French typography - i need help

dexter121uk's picture

hello type people,

i am just about to write a long research paper about country identity within type, and will be focusing on french typography. I want to show that different countries do have an identity with type and show that a country can be reflected with type.

i think its hoopefully going to be about 6000-8000 words long.

i am finding resources quite scarce though and was wondering if anyone knows of any good books i should check out aimed at this general topic, any articles in magazines... ANYTHING that would help me to write a good research paper on french typography and identity.

i have just got back from paris!. i took myself there so that i could get a good look first hand and french typography, but yea i do understand that the rest of france might be quite different but yea i got a taste for it at least!.

anyways so any help would be much appreciated ok CHEERS!
from
Mark

Miss Tiffany's picture

A few places to start:

The Story of Graphic Design in France by Wlassikoff, Davidson, and Laruelle
French Modern: Art Deco Graphic Design by Heller and Fili
History of Graphic Design by Meggs

Lots of names dropped and it should give you a good start.

dexter121uk's picture

Cool thanks soooooo much Miss Tiffany, yea i read "the story of Graphic design in France" a couple of weeks ago and it was sooo helpfull... so yea i have not checked out the others... and will do that ASAP!... thanks again!! WAHOOOOOOOO

rob keller's picture

Hey Mark,

One person you might want to try contacting is Alice Savoie. She is French and just completed her MA dissertation at Reading on a similar topic...

http://frenchtype.org/

Cheers,
Rob

Nick Shinn's picture

It will be easy to find what you're looking for, because what you propose is, so far, entirely subjective.
And to work from the histories of others, second-hand, will make it even less rooted in objective reality.
Have you considered a statistical approach?

Miss Tiffany's picture

What's wrong with a subjective approach? As long as the dates and names are correct I think it will be interesting.

Rob's suggestion is good. Also, don't forget to read the bibliographies of books you find. It will only lead to more.

Nick Shinn's picture

What’s wrong with a subjective approach?

Nothing, as long as you don't say "this is what French typography is/was like."

bieler's picture

One could certainly say that the history of the development of typography certainly had nationalistic tendencies right up to about mid-twentieth century. As opposed to say, Bringhurst's pan-historic notions. Updike and McLean have been proponents of this, and it is quite hard to imagine it otherwise. I'd don't see how this cannot be subjective. How would a statistical approach prove Frenchness!!!

Gerald

vincent_morley's picture

It would be worth taking a look at Roxane Jubert, 'graphisme typographie histoire' (Éditions Flammarion, Paris, 2005) - the lack of punctuation and conjunctions is in the original. It's a survey of typography through the ages and across the world, similar in scale and scope to 'Meggs' History of Graphic Design', but the perspective is French and each chapter has a section on developments in France. Since buying the original I've seen an English translation but I don't know if the content is exactly the same.

Florian Hardwig's picture

You also should get in contact with Fritz Grögel.
He gave an intriguing presentation at this year’s ATypI in Brighton; on letter painting, lettering and cultural tradition in France.
Fritz certainly has a lot to contribute about French national identity within type.

F

Celeste's picture

Being French myself, this is a topic that has preoccupied me for a little while.
I would urge you not to take everything in Wlassikoff's book at face value, since he has a tendency towards ideological readings of periods in history he doesn't know very much about (namely, everything before the end of the nineteenth century).
The main problem here is to find something "typically French" in typefaces as hugely different as Garamond, Didot or Antique Olive (to name just a few) when they obviously are the results of radically different intellectuel, cultural and historical contexts.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

It would be worth taking a look at Roxane Jubert, ’graphisme typographie histoire’ (Éditions Flammarion, Paris, 2005)

This book is also available in English:
Typography and Graphic Design: From Antiquity to the Present

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

I want to show that different countries do have an identity with type and show that a country can be reflected with type.

I don't know if this is always true or not, but Jan Middendorp's Dutch Type is a similar project. (Although it could be argued that the Low Countries' strong typographic identity is the exception rather than the rule.)

