The Typehead  Chronicles: Type Casting
      Of Thomas Christensen, ABCedminded Typesetter  

homeward bound


Type Casting: Text Type Simplified (A Terse Topographic Typology of Type)

Since the digital revolution there has been a great proliferation of typefaces. Massimo Vignelli has called this proliferation “visual pollution,” but if we value diversity we are going to have to deal with the explosion of type design. And so, many people who work with type have called for an improvement in the system of classifying typefaces. (There are many type classification systems, but few are of much practicial help to the interested nonspecialist who is working with type on particular projects.)

Some of the most intelligent writing on type has been produced by writers such as Robert Bringhurst and Jonathan Hoefler, who view type in its historical context. A great advantage of this approach is that it makes it possible for typeheads to talk about type with people who are not educated about type.

But this approach has led to a strong tendency in typographic circles to confound history and classification. By analogy to literature, a historical approach would focus (in the West) on movements like romanticism, realism, and so forth. But this is not the same as classification, which would be more analogous to genre – on the large scale (again using the analogy of literature), fiction, nonfiction, poetry, etc., and then working down through smaller and smaller subcategories.

Things get muddled when we fail to distinguish between diachronous and a synchronous points of view. As for the latter -- which would be more strictly “classification” -- the question I don’t hear asked is what the purpose of such classification is. Is it just a filing system to help us find things, is it a guide to function and usage, or what? Unless the purpose of the classification (ahistoric) system is explicit it can never be satisfactory.





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