Sign of no Butey

Pic: The Herald

The ongoing court case involving sometime Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond has led to the use of a number of external shots of Bute House, his official Edinburgh residence when he held the post.

Am I the only one (© “Angry of Tunbridge Wells”) to notice the appalling line break on the big brass sign fixed to its railings?

Official Residence of The
First Minister

There would have been a stern red correction mark on the proof if, in the 1970s, I had ever sent a page in this style to my old Folio Society boss Tim Wilkinson. He would also have tightened the leading.

Reithian values: a new typeface for the BBC

The BBC’s newish corporate typeface Reith is being slowly bedded in across the corporation’s many platforms. Designed by the foundry Dalton Maag with wide user consultation inside the BBC, it made its first appearance during 2018. The early spring of 2019 saw the typeface’s arrival on online sports pages and in the summer it began to be used for on-screen graphics (see above; go to this article for several more screenshots). The serif and sans serif blend very nicely in the examples shown.

The ten minute film on the first link above serves as an excellent introduction to the importance of typography in presenting a huge corporation’s image to the world, as well as some delightful detail. I particularly liked the description of how the letter Q was designed. Altering the descender so that it stayed level with the baseline has made it much easier to use in all-caps settings. There is a lovely little piece of animation in the film at about 5.57 mins showing this:

Getting back to real life use, the Reith Sans cap Q can be seen at work in this screenshot from BBC Sport:

Contrast this with the Helvetica Q still being used on the news site:

What is slightly odd is that the news screenshot shows that in fact the descender on a Helvetica cap Q doesn’t extend below the baseline. The same is true in Arial, although it does in other sans serifs such as Gill Sans and Verdana:

So it’s probably a good idea to build a descender-free set of caps to future-proof against some other sans serif turning up in a CSS sub-menu.

As an afterthought I must say that, as a fully paid-up member of the Matthew Carter fan club, I still quite like Verdana. I’m not sure exactly when the BBC stopped using it, but I found this rather charming example on a page created in 2005.

Close, touching

Pic: Nick Shinn on Typedrawers

A great post on the Typedrawers forum reminded me of what typesetting sometimes looked like in the 1970s. Throughout much of this time I worked for the Folio Society as a publicity and production assistant. Part of my job was to design and create the artwork for publicity material – including prospectuses, forms and flyers – and press ads. Most of the typesetting for these items was still done in hot metal from various specialist Monotype houses: I still have the specimen book from the one we used most, Watkins Repro Services. After proofing, the final ‘report quality’ pulls were done on a special press on baryta paper, which gave a lovely crisp finish to the typesetting.

Less often, we used output from the various phototypesetting companies: I remember that we had a big set of ringbinders which contained the Conways catalogue, and there were others as well. I would use this for headlines if we needed a particular typeface which wasn’t available in Monotype. It was while first ordering this kind of typesetting that I came across the need for specifying letterspacing and, most of the time, I would use the instruction ‘Close, not touching’. However, at the time there was a vogue for much tighter letterspacing, as can be seen in any edition of the Sunday newspaper colour magazines of the time.

Nick Shinn’s post above brought in comments from a bunch of other big names from the type design community besides Shinn himself – Mark Simonson, Ray Larabie, Stephen Coles amongst them – as well as discussion as to whether the output had actually been generated by a phototypositor or by hand, using Letraset. August company indeed, but they don’t seem to have come up with a definitive answer.

I googled around on the subject and came up with a page which shows pictures of 1970s phototypositors, which are presumably similar to those in use in the London bureaus at the time. As all the pics say ‘Rights Reserved’ I haven’t nicked one, but you can see them at this link.

Medial caps get camelised

Pic: The Wandering Nerd

A question on last week’s University Challenge made me think for a second. I don’t have an exact transcript but it went something along the lines of “In typography, what is the term for an uppercase letter in the middle of lowercase letters, particularly in proprietary or commercial names?” I was casting about in my own mind for the definition when in buzzed one of the contestants with the answer “camel font”. Jeremy Paxman agreed that this was good enough, but supplied the words which must have been written on his card, “camel case”.

Unfortunately, I don’t think this is the correct typographical definition. The one I was mentally searching for (and I confess that I had to find it after the show by going to the Wikipedia page on camel case) was in fact “medial caps”. These have been around for decades (think CinemaScope, AstroTurf, InterCity) but became much more common in the 1980s (think WordPerfect, PageMaker and, later, iPod and its ilk). Camelcase  is a definition of the same practice, but comes from computer programming rather than typography.

Writing about this, however, gives me a great opportunity to use the illustration above which I found on the Wandering Nerd blog when I Googled “WordPerfect”. This shows the little crib sheet supplied by the manufacturer which you were supposed to place above the function keys on your keyboard to remind you of the shortcuts needed for various operations: F6 for Bold, F8 for Underline, etc. I wrote the whole of my book Editing Design and Book Production for Small Publishers in WordPerfect. By the time it was published in 1993 it was already going out of date, with the arrival of DeskTop Publishing (more medial caps). But that’s another story.

By the way, Emmanuel College Cambridge beat St Peter’s Oxford in the University Challenge match. I think they may go far in this year’s series.