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  • Writer's pictureJulie Alleshouse

Digitalizing the Past: Would You Stick with Movable or Go for Digital Type?

Updated: Jul 3

History Repeats Itself 

Have you ever considered the possibility of ancient printing and typesetting methods making a comeback? I certainly have. Despite my appreciation for the historical significance and the effort involved in the meticulous arrangement of the movable type, I can't help but wonder how it would fare in our modern era. Imagine how long it would take to print a book or a newspaper! And what about color and filing of the Type? This was a time-consuming process with many details to follow, and if something went wrong, it was hard to tell how much extra time would be needed to correct the mistake. It was definitely a costly process in the long run.

Type Filing and Color

In modern times, when we think of accessing a font or a typeface, we can easily retrieve it from a computer's hard drive or via Google. However, in ancient times, letters (then called sorts) were stored in cases. Sometimes the letters would get damaged and fingers bruised while punch-cutting them. Additionally, colors were determined by the eye, rather than through catalogs. This meant that several samples had to be printed before the correct color was achieved, leading to a considerable waste of time and resources. However, as the African proverb goes, "Hurry, hurry has no blessing," and this was just how technology was at the time - slow but sure.

This foil stamping machine stores letters in a "chase." Each section holds a different letter, like in the old days of typesetting.

To engrave, add letters one at a time, inverted, and aligned to the left

Manual Labor 

Back in the early days of printing, people had to invest a lot of time and effort into learning how to operate the machinery. Spending long hours on typesetting was not a concern for them, and the news of a newer technology was unwelcome. The idea of all their knowledge being confined to a computer was unimaginable, as it would bring an end to their careers. However, the engineers of that time had a special way of thinking. They "thought in organic metaphors; you see the knees and elbows, there is a humanist to these mechanical devices" (Creativetechs, YouTube). This means that these devices were an amalgamation of humans and machines. They resembled human features, making it easier for the operators to use them.

Typesetting on Steroids

Say hello to computers! Designers now have the convenience of using computers to arrange typography, which is a much faster method than the traditional way of typesetting by hand. With technology, they can easily adjust the size, spacing, leading, tracking, and color of the text. The typeface used can significantly impact the visual appeal of a design, as it can draw the reader's attention, create a hierarchy, establish the mood and tone of a design, and even build brand recognition. However, it's crucial to note that not all typefaces are equally effective. In some cases, the use of multiple typefaces in a design can make it seem busy, causing confusion, eye strain and disinterest in the content.

How Can a Designer Communicate Effectively? 

I learned this lesson while designing a CD cover for a men's quartet. Being a student designer then, I sought feedback from a friend who was a designer. However, I was not prepared for the criticism I received. My typography choices did not match the character, strength, and age of the quartet. Instead, they were too "bouncy and unbalanced, loopy and conflicted, more feminine than masculine." I was not aware of typography's personality or mood at that time. But have since then learned to use, arrange, and pair it successfully. I have come to understand that display typefaces work better in small quantities and large sizes to grab the reader's attention. On the other hand, body copy should be simple and easy to read. No matter what the occasion is, selecting a "dress" that suits your personality can tell your story much better. However, it requires practice to develop this skill.

Completely Out of Sorts

I believe typesetting by hand effectively solved communication problems in the past, just like computer-generated typefaces are in our modern times. Both methods provide (d) a way to transmit information from one place to another. Although technology will continue to advance, and typefaces may be created differently in the future, I will still be content if this history does not repeat itself. What about you?

Let us know your thoughts in the comments..

5 comentários

29 de jan.

Interesting read.


29 de jan.

This is a good read


17 de jan.

Very nice. Very informative. I once made a presentation and got Very hush but constructive criticism. It was too busy. At the time I didn't understand that typeface has personality or mood.

Julie Alleshouse
Julie Alleshouse
16 de mai.
Respondendo a

We can gain valuable insights from constructive criticism. Observing everyday design can enlighten us in this area as well. Your feedback is appreciated.

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