Notes On – The Origins of Type and Typography

The Origins of Type and Typography


Movable type was developed in the fifteenth century allowing widespread printing of works to develop during the Renaissance. Johann Gutenberg from Germany is credited with having pioneered the printing process publishing about 200 copies of the bible around 1455. It was printed using a gothic blackletter typeface called Textura.


German Fust takes over Gutenburg’s workshop in 1455 and prints the Mainz Psalter in 1457 which combines printed type with woodcut illustrations. Wood cuts and metal type are made to the same thickness allowing them to be printed together.


Koberger prints the Nuremburg Chronicle where text and illustrations appear on the same page.

1300 – 1600 The Renaissance


Roman style typefaces emerge in Venice. The Renaissance refers to the rebirth of interest in the classical culture of ancient Greece and Rome. Italian scholars known as Humanists adopt a style of handwriting known as Carolingian Minuscule based on the writing style of the Carolingian Empire. In the late 15th Century, this style became known as Humanist Minuscule and formed the basis for Roman type.

Printing played a significant part in the advancements of scholarship during the Renaissance.

Roman typefaces are classed as Old Style, Transitional and Modern.


Claude Garamond (France) creates Garamond types which are lighter and more refined. Garamond also creates the first type foundry, making copies of his faces to sell to other printers.

16th Century

Blackletter typefaces gradually disappear in France, replaced by Roman typefaces. Roman type becomes associated with French and Italian publishing and Blackletter with German.

17th Century

Transitional typefaces are developed. In France, the king commissioned a new royal typeface called Romain du Roi (Roman of the king). This type was probably the first time a grid was used to design a font representing a move of type design towards more scientific approach.


Fournier (France) developed the first point system for measuring type.


Englishman William Calson sets up a type foundry in London. Calson typeface was extensively used and encapsulated English national identity.


John Baskerville sets up a printing business in Birmingham. Baskerville creates a transitional typeface with very fine stroke widths. In order to print his typefaces accurately he invented a number of new innovations to the printing process including hot pressing.

Late 18th Century

Modern typefaces appear with a large contrast between thick and thin strokes and hairline serifs. 1783 Firmin Didot (french) creates modern roman type Didot.

Didot type is refined and taken up in Italy by Bodoni.

19th Century

The birth of graphic design.

Interesting Things – Women’s Rights are Human Rights Posters

Interesting blog post article in Eye magazine reviewing the US exhibition “Women’s Rights are Human Rights: International Posters on Gender-based Inequality, Violence and Discrimination”, shown in 2016. The exhibition highlights how women are agents for global change.

There are some very powerful, clever and though provoking images!

‘Apricot rose’ by Volontaire (Malin Åkersten Triumf and Yasin Lekorchi) with a photograph by Niklas Alm for Amnesty International, 2007.

I found this image really quite distressing. I’m a bit distracted though as I don’t know what the background is or what the brown splodge at the lower right of the image is… is that part of the message?

Unicef poster reading ‘More Education for Girls in Islamic Countries’ designed by FCB Kobza, Austria, 2012.

Mohammad Sharaf, Allowed, 2013. In Saudi Arabia, the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Vice has decided to allow women to ride bikes, as long as it is not for the purpose of transportation, and only if they are accompanied by a male guardian.

This was such a bizarre illustration that I had to look closer to find out more.. then I found out what a bizarre situation it was referring to!!!

Artists – Albert Exergian

These minimalist poster designs for TV programmes by Albert Exergain are witty, entertaining and extremely clever and effective. They are an excellent example of how a designer can communicate to his/her audience with a really good understanding of the symbols that audience will understand.

For each poster, one or two very simple, graphic images are used with blocks of flat colour to reinforce the title of the TV programme. The posters include the name of the programme at the top but you really have to know the programme to ‘get’ the poster. I think it would be very difficult to understand the poster without the programme title. However, it almost became like a game to me to go through these posters and see if I could understand the image on the poster.

Some posters used very iconic colours and symbols:

Anyone who knows Knight Rider knows what this is an image of!

Others were more subtle..

If you watched the Sopranos, you know that the table at the back of the Italian restaurant, with the gingham table cloth, was where they sat to discuss their mafia business.

Another interesting thing that I feel, looking at these posters, is that if I understand it, there is a sense that I belong ‘in the club’.


Notes On – The Importance of Cultural Awareness in Graphic Design

Successful graphic communication depends on an understanding of ‘how people live’, for example, their cultural, social and political interests.

A ‘culture’ is effectively every small or local way of doing things, each ‘way of being’.

For example:

Culture can be related to place: National, regional and local cultures. They can also be related to gender, ethnicity, identity, interests, politics  etc.

Each ‘culture’ is defined by a set of codes that forms the basis of communication. Designers must understand these visual codes, signs and symbols that people use to give shape and meaning to their lives, so that they can communicate visually to them in their ‘language’, using signs and symbols that they will understand.

The culture of others is the graphic designer’s medium.

Good design is ‘invisible’. i.e. the design does not detract from or interfere with the message.

Good design is not about ‘how it should look’ but what is should do. Design is not about satisfying the designer. It is about meeting the needs of those being designed for. “Form follows function”.

To understand a design problem we must first understand the nature of the people we design for – we must understand their culture. This knowledge can be GENERAL (broad knowledge of the world) and EPISODIC (more detailed and specific knowledge required for a single job). Having a good broad knowledge of the world helps designers to identify the right sources of episodic knowledge (..we know what we don’t know).

Design problems are described as WICKED PROBLEMS, a term originally used in social planning. The term ‘Wicked’ comes from their resistance to being resolved. Wicked problems are complex and difficult to solve because of incomplete, contradictory and changing requirements. Every wicked problem is effectively unique, there is no clear ‘end point’ to a solution and there is no one ‘right’ solution.

Interesting Things – Graphic Novels in Education

I just happened to catch a piece recently on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme about how the graphic novel can be used in educating adults in complex subjects.

The guest being interviewed was Nicola Streeten, who herself had written a graphic novel about dealing with grief and had been researching the use of graphic novels in education of adults. Her theory was because graphic novels were entertaining to read and distilled information down into its most critical points, people were more likely to be engaged with what they were reading and more likely to remember it, than if they read a text book with few images.

Like most people, I always associated graphic novels with children and comics so was really interested in this piece as, when I thought about it, it made perfect sense. There are many many times that I have got to the bottom of a page in a text book and realised I haven’t taken in any of it.

I have since found a graphic novel explaining economics – ‘Economix – How and Why Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work) in Words and Pictures’ by Michael Goodwin and Dan E. Burr

Nicola Streeten’s interview on Radio 4 is here:

Her website is here:




Exercise 1.1

Try to communicate the name of a TV programme, film or book using only drawing.

The approach I took with this exercise was to draw pictures to represent 10 recent films. I drew the images in advance of showing them to my target audience.. my husband. This was a really interesting exercise – I know how my husband thinks (or I thought I did!!) and I also know which films he has seen and not seen, and I was absolutely convinced that he would easily be able guess the films in my drawings. I deliberately chose some films that my husband had seen and some that he had not.

The Drawings

The Results

  1. The Revenant – Guessed after a bit of thought
  2. Arrival – I thought this was so obvious but my husband just couldn’t get it. The ‘star fish’ on the window to me was a give away clue (it is a very iconic part of the film) but my husband thought it was a broken window so it confused him rather than helped!
  3. The Lady in the Van – despite virtually saying the film title, my husband couldn’t guess this.
  4. Interstellar – Guessed quickly
  5. Divergent – Could not guess
  6. The Hurt Locker – Guessed quickly
  7. Bridge of Spies – Guessed quickly
  8. Dallas Buyers Club – Guessed eventually but kept saying the ‘Texas Buyer’s Club’ because I had drawn the state of Texas.
  9. The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel – Couldn’t guess this. He said afterwards that the thumb did not represent ‘best’ to him and the marigold was too small so he didn’t consider it an important part of the clue.
  10. Under the Skin – Guessed eventually but kept saying ‘Under the Bear Skin’ (to my intense irritation!). Afterwards he said that he found the bear too dominant within the clue.

General Thoughts

My husband found the drawings where the title of the film was literally spelt out, such as The Revenant or The Hurt locker, were easier to guess than those that were more abstract such as ‘Arrival’ or ‘Divergent’.

