Trio Grotesk

I’m a sucker for certain old typeface and lettering styles (big surprise). There is something charming about the straightforward letter drawing practiced by earlier generations when what was called for was a “plain” style. There was a correct way to draw such letters: Simple skeletons with a minimum of style.

When they were freshly made, they probably did look very plain. But lack of style is an illusion. There’s no getting away from it. Tastes change and, as time passes, what was once seen as neutral becomes pegged to a particular moment in time and takes on the patina of history.

Trio Grotesk is Florian Schick‘s revival of Kaart Antieke (1909), a face that I’m sure was intended as a plain type to be used for very ordinary purposes. Its wide proportions and generous spacing would make it a good choice for small sizes. The caps remind me of American faces like Sackers Gothic and Copperplate Gothic, but the lowercase letters have more of a European feel, reminiscent of the typefaces of Jakob Erbar and the tiny lettering on old cameras and watches.

With the inclusion of useful features like small caps, dingbats, and different figure styles, it looks like it would be fun font family to use. As a type designer, I don’t get to use fonts as much as I used to. Trio Grotesk makes me wish I were still an art director.

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Pelican Covers of the 1960s

Very much a hey, look at this post, this. I’ve just seen a link to this collection on Things Magazine of Pelican Books covers for the 1960s (and each decade they were published). It’s interesting to see how the template developed along with the Penguin series until it all got a bit chaotic in the late ’70s and was discontinued in the 1980s. Joe Kral also maintains a collection of Penguin and Pelican covers on Flickr.

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Open Architecture Manifesto at Adhocracy

A couple of years ago I wrote about Kuka, the RobotLab project built to write the entire Martin Luther bible onto a long roll of paper. The robot emulates the calligraphic style replicated in the Schwabacher blackletter typeface, writing it using a pen as a (particularly neat and tireless) human might. It’s quite a lovely thing*.

I was reminded of it when I saw this project by Walter Nicolino and Carlo Ratti (of Carlo Ratti Associati). They’ve designed and built a suspended plotter to write the contents of the Open Architecture Manifesto page on Wikipedia onto a wall at the Adhocracy exhibition at the Istanbul Design Biennial. As the text on Wikipedia is updated the robot erases and rewrites the document on the wall at the exhibition.

The comparison between the two projects is perhaps obvious, that one is reproducing a historical, unchanging document, while the other reproduces a brand new, constantly-updating and ephemeral one. Indeed until the manifesto was published in Domus magazine (whose editor Joseph Grima is curator of the biennial) the article kept being deleted by Wikipedia editors.

I’m especially interested how the plotter is reproducing the text. The typeface could be Times, but the generous amount of ink the fat nib of the plotter pen puts down, and the way it outlines the characters, makes it hard to tell exactly. Also, looking at the video the output is a serif face but part of the processing (in Processing) looks like it uses something more like Verdana or Tahoma. Could be that different parts of the text are in different faces of course. Curious.

* Though some people saw it as blasphemy and a sign of the imminent demise of humanity, the Earth, and the entire universe. I had some interesting emails.

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Geometrical Psychology

I had been searching for something geometry-related when I found the Euclid book in the last post so when I found the Public Domain Review I wondered if they had anything else about the subject. Turns out they do, and I found this fascinating and somewhat bonkers book from 1887, Geometrical Psychology. Nothing to do with what I was looking for, but it has some remarkable illustrations in it where the author attempts to diagram the evolution of human consciousness. Some of my favourites:

The back of the book also has several pages of adverts for other works available from the publisher, and just the titles alone are fun to read through. Some of my favourites again:


Lunacy, drugs and booze! I’d imagine this was a rather popular set of publications.

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The First Six Books of The Elements of Euclid

A series of unsuccessful (and unrelated) searches led to the happy result of finding this book (and the site it’s on). The Public Domain Review is a fascinating collection of articles about (and a collection of) out-of-copyright texts, images and films, and somehow I’d never seen it before.

I’d seen a page from the book and thought it to be something quite modern, something produced by some later follower of De Stijl or Bauhaus (something the Public Domain Review also comments on), but it is in fact from 1847. Not something you’d associate with early Victorian publishing at all. It’s a remarkable book, and thinking back to when I first learned geometry I wondered if something like this would have helped. In all honesty (and of course entirely my opinion) I can’t say it would. The pages are a visual delight but they compel the learner not only to learn the concepts and mathematical language but a whole new graphical one too. From my memories of Euclid you need a good guiding commentary (or a good teacher, or both) rather than a new translation to help you make the necessary connections and learn the principles well.


The long-s characters and the ornamented capitals are a clue to the age of the book, but the diagrams appear very modern.

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