As for French typography, you should check out Chapter 2 ("Enlightenment origins") of Modern Typography (second edition), by Robin Kinross.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

One more... A contemporary designer -- check out the work of Philippe Apeloig.

Book: Au coeur du mot/Inside the Word (It's a bilingual edition.)

dexter121uk's picture

thank you people.!!... soo much help!! im sitting here smiling thinking!! WOW a lot to think on...and look up on...check out..a few people to e-mail!!! i'll sure let people know how things are going!!!
cheers people!!!!!!!!!! wahoooooooooooo

www.dexter121uk.devaiantart.com

Nick Shinn's picture

How would a statistical approach prove Frenchness!!!

If you come across two quite different French typefaces, and one is much more popular than the other, it would be a mistake to say that the unpopular one typifies French typography. But how would you know which was which unless you measured their popularity in some way?

bieler's picture

Would a statistical approach prove Americanness? (Amazingly, this is actually a word.) And be proven so by popularity?

Gerald

Nick Shinn's picture

Consider the Philip Meggs approach to American ads of the 1960s.
In his History of Graphic Design, he discusses "the New Advertising"--but not the old.
Right away we see that the ads in question must be "creative" to be considered worthy of history.
Are the majority of ads, which are "non-creative" not more typically American?
For instance, as is de rigueur, mention is made of the famous award-winning Helmut Krone VW ads, which have come to typify American print advertising of the 1960s.
But consider that those were one-page black and white ads, and far more representative of the era, statistically, would be the double-page, full-colour, car-porn spreads from GM, Chrysler, Ford, and AMC.
Of course, both kinds of advertising were American, but don't you think that ignoring the mainstream paints a misleading picture? Surely Detroit=America, not Volkswagen!
If you go with material from the books Mark, you will be discussing country identity in pre-defined terms, i.e. by what those authors have chosen.

For comparison, how would you write a history of Hollywood movies?
Would the films you discuss be taken from a list of Oscar winners?
From a list of Golden Globe winners?
From a list of the top-grossing movies of each year?
Or the most watched movies, taking into account TV re-runs?
Or the most written-about movies, the canon of literature about the movies?

bieler's picture

Nick

I can see your point, sort of, and Meggs is hardly a favorite of mine, but I would not, personally, use a TV/Movie basis as comparison. My inclination would not be popularity in this regard. I'm a cult film fanatic.

I'd rate Preissig Antiqua and Manuscript as great Eastern European typefaces. The latter more popular and respected than the former, but my inclination for Eastern Europeanness (not a word) would go to the former.

Gerald

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

I’d don’t see how this cannot be subjective.

I agree. At the risk of stating the obvious, any history, research paper, etc., is going to be subjective, because its author has to make choices about what to show and what to leave out, among other things. And then there is the author's stance, the paper's thesis, etc. (I'm saying such obvious things that it hurts. Sorry.)

Right away we see that the ads in question must be “creative” to be considered worthy of history.

Or, perhaps it's just that Krone's ads broke away from what was typical. That's what I was taught, at least. They are in the history books because they focused on the VW's supposed disadvantage (smallness) rather than an advantage -- unheard of back then! And because they represented a major shift in how things were done (think of that scene in Helvetica where Michael Bierut compares the 1950s and 1960s ads in "Life" magazine). But I see your point, Nick: the other ads were representative of American advertising, too -- up until then.

If you go with material from the books Mark, you will be discussing country identity in pre-defined terms

Books are just a starting point, but what else can a student do? Mark's already gone the extra mile and been to France. :-)

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

And Mark, one more book to check out is Sebastian Carter's Twentieth Century Type Designers (New Edition). It has profiles of Roger Excoffon (French), José Mendoza y Almeida (French too, but of Spanish descent), and Adrian Frutiger (Swiss, but has always worked in France).