Stereotypes were my friend with this exercise. For example, my stereotype image of a spy allowed my husband to immediately understand the drawing.

Elements of the image which I thought were irrelevant were in some cases very distracting, such as for ‘Under the Bear Skin’. The size of elements of the drawing were also important as their size implied relevance to the clue.

Exhibitions – American Dream. Pop to the Present

I recently went to see this exhibition at the British Museum. The exhibition showcases how American artists used print in creative and innovative ways to react to the way the changing face of the US from the 1960s to the present day.

I really enjoyed this exhibition and found it fascinating. Print is something I know very little about and it was very interesting to see the different styles of image created by different techniques such as lithography, lino cut, screen printing, etching etc. It was also fascinating to see how the trends in artistic style changed from pop art in the 60s through to abstration, minimalism, photo realism, activism etc.

One thing I particularly liked about this exhibition was that it felt quite ‘accessible’ to me. Very often, when I visit a contemporary art or photography exhibition, I can’t make any sense of what the image is trying to convey unless I read the caption next to the art work. The prints in the ‘American Dream’ exhibition just seemed to be a bit clearer in what they were communicating. The artwork in the exhibition, just felt a little less ‘elistist’. Given that print is used for mass communication, it made sense to me that an artwork in print should be more ‘understandable’.

Some highlights of the exhibition for me:

Ed Ruscha – Made in California 1971

This image made my mouth water! It eludes to the warm sunshine of California and the oranges that grow there. The text looks like liquid orange juice.  I could really feel the warmth of the sun and the thirst quenching effect of the juice in this image.

Ed Ruscha – Standard Station 1966 (Colour Screen Print)

This image was based on Ed Ruscha’s series of photographs ‘Twenty Six Gasoline Stations’. I recognised it straight away as I like the Gasoline Stations photographs. This is a very graphical, stylised image of what would otherwise be a mundane object.

Sam Francis – Always In and Out of Need 1976

I liked the abstract nature of this print. It was intriguing to look at.

Dottie Attie – Mother’s Kisses 1982

I really liked this work! The piece consisted of a sketch of  ‘An Allegory with Venus and Cupid’ by Bronzino (painted in approx 1545). In a glass case below it, there were a series of cut out details from the sketch, e.g. a hand or lips, mounted in small squares and each between each detail, was a short piece of text, giving the feel of a graphic novel telling the story of the image. The text alluded to the somewhat incestuous nature of the drawing, as it is Cupid, kissing his mother, Venus, on the lips.

(I also discovered that Cupid’s foot in the original painting is the foot that features in the opening credits of Monty Python’s Flying Circus :-))

Robert Motherwell – Automatism B (Lithograph)

Again, I really liked the bold, abstract nature of this image. Automatism refers to a technique used by surrealist artists where the hand is allowed to move freely across the paper, allowing the subconscious mind to create the artwork.

Interesting Things – Penguin Book Covers

I spotted these in a bookshop today..

I was instantly intrigued and had to go and investigate.  The books where sitting on a shelf in the ‘Fiction’ section, alongside all the other books, but why was the title and author of the book blacked out?

I had to pick up one of the books and look really closely to see that it was actually a copy of 1984 by George Orwell.

I thought this was a totally genius way of displaying the title of this particular book!

Artists – Allie Brosch

Just by chance, I happened to hear a short piece on BBC Radio 4 recently about the graphic novel as a form of communication. The piece argued that the visual element of the drawings mixed with short pieces of text  distilled information into its most important points and made it much easier for the reader to absorb and retain. As such, graphic novels and ‘comic’ formats had a valid place in education of adults, i.e. they’re not just for children.

Anyway, knowing nothing about this genre, I started doing a bit of web surfing and found this blog: Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosch.

Apart from the stories of Allie as a hyperactive child, constantly getting into trouble, which I found both incredibly funny and totally adorable, I really liked the illustrations. They are incredibly simple and child-like but convey so much emotion! With just a few simple, wobbly strokes of a pen, I can absolutely relate to little Allie’s determination frustration and pain at being denied cake by her Mum! The illustrations were made in MicroSoft Paint, which just goes to show that you don’t have to be a highly accomplished artist or software wizard to produce amazing digital art.

Allie Brosch – from her blog post ‘The God of Cake’