The pixelated papyrus
18 June 2002
When Henry Ford made the remark that you could buy his splendid new Model-T automobile in any colour, as long as it was black, nobody was too concerned. Neither did the fact that they could have it in any shape, as long as it looked like a horse-drawn carriage – without the horse. This is a good example of design being evolutionary rather than revolutionary and dictated by the technology available at the time.
Movable type was introduced in the middle of the fifteenth century, similarly it was no big surprise that the letterforms mimicked the hand-drawn characters that preceded them.
Later, when what we have now come to recognise as serif typefaces were introduced, it must have been very difficult to manually carve those fine, tapering shapes into hard metal to make the punches. Although letters carved in stone benefit from serifs to stop the strokes from splitting, there is little logical justification for appending them to metal type, yet ‘Roman’ serifed letterforms were the norm for many centuries. Although sans-serif letterforms appeared earlier, they didn’t really come into popular use before the halcyon days of the Bauhaus in the 1920s.
Type design too, has evolved – very slowly…
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