Nick Shinn's picture

the other ads were representative of American advertising, too — up until then

I don't think you do see my point Ricardo. The "other" ads were far more representative of American advertising before, during, and after the 1960s. Design history focuses on the atypical, the award-winning stuff that appeals to the art directors and graphic designers who buy design history books. What best represents national identity: the mainstream of design as it exists in the mass media, or the minority tastes of the design community?

but what else can a student do?

Statistical research.

For instance, Martin L’Allier surveyed the top corporations (listed by net worth) in Quebec and determined what their corporate typefaces were. I believe that was a student thesis. The same approach could be applied to advertising or periodical design. Or you could duplicate his research in France, and see how it differs from Quebec.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

The “other” ads were far more representative of American advertising before, during, and after the 1960s.

True that. And echoing Gerald's earlier comment, I do see your point now, Nick. :-)

Design history focuses on the atypical, the award-winning stuff that appeals to the art directors and graphic designers who buy design history books.

But doesn't a history of anything -- civilization, say -- have to focus on the outstanding stuff -- the events, people and inventions that moved things forward? (Just finished reading Gombrich's A Little History of the World -- so that particular history has been on my mind.)

And you make it sound like the only kind of art director and graphic designer who would buy a design history book is blinded by "the award-winning stuff." Some designers buy design history books to learn what came before, ya know. :-)

What best represents national identity: the mainstream of design as it exists in the mass media, or the minority tastes of the design community?

I think it's more complicated than that... For instance, look at what Gerald said: "One could certainly say that the history of the development of typography certainly had nationalistic tendencies right up to about mid-twentieth century." So you also have to take historical changes into account.

You would probably need to tackle this question from many angles to get an ample view of the [insert country name here] identity in type.

jdat's picture

not a direct answer to your question or any insightful input but may I suggest you take a peek at :
http://www.typographe.com/

That is if you speak french. You could perhaps think of the website in question as an equivalent to typophile but with a larger written, non internet forum exclusive, oriented approach.

Jem's picture

Has someone mentioned Jean François Porchez yet?

http://www.typofonderie.com/

bieler's picture

Ricardo

Interestingly, the first attempt at a type classification system is about mid-century. Classification systems can be seen as attempts to erase historical distinctions, and they do err in this regard, especially in their removal of the movement of type development in a historical/geographical context, which is otherwise quite distinct and vivid.

Gerald

dexter121uk's picture

yea i am trying to write a decent research paper,so yup tacking it from multiple angles sounds like something i have to do for sure. its a funny think of identity,

as yea designers have their taste in design, which then follows onto the mass public, as that is what they see all around them, things designed by designers, but then a lot these days i keep seeing signage, that has been done by some guy in charge wanting to save a buck or two, which ends up looking ummm bad, i will not mention the typeface that i have seen a lot of, which seems to be a crazy choice, but yea i saw it a few times on signage in paris too.. i mean on a sign directing people to a place for information for some crazy reason, in like size 300pt or something, i nearly died when i saw it. ahhh..

going off topic..opps..

yea jem onto typofonderie thanks for contributing though much appreciated!!!!

I DONT SPEAK FRENCH AHHHHH!!,,, but no worries Jdat i went to that website and there is an English Tab.... so yay its in English too!! wahooooo... thanks again!...

Nick shin!..
Thanks i will look up the names of the people you mention and their research projects!,,im thinking of trying to find some statistics out as im sure that there are a few different angles on that, which will show difference between french type thinking and other countries!...

i just brought:

# 1 of: The Ten Commandments of Typography/Type Heresy: Breaking the Ten Commandments of Typography

# 1 of: Typography and Graphic Design: From Antiquity to the Present

# 1 of: Meggs History of Graphic Design

# 1 of: Send in the Idiots: Stories from the Other Side of Autism (personal interest none typographical)

as i have book vouchers to spend. so yea wahooo should be good..

hey Ricardo!! wow amazing! thanks for the help!!!!! man sooooooo good!

