Summer 2001

Editorial Eye no. 40, vol. 10 [full text]

Many designers and design writers have talked about the \'new simplicity\', an approach characterised by straightforward mark-making, plain speaking and lateral thinking. Maybe everyone, however baroque their tastes, has yearned for this at some point in their career. However such processes often require the smooth working of invisible technologies: someone else takes care of the complexities so that we can bestow the gift of simplicity. This was a cornerstone of the relationship between designer and typesetter that is now part of history. In \'Why Helvetica?\', David Jury worries that the lack of care implicit in \'default typography\' will ultimately reduce the status of the graphic designer. One response to this problem is to make sure that the default version is beautifully made – perhaps the reason that type designers such as Matthew Carter have turned their attention to the screen.

\'Digital type decade\', an overview of recent type design, implies a Modernist imperative to what at first appeared to be a postmodern free-for-all: the most lasting legacy of 1990s typography may well be the rapid development of hinted type for the screen, plus the myriad possibilities still unfolding for what Jessica Helfand calls \'choreo-typography\' and the static-filled messages that inhabit Paul Elliman’s \'City of words\'.

Yet there are technological forces at work here that have little to do with \'new media\'. The old media of newspapers and magazines have changed so rapidly in terms of print, ink and paper, that other factors such as plate-making and repro, photography, art direction, editing, writing – and of course type – have also had to adapt, rethink and re-invent.

The methodology behind the revamp of the Times family of typefaces, as reported by Phil Baines, reveals an interesting hybrid of craft and technological expertise being applied to a slow-moving institution. As our Reputations subject Gerard Unger points out, the newspaper is a very complex graphic artefact, yet one that everybody understands and decodes without a moment’s pause. The reader’s unhurried progress is helped by the designer’s careful labours. Unger follows his goals of atmosphere and legibility through the relentless fine-tuning and revision of a very distinctive body of typographic work: he observes that it still takes as much time time to design a typeface as it always has, though his interests lie unapologetically within the fast-moving world of newspapers.

Chris Vermaas declares his enthusiasm for a slower, more non-populist medium in \'A New York state of mind\'. Like the type, layout and covers, the relationship between form and content in The New Yorker has changed little in over three-quarters of a century, and the magazine still speaks with authority and style, despite our reservations. The result is a kind of \'new simplicity\', that is neither simple nor new.

First published in Eye no. 40 vol. 10, 2001

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