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Drop #323 (2023-08-22): Typography Tuesday
Five Boxing Wizards; Creative Matters; If The Text Don't Fit…
I took our recurring theme into a slightly different direction, today, with two sections looking at some indirect but quite fundamental aspects of typesetting.
This is an AI-generated summary of today's Drop.
I went back to Anthropic's Claude with a more explicit prompt:
"There are three primary sections in the attached document. Each introduces a resource that is related to typography. Please provide a short summary of each in bullet list form and make sure you include a link to the primary resource mentioned in each section with the bullets."
It gave me three main bullets, but also three bullets per bullet. Sigh. So I clarified:
"I need each bullet to just be a sentence. No sub-bullets, please."
and, it did what I asked but forgot the links.
After this follow-up:
"you need to re-add the links."
I had two workable bullets. The middle one was just horrible, and I ended up writing the summary myself.
“Five Boxing Wizards” discusses pangrams, sentences that use every letter of the alphabet, and links to the history of the “quick brown fox” pangram: https://oztypewriter.blogspot.com/2013/01/on-this-day-in-typewriter-history-quick.html
“Creative Matters” provides links to fonts that Monotype released for free during the start of the pandemic: https://www.monotype.com/resources/expertise/creativematters-challenge-recap
“If The Text Don't Fit” explains techniques like the Knuth-Plass algorithm for fitting text neatly into layouts and links to an experimental typesetting platform: https://github.com/didierverna/etap
Five Boxing Wizards
Did you know that the land speed velocity of an unladen fox can reach nigh 40 mph (ca. 64 km/h)? That is, indeed, quick! Though, it is not the fastest land beast on our decaying planet, by a long shot.
I mention said noble 🦊 since most readers are very likely familiar with the phrase “The quick, brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.” Those of us of a certain age group will — with varying degrees of fondness or frown — no doubt remember typing that text repeatedly on some form of mechanical typewriter. All of us, however, have almost certainly seen that sentence when hunting around on the internets for a typeface to use.
That foxy phrase is known as a pangram, and pangrams hold a special place in the hearts of true typography nerds. These sentences demonstrate a font's qualities by using every letter of the alphabet. But pangrams have a rich history beyond typography too.
They first appeared centuries ago as practice for scribes and typesetters. But their ubiquity rose in the 20th century as a way to test typewriters and keyboards. The “fox” likely emerged in the late 1800s, and the phrase itself has some interesting lore. Since then, its brevity, ease of remembrance, and demonstration of every English letter cemented its status. During WWII, Western Union even used it to test Telex transmissions (you can read about that here). By the 1970s, it had become the standard pangram.
There are, however, many alternatives. You may have seen one, or more, of these on various typeface collection sites:
Sphinx of Black Quartz, Judge My Vow
How vexingly quick daft zebras jump
Bright vixens jump; dozy fowl quack
The five boxing wizards jump quickly
Pack my box with five dozen liquor jugs
Crazy Frederick bought many very exquisite opal jewels.
There's also nothing stopping you from making your own pangram.
One of my favorites (since visiting Ísland) is “Kæmi ný öxi hér, ykist þjófum nú bæði víl og ádrepa.” It (roughly) translates to “If a new axe were here, thieves would feel increasing deterrence and punishment”. Amazingly, it contains all 32 letters in the Icelandic alphabet including the vowels with diacritics (á, é, í, ó, ú, ý, and ö) as well as the letters ð, þ, and æ.
The next time you're “font shopping”, test out some of the less common phrases if a site boringly leaves with only the 🦊.
During some of the most challenging times in the first year of our continuing pandemic, Monotype — a typography industrial icon — had a series of posts, projects, and campaigns aimed at designers to help them help others.
Prompted by a call from the U.N./WHO, one of these efforts was dubbed “#CreativeMatters”. They challenged designers (on Instagram) to come up with elements that would help folks make their way through the then, uncharted territory.
Monotype also released five free typefaces for those challenges that you can still download and use, today (after accepting a license agreement):
Given some of the charts I've seen in the last week, or so, I felt compelled to drop these fonts today.
I used one of the pangrams in the first section to showcase each font in this section's headers.
If The Text Don't Fit…
Before the advent of digital technology, typesetting was a manual process that involved arranging metal or wooden type blocks on a printing press. Typesetters would meticulously place individual letters, spaces, and punctuation marks on a composing stick, which was then transferred to a printing press to create a page of text.
One of the primary challenges faced by typesetters was fitting text into a given space while maintaining readability and aesthetic appeal. They had to consider factors such as line length, line spacing, and word spacing to create a balanced and visually pleasing layout. To achieve this, typesetters often employed a technique called “justification,” which involved adjusting the spacing between words and characters to create evenly aligned margins.
With the advent of our silicon overlords, the process of fitting text into a given space has become more automated and sophisticated. There are several algorithms and techniques used for text wrapping and layout, including:
the “greedy” algorithm: a method that places as many words as possible on each line until the line width is exceeded. It then moves to the next line and repeats the process. This approach is simple to implement, but may result in suboptimal line breaks and uneven spacing.
the Knuth-Plass algorithm (direct PDF), which is named after its creators Donald Knuth and Michael Plass. It is more sophisticated than the greedy algorithm, and considers the entire paragraph and optimizes line breaks to minimize the “badness” of the layout, which is a measure of the unevenness of spacing between words and lines.
and, hyphenation, a topic I droned on about a bit ago.
There are others, and you can explore all of them with the Experimental Typesetting Algorithms Platform, a Common Lisp application — pictured above — that lets you play with the typeface features. Despite a somewhat manual installation process, if you follow the instructions in that repo, you should be up and running with it in under five minutes depending on internet speeds.
I’m not quite sure what’s up with the font rendering, and will test this out on a non-macOS beta system and linux later today and report back. Drop a note wherev if you try it out and have less janky rendering.
I didn't quite know how to slipstream the following into the last section, but just had to include it. “Automatic Typographic-Quality Typesetting Techniques: A State-of-the-Art Review” was a report produced by Mary Elizabeth Stevens and John L. Little in the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Bureau of Standards back in 1967. I can't imagine what it was like producing things like that back in the day. ☮
oh, yeah, we're still in a pandemic btw