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Typography is the merging of both science and art. The science part of typography has evolved throughout using technology to help communicate better with another.
Evolution of the alphabet
As speech was the ultimate form of communication, other forms were needed in order to communicate at a distance to other people. Paintings were the initial example of communicating. The images represented symbols (as shown in the Madrid Codex) and standardized.
Example of hieroglyphic writing
Egyptians used hieroglyphic writings, which were presented on clay tablets. Their style of writing was called Cuneiform. This was passed through the different cultures. They took some of the consonants they didn’t need in order to create vowels and other signs such as the ‘£’ and ‘&’.
Similarly, the Greeks borrow the Phoenician (Hebrew and Arabs today) writing, later deliberately changing the letterforms and structures, evolving the format to be read from left to right.
The Latin alphabet is known to be the ancestor of the western European alphabet, influenced from the Greek. They changed the Greek ‘diagamma’ sign of W to become F for example. Later on, they added J and W, making the alphabet to 26 distinct letters, differentiating the sounds also.
The capital letter was created in the middle ages. They were used in Western Europe in books to distinguish between the small-letter cursive writing.
Differently, the alphabets of South-East Asia came from the Brahimi alphabet. It contains far more consonants.
Evolution of formatting
Originally, writings were carved in stone. Due to its lack of portability, scratching on bark and leather became a good alternative. Many of the Middle East pressed their cuneiforms onto clay tablets and then baked to give a more permanent carving.
EA 161, letter by Aziru, leader of Amurru
Later on, the Greeks and Romans used wax tablets. Although this was less permanent, it was much more portable-efficient. The letters would be scratched through with a stylus and bound together – this was known as a Codex.
codex sinaiticus, St Catherine’s
Longer documents were made from papyrus that was cut into thin strips, which were then glued together to make a long, thin strip. This was then evolved to parchment and vellum around 5th Century BCE.
On the East side, the Chinese developed the papermaking. This was then introduced into Europe after the Arabs learned the technique in the 12th Century CE. This was then quickly evolved to create other papermaking methods such as beating down the fibre, screening and pressing!
Books came around the time of Rome. The pens made from a reed or quill from a bird, which was then cut down and shaped. The ink was made from various materials such as iron filings and oak bark (boiled in vinegar).
Evolution of Typography
“It is difficult to cover all the developments and movements of typography in a short space. My separation of evolving technologies from the development of typefaces is an artificial one — designs and the technology used to create them are not truly separable — but perhaps it is conceptually useful.
Where names of typefaces are used, I attempt to use the original name: there are often clones with very similar names.“
Because the movements of typography are FAR too vast to cover entirely, I looked at Thomas W. Phinney’s interpretation of breaking down the history of type into 4 distinct categories:
1) Gutenberg and the impact of printing – Gutenberg changed the world of communications. In 1448 he returned home (Mainz) to set up his own press. His movable type changed printing forever, changing the expense of printing and being able to print vast quantities in a shorter space of time.
Gutenberg printing press
Alongside this, Ottmar Merganthaler, further changed the whole evolution of typography (linked with the second point). His Lino printing machine, assembling moulds of letter forms in a line, which allowed much faster typesetting. His invention was able to cast an entire line of type at a time. This continuous change of processing (later offset) quickly changed the whole evolution of typography and how we print today, using more advanced technology to make printing far quicker and easier!
2) Industrial Revolution –
Rotary steam press
This was the catalyst in printing and technology in history. Rotary steam presses replaced hand-operated ones as an example. 1885 Linn Boyd Benton invented a pantographic device, which scaled a drawing to the size required. This was major with skilled typographers in creating fonts in different sizes.
Moreover, Pierre Simon Fournier was the first to come up with the ‘point’ system 1737. It wasn’t until Francois Ambroise Didot refined his idea to use the ’72 points to the inch’ for type, which is still used today for the majority of computer-based typesetting systems.
3) Photocomposition – The first photocomposition was in 1944. Characters would be projected onto photo-paper, using the lenses to adjust the size of the letters. This was a huge improvement in technology, as they were able to overlap letters and create all kinds of layers and sizes.
4) Digital – John Warnock developed the PostScript in the 1980s. This was huge around the time as it enabled designers to put fonts on a computer. Computers are ultimately the outline for typefaces nowadays, because of its simplicity and speed to create a typeface or produce a piece with it. Due to its demand, the price range for this has dramatically decreased, making it accessible to almost anyone. This issue with this, is major companies such as the American Type Founders (ATF) had been left bankrupt, showing how the evolution of technology is also taking over.
Something very important I had learned from doing this research, is how the whole change in typography has varied and been adapted all across the world. I think its fascinating knowing that the evolution of the alphabet and typography all link together, which then creates new inventions such as printing and paper making. All these techniques they created we still use everyday, but just more adapted to today’s environment and technology.