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Start Typographers Who Draw in the Clouds
02 June 2014

Typographers Who Draw in the Clouds

Estimated reading time Time 3 to read

In 1469 Nicholas Jenson sculpted a new typeface in Venice called Roman. The French printer’s creation was the model of the Renaissance typeface: abruptly modulated stroke, oblique axis, abrupt finishes and large aperture. Only a year after Johannes Gutenberg died, the typographers joined a new craft model to the ancient art of calligraphy that designed the letters to then print them. An aesthetic expression thus began that was akin to calligraphy and was the forerunner of modern printing. Unlike the ancient scribes, who devised the letter style and then drew it on paper, Renaissance printers paid attention to the intermediary purpose: types. Modeling them so the letters were clear and beautiful would be their obsession for many centuries. The transition from the world of the scribes to that of typographers was updated in the 21st century with insights such as those of Steve Jobs and his interest in calligraphy. The connections to the world of computing, design and communications whisper to us.

That phrase in the prologue of The Gutenberg Galaxy (1962) comes to mind: «We are today as far into the electric age as the Elizabethans had advanced into the typographical and mechanical age” to add an obvious topic: we are already diving in the digital age. We can continue relating ideas with the suggestions of McLuhan: “And we are experiencing the same confusions and indecisions which they had felt when living simultaneously in two contrasted forms of society and experience”. Several of these disorders are common to ours: the ambiguity of medieval authorship and the indeterminacy of wikipedia. Or the multitude of printed texts in the sixteenth century (which did not reach the readers for lack of adequate distribution channels) as similar to the valuable texts ignored by the cloud. However these comparisons also predict a more stable future. If biology has genus and species as fundamental concepts, this is because Aristotle carried out, in the third century BC, a similar task to ours: sorting, classifying and defining. In addition to an Aristotelian mind, today we also need the intelligence of the copyists who transcribed the dictation, and then wrote the texts in their own scrolls. The systematization of information as a sorting process points to a particular intelligence: reader discretion. More would have to be said on considerations on textual preferences, but between those classificatory levels, that of the editor stands out. Understood as an experienced reader able to choose, correct and set a text for his own use and share it with other readers.

Centuries ago the aspiration of every human being, eager to be included in a civilized world, was – almost unconsciously – to learn to read. There are recurring images of the illiterate, huddled around the reader, listening to his voice. Today literacy is an almost global reality. Despite the apocalyptic prophecies about the advent of television and radio, we have continued to read. And despite the invention of the Internet, we have not stopped. We move from reading to writing in a natural and cyclical pendulum; a sort of harmony in which every movement overflows our predictions and introduces us to new mechanisms that enrich the first actions. We read and write in many ways. However, just like the printers after Gutenberg, in each revolution we find ways to learn and develop.

Our texts travel through the web. They are set in binary codes, posted in email clients, web pages, blogs and stored in records of the data stream that are archived indefinitely. Knowing if our message will be received properly (not just written correctly) but formatted as we want; enriched by a specific format or font, designed to our liking, presents us with an extraordinary situation. The back and forth movement requires us to be independent editors.

The digital world requires all those who communicate via the web to have editorial skills. The phenomenon of the homus tipográficus confirms McLuhan’s views again, and defines the human being who no longer types with keys but draws lines with his own finger. The new quills are our forefingers or thumbs stroking the Gorilla Glass screens of our devices, and our voices dictating to the butlers in the systems. Everyone writes, whether sending emails, chatting on social networks or sending mobile messages. As if it were a Renaissance program, the ways in which we are headed by the technological developments of recent decades lead us to word processing, handling emoticons and emojis, unicodode codes, media formats, and, again, fonts.

As José de Acosta would say, we now live in the regions of the air. The electronic impulses of the cybersphere go there. If Nicholas Jenson thought about metal shavings when walking through the streets of Venice, we design on minimum pixels that are then printed in retina screens. Surely some youngster does it today in a cafe in the Plaza de San Marcos. We are, without realizing it, editors. That is perhaps the most important educational, academic and aesthetic program of the future.

Angel Perez Martinez

Research Professor at the University of the Pacific, Lima

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