Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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Illustrations in the book's margin Inspired by Mark Simonson’s slides I checked what Frutiger books the library has and I found Type, Sign, Symbol as well as Der Mensch und seine Zeichen there.

While both books circle around the same topics of typography, graphics and symbols, they are still quite different. Type, Sign, Symbol is more of a showpiece. It’s cloth bound with a symbol on the front and comes in an interesting almost-square format. The book is tri-lingual and full of illustrations showing examples for what is discussed as well as of Frutiger’s work, obviously including Univers and Charles de Gaulle signage.

Der Mensch und seine Zeichen - typeset in Frutiger’s own Centennial 55 -  is more academic and starts off with the basics of drawing. Highlighting facts like how the human arm makes drawing straight horizontal lines harder than drawing vertical ones. But also showing that Frutiger is ad odds with a mathematician’s idea of what ‘symmetry’ means when he claims that the shape of an ‘E’ is less symmetric than that of an ‘A’. (I’ll just let his imprecise remarks about topology and things being simply connected slip, I think.)

Frutiger X shapes Throughout the book there are illustrations in the pages’ margins showing the issues Frutiger discusses in the text. Not only is that very helpful. Theses are also wonderfully simple and manage to show the essence of what is being discussed. You easily see there how even small changes of proportion, symmetry or even orientation can greatly change the perception of a drawing. And in a number of examples Frutiger shows how even with a very limited range of basic strokes you can create a wide and rich range of symbols. Even nicer, these illustrations are subtly contrasted from the text by being printed in a shade of blue.

Further on in the book, he treats more advanced issues like representing 3D objects or shading. These go along with background on the drawing techniques used for the effects. And it is highlighted how the availability of tools - from masonry to modern screens - changed the effects that could be used. And how a good artist will be aware of the tools at his disposal and use them appropriately.

While the chapter on typography unsurprisingly ends in the discussion of Univers with its wide range of widths and shapes (along with Frutiger making clear that a ‘tryptichon’ of normal/bold/italic should suffice for a text) and some notes on the intricacies of designing those, it starts off with notes of various writing systems and their history. This mentions both the development of letter forms but also basic differences between different writing systems (e.g. Roman letters are standing on the base line while Devanagari hang on a line at the top) as well as how the writing techniques of different regions influenced letter forms and shapes (stone masonry gives different results than cutting in palm leaves). I found that quite interesting.

I was less impressed by the final sections on symbols. While some interesting technical points are discussed, Frutiger’s own more free-style organic shaped symbols don’t do much for me.

Two interesting books. One a bit more shiny and better showing off while the other includes a load of interesting details.

I’ll close with the rip-off of Frutiger’s letter comparison across typefaces which I did recently.

Overlayed 'a' glyphs from different fonts reveal the basic shape of that glyph

August 20, 2007, 0:11

Tagged as book, frutiger, typography.


Comment by Antonio Cavedoni: User icon

Sven, as I am about to bring back my copy of Type Sign Simbol to the library, these posts fit very nicely. I liked it so much I’d like to possess a copy of my own, but unfortunately it is quite hard to find. Abe Books does list three copies but look at these prices!

An amazing book indeed.

August 20, 2007, 2:42

Comment by dan: User icon

In Mark’s slides, I want to replace the ? in slide 99 with comic sans :-P

August 20, 2007, 11:47

Comment by ssp: User icon

Antonio: The book is definitely hard to get. It seemed to be a rather limited edition only.

(I had a similar urge for a book when I first got the Typefinder from the library years ago and the current reprint wasn’t available yet. Made me wonder how much it would be to steal/’lose’ a book from the library. Unfortunately I ended up thinking that doing this would be ‘bad’.)

dan: naughty!

August 20, 2007, 12:30

Comment by Nerg: User icon

Great review of a very hard to find book (type sign symbol), it must be ten years since I saw a copy let alone delve into the pages.

At college I did a similar comparison of type using the letter J in lower case, twenty faces superimposed printed in full colour many years before a computer was commonplace

August 24, 2007, 7:11

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