BIBLIOGRAPHIES!! yup i have to admit i always forget to check them!! so will be making sure i do that...

identity to me is an interesting subject, and typography as they are closely linked in my mind as each typeface has its own identity, and gives off its own feelings to people, which is why i chose to do this dissertation. as far as people go and identity i have always found it interesting how predictable groups of people can be, and how they follow trends to try and be normal, then you get groups of radicals, that say they want to be different and how the "normals" ridicule them for being different, when really the "radicals" are not soo different, as they are amongst a group of there own too, but just view themselves in a different light.

countries and cultures in the past have been ever soo different as communication, was not so good, but what with native people becoming less and less, and people moving all around the world over the last few hundred years (in a major way), identities are becoming merged, people are taking on other countries ways of thinking. The western world is becoming a popular lifestyle choice. Things in some ways, from a diverse style point of view, seem to be merging. well thats how i see things in my mind anyways.

now from a typographical point of view i think i will talk about the whole modern type and try and see if there is any information out there, about what people think style holds for future typefaces, what with the whole Eu seemingly trying to become one, will this mean the "brand" of Eu, and cross over of styles, means that a national identity for a said country will be lost... these are just all my own thoughts i figured i would write how my mind thinks on the topic, its not an introduction to the essey or anything just be blabbling.. haha madness!! ahhh

i need to do a lot more research to clearly understand what take im going for in the essey, so yea i will be doing a lot more research,, this stage of finding me resources before i start really looking at stuff has prooved really great though... and yea much appreciate everyones help!!! this is such a great website full of amazingly knowledgeable people.

HA books arrived just as i finished typing this!! WAHOOOOOOOOOOO

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Interestingly, the first attempt at a type classification system is about mid-century. Classification systems can be seen as attempts to erase historical distinctions, and they do err in this regard, especially in their removal of the movement of type development in a historical/geographical context...

I had never thought of that, Gerald. Earlier in this thread, when you said...

One could certainly say that the history of the development of typography certainly had nationalistic tendencies right up to about mid-twentieth century,

...I'd assumed you were talking about the spread of the "International Style" (more often referred to as "Swiss Design" these days), the post-World War II influence of the Bauhaus, etc.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

...what with the whole Eu seemingly trying to become one, will this mean the “brand” of Eu, and cross over of styles, means that a national identity for a said country will be lost...

Well, just compare the old national currencies' bills with the Euro bills that replaced them... Bland, bland, bland.

ebensorkin's picture

To me the whole notion of National type style is intellectually bankrupt because the notion is far too blunt an instrument with which to probe a the delicate and nuanced world of type. A strong sense of specificity is needed if the work is going to be of any value. This means no specious and superficially thought through generalizations.

Working with statistics might be of of help but equally reframing the question is almost certainly of use. So for instance one might ask 'What characteristics do we see in type made in France ( maybe not by ethnically French people! ) or by French people ( maybe not working in France ) during the period from x to y.' Then you can ask either with statistics or not - 'what interpretation can we make of this?'.

I am not saying these isn't something of interest to be found through this kind of study - just that is has to be done with intellectual integrity.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

So for instance one might ask ’What characteristics do we see in type made in France (maybe not by ethnically French people!) or by French people (maybe not working in France) during the period from x to y.’

Good call, Eben. That's why I mentioned the book Dutch Type, which has a similar approach -- for example, Middendorp includes Rudy VanderLans among the contemporary designers, even though most of his work has been done in the United States.

I am not saying there isn’t something of interest to be found through this kind of study -- just that is has to be done with intellectual integrity.

Absolutely.

Miss Tiffany's picture

I have to add that when I sat in on Gerard Unger's talk about French Typography it was chalk full of his own nuance and opinion and I still left feeling like I had a real sense of the Typographic Landscape in France.

I appreciate needing to be specific, but there is no reason not to imbue it with your own 2¢ ... and this is my own 2¢

Nick Shinn's picture

But Tiffany, it sounds more like Gerard's 2¢ than yours!

Nonetheless, if you're a student and attribute your thesis sources -- and work with Eben's "strong sense of specificity" from the outset, there's a lot to be learned from the studies of others.

