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Therapy for Font Sluts


Slate has been taking an interesting look at graphic design over the last few days, including a fascinating piece on the evolution of the world’s most ubiquitous font: Helvetica. The piece is adapted from the fascinating exhibition now running at the Museum of Modern Art – one of the season’s must-sees. But this is a web treat – another reason, if needed, why a visit to Slate never goes unrewarded.

Then check out the depressingly uninspired survey of writer’s font preferences. Indeed: an overwhelming preference for Courier. What numbskulls. If you’re stuck on typewriter type (and it has a certain nostalgic appeal) then nothing could top the elite used on those wonderful old Olympias from the fifties, or indeed, the typewriter I ploughed through university with – Triumph-Adler’s Gabriele 35, with its gracious monospaced Bodoni.

But for the ultimate experience in typographic aesthetics, there is really just one answer. It’s the type that Aldus Manutius used to publish Francesco Colonna’s Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (Poliphilus’s Strife of Love in a Dream) (1499), probably drawing on letters cut by Francesco Griffo. The type balances beauty, clarity and legibility. It shows us that simple type laid out on a page can be a wondrous thing. And it has inspired generations (though it’s hard to avoid those curious erotic engravings, either – Carl Gustav Jung tells us that he came to his theory of archetypes while pouring over the Hypnerotomachia).

The type world has reinvented an unending supply of generally graceless Hypnerotomachia wannabes, but then there’s the genuine article, a photomechanical reproduction of the type as it is pressed into gloriously irregular handmade paper – Monotype’s Poliphilus. I’ll take Poliphilus. With Helvetica Black for display, of course.

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