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The Black Review: Type Speaks

Roger Black takes a look at Type Speaks, the new book by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson, which manages to sum up all the current trends in type design and typography. “This book is an antidote for numbing corporate neo-grotesques of the past few years,” he says.

Roger counts the well-known designer/authors as friends. He worked with Steve at The New York Times “back in the 20th Century.” Gail became famous for her typography at Rolling Stone magazine, where Roger was art director in the 70s.

The book is widely available. It can bought at the Abrams Books’ site. And at Amazon .

The antidote to boring corporate type

Hi, I’m Roger Black. Today I want to tell you about a new book about type. It’s Type Speaks by Steve Heller and Gail Anderson, two of the best designers—and design experts—that I know. They’ve produced a number of books, and previously they did a book together called Type Tales. (Sounds like the title of a mystery movie.)

This new collaboration is summing up everything that’s going on in the world of type. . . in 460 pages! Fortunately, its page size is not too big—it’s like 5-3/4 x 8 inches. And it’s beautifully printed, beautifully produced, and seems to go on and on and on and on. An enormous spectrum of stuff from the very current to the atmospheric—some less obvious, some more classical. And I urge you to get it; it’s affordable, with a list price of about $30.

Let’s go through a few of the images in the book, all of which are beautifully captioned and credited.

Here’s a layout from footwear magazine by Trevett McCandless and Nancy Campbell who are other friends.

And this is a Variable typeface. All these letters are coming out of one font. It’s kind of amazing. It’s called Decovar. It was produced for Google Fonts by David Berlow, the founder of Font Bureau and Type Network.

Going back in time a bit, here’s a studio called 2xGoldstein, that revived a Bauhaus font and put it on a theater poster. This is classic 20s modernism—almost constructivism—at work.

In the modern school of thought, there’s a wonderful brand font for the sportswear line, Daash, by Tré Seals. The typography enhances the type, and these examples remind you that the layouts can make all the difference. That is: How you put it together, how color can set off the type, and how you make it works with images.

Here’s one that is actually for IBM (the poster on the right), done in the 60s, by a designer named Tom Bluhm for IBM itself, and the font is Helvetica. You gotta love that.

An expressive set a set of work by Andrei Robu showing animation stills. This is type in motion. So, while the font itself may be relatively straightforward, Robu makes it go, literally Really fun.

Going to fine art, we have Alejandro Paul from Argentina, who designed a typeface, Enterline, working with the Buenos Aires artist Sael. A kind of brand font for an artist. Beautiful, expressive piece.

The designer Martin Vanezky, did a mural (left) which was for Facebook, believe it or not. An amazing bit of wall type.

Here’s the somewhat more familiar James Edmondson, with a very, very extreme slab—an elephant slab.

Then we have one of the one of the great type characters himself: Dan Ratigan, formerly Fontshop, formerly Adobe, now doing a lot of writing. He put the fonts on himself. Kind of astonishing. And I love how well they’re done. And here there’s an index, naming 20-25 fonts, the names of of the designers.

Here we have a very skinny sans, called Cinderblock from Stefan Kjartansdon. The comes in other widths, but all very bold.

A flabbergasting bit of work in a more cerebral tone: Peter Bil’ak’s Wind, which is a pixel font that is ethereal and kind of wonderful.


In a short section on Bil’ak, there is also a typeface called History. This headline all styles of the one typeface, stacked up and put in different colors to create shadows and outlines around the letters. Really fascinating.

Going all the way to painting in three dimensions is, this work by Jordan Metcalf, which was done for an edition of GQ magazine. Almost scuptural title pages. But you can read them!

More 3-d. The left is by designer named Eric Brechbühl for a theater. This is just Futura Bold, but its sliding through that picket fence in a delightful way. This shows that you can take a face that almost 100 years old, and use it in an extremely contemporary way. The type on the right is kind of a truth, with the font Truth First by Leander Eisenmann.

Here’s an amazing tribute to the Venezuelan designer Rene Wanner (right) by Cedomir Kostovic. The typeface is just Helvetica. But look at the work that was done, redrawing it, photographing it curled up, and adding color. Pretty astonishing.

Some of the book, you see, gets way expressive, almost non-Latin. Here is a cover for the New York Times Magazine (left), beautifully laid out by Nancy Harris Rumi, with an exquisite script by Patrick Griffin from Canada Type. (He is Canada Type.) From farther south comes a script by Ale Paul, Seashore Pro, which has an almost Arabic feel.

Here’s a font that I can’t read, but I love. This is called Tip Boogie, by Julien Priez. Fairly recent stuff: It kind of brings you up to date.

Here is a statement on diversity that was done by Juan Carlos Pagan, who you probably know. It’s interesting how the word, diversity, is illustrated as a collage of many typefaces and colors.

Taking another sans serif classic, Akzidenz Grotesk, and with lettering the extremes of “order” and “chaos.” This was done by Peter Crawley.

And then, finally, I’ll show one page from the book (right) This is what I would call concrete poetry. It’s done by leaving out and building in the shapes of letterforms within text. And the text is actually an essay by the magician, David Copperfield, which ran in Maxim magazine. Designed by David Zamdmer and Matt Dorfman.

There is a ridiculous amount of work in this impressive book, and I have just skimmed the surface. Thank you for reading. If you liked it, get the book! It’s in all bookstores and online. Type Speaks, by Steven Heller and Gail Anderson. And tell them I sent you.

—Roger Black