I would still say that what we need at this point in time is a more objective approach to the academic study of typography, especially in such nebulous and contentious cultural areas as "national identity".

I say contentious because local type designers have been annoyed, and some have campaigned against, the use of foreign types in their countries to the detriment of local creatives. I don't think this so much of an issue now, what with the spread of independent foundries to so many countries, and the international market for fonts.

ebensorkin's picture

there is no reason not to imbue it with your own 2¢

It seems to me like it would be a rare individual who could hope to avoid leaving his or her own 2 cents.

Also it seems to me that an academic paper is one thing; and a talk given by a Type luminary that is meant to inform to some extent entertain is another. The standards should be different both because of the context in the one case and because Gerard can better afford to make more general statements than most because he has been in Type for a respectable amount of time.

objective

To the extent that we can manage this - yes.

That’s why I mentioned the book Dutch Type, which has a similar approach - yes.

And just so I don't come off as bigger monster than I really am ( I am a little no doubt ) - in many cases it helpful to have vague ideas as motivation for exploration. I also don't object to talking about these vague romantic ideas. I have them too. And I know that these kinds of narratives must exist. It's just part of being human to come up with this stuff. It's just that they almost always make a poor framework for good academic work even if they start off sounding accessible and compelling.

Miss Tiffany's picture

I don't disagree. Jan's book was very good and it was objective. IMO anyway. Having something specific in mind is good as well. I suppose I was just reacting to what I think of as people trying to be so objective that in their objectivity they are actually being very subjective. If you follow me. So caught up in the academia that you forget to make it interesting, you forget to include the passion and the reason, not just the reason.

ebensorkin's picture

Tiffany - agreed. A point of view and some passion are needed. They humanize and create a context for an argument as it is put forward. Equally though it is important to be ready to toss them for something better it both because they are there and because of their imperfection. Writers and speakers who embrace both the existence, provisionality and provenance of their point of view have my respect and keep me reading & listening.

David Rault's picture

Hello there

After years of lurking here I am, to kick in the beehive I'm afraid.

I am french, and I think that you can't seriously link type with national identity. In all these years, cultures always interpenetrated each other, and economical aspects also contributed in the fast propagation of specific styles - Didot and Walbaum making copies of the super successful Bodoni for example, thus bringing a very italian style in France and Germany. If you show a Bodoni-like typeface to some french guy now, He'll say it looks very french. and He will be right: Didot, Bodoni and Walbaum have been extensively used over here, thanks to Balzac, Voltaire, Knapp or Appeloig. Show it to some american ladies and they will recognize it as extremely north american, thanks to the logo of Harper's Bazaar. The Roman inspired Trajan reminds instantly of Hollywood Blockbusters today. The use or overuse of a typeface contributes to its unconscious gegraphical identity, not its actual point of origin on earth. Thanks to Apple, Garamond looks american when condensed, though it can also be considered very french. Frakturs always look somewhat german, until you show them to some Harvard or Cambridge student. And today's types, especially modern humanistic lineales, are just, thanks to Internet, completely "apatrides": they belong to the whole planet. Of course come typefaces just seem to stick to a specific country, like Mistral... But these are really very few.

You are lucky I am not in the jury when you show off your study, for I absolutely disagree with you :-)

Well, that was my point of view,
David R

eliason's picture

I wish I had time to post more in this thread, as it is turning towards topics of particular interest to me. (I'm currently assembling an exhibition on national identity and modern type design.) From my perspective, a typeface isn't necessarily "French" because it was designed in France or by somebody with French ancestry, or used more than others in France - I'm more interested in why types have been associated with France in historical discussions. To put it in a different (and perhaps only more confusing) way, I'm interested in "French" types, not French types. (So I guess I'd defend a link of type design and national identity, but by pointing to what David R just called "its unconscious geographical identity, not its actual point of origin on earth.")

I believe that what needs to be recognized is that national identity is a cultural construction - but is no less real or important for that. I think this is the way identity works. I might liken it to discussions of race: as I understand it, "race" doesn't really exist, genetically speaking, and yet it would be hard to say "race doesn't matter" socially.

