Autumn 2023

How the alphabet became

Inventing the Alphabet: The Origins of Letters from Antiquity to the Present

By Johanna Drucker, Design: Rae Ganci Hammers, University of Chicago Press, $40, £32

The current obsession with font design has stimulated the field like nothing else in recent memory. Dating back to the introduction of tools such as Fontographer and Freehand a generation ago, a shifting of the process – from the difficult translation of hand drawing into the cutting and forging of hard metals to a purely digital one – accounts for the near mania of contemporary font production. It appears that there are a zillion ways to render the letters ‘A’ through to ‘Z’: and everyone is too busy doing that to wonder about the origins of those letters that appear to be infinitely malleable.

Johanna Drucker’s Inventing the Alphabet goes way back in deep time to explore ideas about where the alphabet came from …

Cover by Rae Ganci Hammers.
Top. Facsimile of an engraving originally published by Willem Goeree, Utrecht, 1700, shown in the sixth chapter of Johanna Drucker’s Inventing the Alphabet, ‘The Rhetoric of Tables and the Harmony of Alphabets’.

Lorraine Wild, designer, writer, teacher at CalArts, Los Angeles

Read the full version in Eye no. 105 vol. 27, 2023

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues.