The Art of Inge

Below, a picture of Inge Druckery with her reducing glass. Why a reducing glass, and not, say, a traditional magnifying glass? Because a reducing glass allows the user to step away from the visual work. By stepping away, the artist/designer can see the whole, and the relationship between the many pieces of a visual presentation.

Inge 1Inge Druckery is one of the world’s truly great teachers of type design, and, more generally, she has provided designers of all kinds with tremendous inspiration, especially in the combinations of typography and graphic design that so dominate our world, our screens, our print materials.

And now, Edward Tufte (one of her students) has executive produced a 37-minute film, available free, about Druckery’s life and work. The images are striking in their simple elegance, and there are plenty of them. You can watch the film by visiting Mr. Tufte’s site, or simply clicking on the video at the top of this article. This is a film to watch full-screen, in a quiet room free from distracting glare, without interruption, with a patience and a keen eye. Do so, and you will be rewarded with an experience very much akin to attending an extremely well-crafted art museum exhibition on an extremely interesting topic. Do not hurry. Do this when your time permits. The images and ideas will stay with your afterwards.

What sorts of things are presented? The extremely precise Roman alphabet, the letterforms that are so solidly architectural in their L, E, T, and V forms, and so much in motion in the S, so beautifully balanced as curves meet straight edges in the B and, especially, the tricky R form. Simple explanation, elegant presentation.


Here’s a progression of the letter R, rendered by hand with a proper broad lettering brush, with each letterform progressing toward an ideal. Here, the most basic of old analog form presages a perfection now commonplace in digital typography. Commonplace, but not common. And in the common hand, perhaps there is greater perfection, more of the Lord’s hand and the human progress toward excellence, than digital allows.

R Progression

Just My Type

US, UK covers - the UK version is more fun.

My dad taught me to appreciate the distinctions between one font and another. Before I finished high school, I knew about serifs, descenders, x-height, and Bodoni Bold. This was secret knowledge exclusive to graphic artists (and their attentive children).

Then, desktop publishing happened, and suddenly, everybody seemed to know about Baskerville, Times New Roman, Optima and Helvetica.

Fonts became cool. A movie was made about Helvetica.

Now, there’s a surpassingly energetic–and fun!–book about fonts, Just My Type, written by Simon Garfield.

In it, you’ll find the unfortunate story of Comic Sans, and the movement to eradicate its use.

I never thought much about the reasons why we have Helvetica, Ariel, Univers and Futura. And why I started to use Frutiger and Gill Sans in place of other sans serif fonts. Or why I never loved Brush Script or Souvenir. Turns out, each of these fonts is part of a story, either about technology’s progress or shifts in public sensibility or the renovation of a mass transit system (which requires signs of every size, plus maps).

Yes, this book is ridiculously geeky. No, there’s no reason why chapters must be read in order. Yes, there are lots of pictures–and examples that reminded me of our graphic past as defined by Gilligan’s Island, Obama’s first presidential campaign, the London underground, Letraset and Dymo tape, Pet Sounds, Penguin Books, Ikea, and T-Rex.

I wish I had the patience to read every story of every type font, designer and context. And I wish there were dozens of visual examples–more and more visuals to tell this very visual story.

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