there are several, like Griffon [is actually Graphique] and Gourmand [is actually Garamond], on my listing that are pointless misnomers). ■

Letter to Brian Varley, October 1998.


Have had to learn a lot of new tricks in struggling to complete that job: the Corel update from WordPerf 6 to 8 seems to have introduced a plethora of niggling variations in procedures without any noticeable efforts to smooth out and simplify routines. But no doubt I'll get used to it!

However one BIG plus point with the Pentium is the facility to play a CD while you are working: that relieves a considerable amount of the frustration that accrues when you have to learn new ways of doing old tricks. Like right now I'm listening to the "Complete Birth of the Cool" CD, which rolled up on Saturday. It combines both studio sessions and live broadcast material: and provides soothing background music to my computer struggles... except when Kenny Hagood starts vocalising!

"More fonts, more interest" doesn't strike me as a very helpful or particularly true statement, when it comes to designing booklets. A single font can have plenty of variety through different sizes, weights [light, medium, bold], an italic version [also in different weights], and perhaps a decorative version too. So my aim would be to settle on a suitable font as a basic type face for the "editorial" setting of a booklet or magazine to give it a unified look and sense of continuity as the reader turns over the pages.

An occasional change of typeface may be helpful to give emphasis or contrast, but a riot of different fonts doesn't help readability. Though there isn't a neat set of typographical rules that can be blindly applied to ensure success. It's largely a matter of experience in finding out what works in creating pages that guide the reader's eyes through the text so that he/she absorbs the meaning, without necessarily being aware of the typographic stratagems employed. ■

Letter to Brian Varley, November 1998.


Note that Peter Mandelson's liking for Arial has dampened your enthusiasm for the face. My response to the claims of "fontology" is as cagey as my reaction to the wofflings of "graphologists" on character revealed through handwriting... The font names thrown out in that article just highlight what chaos the computer software folk have brought to the once sober subject of typography.

Once upon a time, the accepted names bestowed on typefaces were traditional, based on early typefounders' designs, or copyright tradenames of modern foundries. Things got a little out of hand when transfer lettering sheets came on the market, with lookalike (or almost lookalike) fonts given fancy names to dodge copyright complications, a tendency that carried over as photosetting began to replace metal typesetting.

Then the computer software people were caught up in this trend. Plus the additional complication that marketing arrangements in the US and rest of the world often affected the choice of name. However, things have now settled down somewhat, but while the legal rights of the original copyright holders are generally respected, there has been little attempt at standardisation of names.

Consult the Corel WordPerf8 listing of available fonts, and you find that an alphabet may have two or more names—one that of the original typefounder, the other bestowed, under licence, by software companies like Bitstream Inc, Esselte Letraset, Corel Corp. Thus this particular face started out as Optima, by Linotype AG, turns up as Optimum under TrueType, and is dubbed Zapf Humanist by Bitstream.

I guess it's high time they got their act together and sorted things out... Must confess that the fancy names scattered about that Observer article sound as if they're all from a software listing of otherwise stock-in-trade fonts! ■

Letter to Brian Varley, November 1998.

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