Another example: when I moved to the Twin Cities, I looked for housing in both western Minneapolis and eastern St. Paul (separated by the Mississippi). While I was househunting, locals seemed to always ask in which city my search was happening - as if it would be weird to look in both, rather than "declaring my allegiance" to becoming a Minneapolitan or a St. Paulite first. This struck me as ridiculous at first - could it really make a difference whether I was on one side of the river or not? - but I have come to realize that the fiction of difference between the two cities, because it is held by a good number of residents, actually does shape the culture of each. It isn't an "objective" difference, but there is a cultural difference.

Oh, and this
Writers and speakers who embrace both the existence, provisionality and provenance of their point of view have my respect and keep me reading & listening
is beautifully put!

Nick Shinn's picture

no less real or important

Craig, these cliches and myths that you term cultural constructions are important, because people believe them, whether or not they are true.
But they are not real. They are "real", as you might put it.
So we discuss what we imagine something to be, or would like it to be, or what someone else thinks it is.
But what connection does this have with reality?
We all have our ideas about what "French" typography is like.
But what is French typography really like?
Isn't it more important to investigate what is misrepresented in cultural identities, rather than just keep batting the myths around?

If someone were to discover what kind of fonts are selling most in France, or what commonality there is in the typography of the most-read daily newspapers, or the corporate fonts of the biggest-spending advertisers, or the types used on the covers of the best-selling books there, that would recognize and define a national typographic identity grounded in reality, rather than myth.

eliason's picture

But what is French typography really like?
Isn’t it more important to investigate what is misrepresented in cultural identities, rather than just keep batting the myths around?

Mark me down as also being against "just batting the myths around"! I'm interested in examining the myths' historical origins, their historical effects, what interests they serve(d), by what mechanisms they proliferated, etc.

We'd agree that your question of what "French typography is really like" is a different question - one that I certainly respect as both legitimate and interesting. (I'm not ready to cede that it's "more important"...)

What I take from this is that the real problems arise not by choosing one or the other of these kinds of questions to pursue, but by not being clear about which kind you are pursuing.

ebensorkin's picture

I share Craig's view that you need not submit to myth making per se to examine myths or evaluate the cultural impact of those myths. I am not willing to toss out cultural analysis ( as opposed to glyph analysis ) as long as it is moderately rigorous. Succumbing to a mythic or sloppily romantic view happens all the time though; a quick look at many student queries about 'National qualities' in type on this board will quickly show that. So I can am sympathetic to Nick's instinct to be suspicious. Still, it sounds like you are up to the task Craig!

I also agree with Nick that an analytical approach to the glyphs themselves and they way they were used is something that we don't see enough of. Certainly more of that would go a long way to putting the myths down and increasing our understanding & appreciation.

Nick Shinn's picture

I’m interested in examining the myths’ historical origins, their historical effects, what interests they serve(d), by what mechanisms they proliferated, etc.

That sounds like a pretty accurate description of "batting the myths around"!
It is a fallacy that analysis of myths serves to deconstruct them--all it does is propagate their evolution; that's the way that canons emerge and thrive in academia.

(I’m not ready to cede that it’s “more important”...)

Perhaps not, but given the almost complete engagement of design writing with myth, as opposed to reality, wouldn't at least some recognition of reality be a good idea?

"Recognition" is a key concept when it comes to the notion of identity, which is not a quality inherent in the individual. If we only recognize myths as constituting identity, we will continue to live in a primitive dream world.

If you're going to mess with nationalism, why not recognize French typography as it is practised, rather than as it is imagined?

The reason why that approach isn't happening: it's hard work collecting and analyzing data, and boring for those in the humanities, especially when they have to deal with the quotidian stuff, with no opportunity to wax lyrical about the award winning work of design heroes.

ebensorkin's picture

Nick, While I have to agree with much of the thrust of what you are saying I think you are letting the idea of severing our ideas from myth become too absolute. I think that the complete avoidance of engagement Myth or perhaps better put 'story making' is simply not available in human thought. Story making is where insights and theory come from. Insights can be pounded into a theory which can be pounded on with evidence. But plain data without interpretation is essentially unusable.

But all this discussion of intellectual frameworks may not be the deal way of pushing foreward on it's own. Maybe it would be better to suggest a model of study that you would like to see done.

For instance I would be semi-interested to know what fonts feel 'french' and by what degree to people broken out by font, and by specific city/region and in multiple countries with lots of datapoints. Likewise it would be interesting to take discreet features of a single typeface say serifs maybe and see if they are seen as more or less 'french' in association as the feature changes. I suspect that what would be chased in both cases is a false phatasm. But... Sorry these are just examples and don't reflect a serious interest in the idea of National type. What kinds of studies/research could you be interested in Nick?

Nick Shinn's picture

Eben, as I said, statistical data on "what kind of fonts are selling most in France, or what commonality there is in the typography of the most-read daily newspapers, or the corporate fonts of the biggest-spending advertisers, or the types used on the covers of the best-selling books there".

Certainly, one could statistically research what "feels" French to people (French and otherwise), but again, why not find out what French people actually prefer, as determined by what they use?

One of the best books on type culture I've come across is Kenneth Day's The Typography of Press Advertisements (1956), which has a multiplex "no heroes" approach. Day mentions the quantitative type-use surveys done by W. Harold Butler in Advertising Weekly from 1928, and his own analysis of types in the International Book Exhibition of the National Book League in the 1950s, where he compares the preferences of different countries.

A recent work built on a firm statistical foundation (not about typography, but very relevant to it) is William St Clair's astonishing The Reading Nation in the Romantic Period.

ebensorkin's picture

Thanks for the recommendation Nick!

eliason's picture

The reason why that approach isn’t happening: it’s hard work collecting and analyzing data, and boring for those in the humanities, especially when they have to deal with the quotidian stuff, with no opportunity to wax lyrical about the award winning work of design heroes.

And all this time we in the humanities have been blaming the type practitioners for the hero-worship plaguing type discussions!

quantitative type-use surveys done by W. Harold Butler in Advertising Weekly from 1928

I expect there might be some resources in trade magazines for assembling more numerical data. In the Gill archive, I ran across a 1935 clipping of an apparently ongoing column in Printing called "Keeping a Tab on the Types," which selected a magazine issue and created a scorecard of typefaces used in its ads. (Gill Sans creamed the others - but of course that's why the clipping wound up in the Gill archive...)

I've ordered the St. Clair book from the library; thanks for the tip.

fritz's picture

Sorry guys for joining this discussion so late, but I am heavily stuck in this topic. I am the guy Florian Hardwig introduced and I spent quite some time on such a french topic.

In my opinion, the very first thing is to seperate form from usage. What I found out was, that there is a pretty distinctive french way of contributing certain roles or functions to different sorts of letterforms (Caps, minuscules, scripts). It is rather the uage (connected to cultural ideas of beauty and appropriateness) than the shapes of the letters that makes the french twist in daily life signage. And that's the very important next point: please consider the difference between type as lead typography and lettering. In my opinon, the national identity thing rather relates to lettering than to type in the narrower sense.

I disagree with the statistical approach though. The fonts most used in Germany today are Times New Roman, Arial and Comic Sans. I would make a bet that you'd get similar results for northern America, France and, say, Andorra. What does this tell about national identity ? Nothing. Would you choose these to design something, say, andorrian ? No.

Take a look on french packaging of the 19th century and compare it to contemporary products. You will find consistencies and differences in layout principles, ornament and lettering and you will find that some sorts of products are closer to the graphical tradition than others. Wine bottles will want to refer to it, medical products won't.

The best-selling charts of contemporary foundries won't give you a clue either, as these are extremely influenced by the 500 biggest enterprises of Europe and the USA who will for the biggest part have adopted a sans serif type that is "neat", "clean" and "neutral" in a way not to refer to a specific country. Most of them will have a mid-tone or dark blue somewhere in their corporate design...

The question, wether culture is a construct (myth) or not seems meaningless to me as it is real in a way that people like to believe in it and by education make sure that this believing is transported from one generation to the next. Never the less it is possible to accept and appreciate culture and still regard it with some sort of scientific, cool distance. Humanities is a discipline of discussing and rediscussing constructs over the centuries without ever coming to the point of having a clear, reliable result. It tells as much about us than about our ancestry and future generations will enjoy to get a picture of us when they will read what we thought about, let's say Andorra in the 17th century.

It was already mentioned before, and I agree that the nationality of specific designers is less important. I think what is important is to find out who were their teachers, what school of spirit the adhered to and what general spirit ruled the period they worked in. French designers arround Maximilien Vox thought of Helvetica gestaltung as a major threat for the french graphic culture. German designers of the same 50s/60s period thought of it as liberation from the nationalistic and mystical traps Germans had been running into. The same typeface has a very different meaning. By the way: the swiss school was very influential in post-war France too, so you will always have to consider wether the designer was on the "swiss" side or the "french" side.

This whole subject is far to big to be handled in an online forum. It's great to have it going, I enjoy reading all the different opinions. Maybe there should be a congress on that soon !

Nick Shinn's picture

I disagree with the statistical approach though. The fonts most used in Germany today are Times New Roman, Arial and Comic Sans.

How can you know what is most used without measuring usage?

dexter121uk's picture

that would be great to get a measured usage of what typefaces are used in a country!!! but yea not available at the moment i do not thing..moan moan... and i do not know about how to go about getting any of that data. is there a french design comunity website/forum online that a question could be posed to them on which typefaces they think are used the most, i know it would not be accurate, but just as a point of interest to see what they think. so not posing the question about french style just usage that wouldnt bring up this whole debate there.

so this question was all posed for the reason of me writting a paper for university. i have to have my first draft in monday, i'll put up here my structure plan and well see what you guys think...

(introduction im writting last as then i can say exactly what i have put into it)

History...
short account of where type started
what effected french typography through its development like art movements , religeon that type of thing.
historical french type foundaries
what typefaces where popular at different times in say france - germany - england

identity...
Bathes/semiotics and style
national identity and the french strong sense of cultural identity
globalisation and loss of identity

comparing the signage used for places around paris to ones in london for the same types of shops(maybee not sure on this one)

not sure what people think about this, but this is what im going with for now, its only a first draft, the actual paper doesnt need to be in till february, of course i want this done because i have work to get on with.

kk well thats all on my prt... thanks for all the discutions its been a great help!

www.dexter121uk.devaiantart.com

dexter121uk's picture

interestingly i just read this in meggs history of graphic design...P110

"Early typographic books in each European country had an identifiable style. The unified strcture and tone of the french book produced during the golden age of french typography was admired throughout the continent. As Garamond-dirived type fonts and tory-inspired initials and ornaments became available throughout Europe, printers began to Emulate the light elegance and ordered clarity of parisian books. As a result, the first international style of typographic design flourished as the dominant theme of the sixteenth century."

yea i thought it was interesting as this was sixteenth century, i would like to know how i could find out what the identifyable styles were. i was reading a dissertation written a few years ago, (2005) which is about frenchness and about them not giving into other cultures so easily, and it talks about what it means to be french. which has been an interesting read about french identity. but it still isnt tackling it froma typographical identity. even if i cant find much of a french style going on in modern times as far as type goes. it would be great talk talk about the past stlyes and what made french typography FRENCH!....

peter whitley's picture

There's an interesting anecdote in one of Michael Beirut's essays. The story is of a client who has an unflagging (if ignorant) view that the typeface must be "more French." After repeated presentations, the CD finally produced the design using Empire. He proudly unfurled the design with the exposition, "and as you can see we are using the typeface 'ahm-peer'." The client bought it.

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