One of the stupidest things I've ever seen ?

hrant's picture

> Because it can mislead us and we will be
> more likely to commit typographic atrocities?

I actually don't think so. But respecting greatness (by not caricaturizing it) in other fields is a Good Thing.

> i will let you be the one to try to convey that to them.

No. They don't really want to know. We simply have to work under their radar. Quietly. Without writing loud poetry.

> many people simply do not fathom,
> even on a subconscious basis

No, I think almost everybody does.

> if you give end-users a choice between
> a system that gives them control versus
> one that does not, they’ll usually choose
> the system that _does_ give them control.

Yes, this is the crux of the problem. People have been brainwashed into thinking they know everything. Because this makes them easier to deceive and control. Hopefully one day we will manage to make humility a cornerstone of our society.


Si_Daniels's picture

I know this is veering off-topic but I think you’ll find that few people use anything other than the default. So Microsoft, Apple and Adobe decide which font the author and reader use. I think the fact that after years Word changed the default from Times New Roman to a contemporary sans-serif in Calibri, and few people even noticed, means that there are not a bunch of educated users out there who are changing the defaults.

bowerbird's picture


i thought your project was endearing.
evidently, so did lots of other people.


one of the first times i saw the periodic table
being used as a presentational device was in
a hypertext story "e:electron" by deena larsen.

deena larsen:
> I have a variety of works on the web
> that use everything from ferris wheels
> to the periodic table of elements
> as structural analogies
> for my stories and poems.

you can find an overview of deena's work here:

other hypertext authors have used the device too:

> Directions, by Rob Swigart
> The Eastgate Quarterly Review of Hypertext,
> volume 1, number 4
> Directions is a multimedia hypertext poem,
> taking its inspiration from
> the periodic table of the elements.

> Quam Artem Exerceas, by Giuliano Franco
> The Eastgate Quarterly Review of Hypertext,
> volume 1, number 4
> Centered on the periodic table of the elements,
> combines poetic fragments, visual images,
> prose narrative, and sound to create a deep,
> dazzling, and often startling work.

and here's a periodic table of science-fiction:

and another, this one for "visualization methods":

and, for dessert, one for desserts!


Theunis de Jong's picture

The Scifi one is actually very good! A homage to The Elements in 118 short stories by Michael Swanwick (cyberpunk epic Schismatrix writer).

Great link -- always something to read if I'm bored for 5 minutes ;-)

bowerbird's picture

hrant said:
> No, I think almost everybody does.

i know what _you_ think.

you think that people _subconsciously_
notice the subtle effects of various fonts.

i think that some do, and some don't...
and i think that you likely overestimate
the number who do. then again, perhaps
i'm overestimating the ones who do not.


sii said:
> I think you’ll find that few people
> use anything other than the default.

right. because they don't really care...
heck, they probably don't even _notice_.

which is exactly what i just said, above...

further, if you were to point it out to them,
they'd probably say "oh, yes, you're right",
and then shrug their shoulders and forget it.
because there's no reason for them _to_ care.

you guys know. and care. fonts are your life.
most people aren't you. don't know. or care...
other things are much more important to them.

> So Microsoft, Apple and Adobe decide
> which font the author and reader use.

and book publishers. and magazine designers.
and newspaper people. and sign-makers too...

for most of our real-world experience, to now,
we haven't had the chance to control our fonts.

so it's no surprise that now, when we finally do,
we just take whatever is given to us as default...

however, it is no longer true of e-book people.
they know they control the font (when they can),
and they _use_ that capability, and they _like_ it
-- consider it to be one of the perks of e-books --
and now _demand_ it from e-book programmers.
and they reject the e-book formats -- like .pdf --
which do not let them use the fonts they prefer...


hrant said:
> Yes, this is the crux of the problem.

no, the _crux_ of "the problem" is that you
consider personal choice to be "the problem".

but the cat is now out of the bag on that one.

the end-user controls the font, like it or not.

and that's the way the end-users _like_ it, so
those are the systems that they're gonna use,
even if _you_ don't think it's "good for them".

> Hopefully one day we will manage to make
> humility a cornerstone of our society.

but where will that leave you
"experts" who "know better"?

are you immune to humility?


1985's picture


Edit: To Cam I mean for his good form!

hrant's picture

> the cat is now out of the bag on that one.

That cat has been out of the bag, out of the house, out in the street, and out of the country. That cat owns its own bag. But I don't think it's personal choice that's the problem, it's some people's propensity to "repurpose" it to enslave us. And some slaves apparently applaud their masters.

> are you immune to humility?

It's about context. It's counter-productive for me to be too humble about type design when dealing with a typographic novice. But for example even though I know a lot more about politics than most people, I still don't vote. Most people who vote are impressionable, self-important peons.


Marcelo Soler's picture

if you give end-users a choice between / a system that gives them control versus / one that does not, they’ll usually choose / the system that _does_ give them control. / even if it ain’t the one that’s “good for them”.
Is it that way? Absolutely not. Any version of Linux, or even Mac OSX, gives more control to the user than Microsoft Windows. But the winner is MSW. In the same sense, say, MS Word gives a lot of control either nobody cares or uses. As you say somewhere, the user don't mind it. I agree one must tend to give users the more of control, but only in the user's scope. I'd not allow users to chose i.e. memory cache size or low level device addresses. Much of the system must remain transparent to the user ever. I think typographic decisions are not within the scope of users' choice; you can allow them to change font size, but spacing and alignment should be out of their control, the same as font face; perhaps it could be a reduced set of default fonts. When you fly on a plane, you enjoy a lot of options that don't include the kind of fuel, the speed, the altitude, the lift area size, or even the name of the pilot and his crew: they all are matter of the airline company; worse: I guess the silly man at control would not let you press a single button within his flight deck.
We had endlesly read and/or written that type design should remain imperceptible for readers; well: how could they decide on something they don't see?


Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Cam, it was nice to see your comments here. Thanks for posting!

Stéphane, thanks for linking to Michael Bierut's "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Typeface"... I'd forgotten all about that essay. Also, Bierut seems to have liked this periodic table of typefaces, because he posted a link to it on Design Observer. :-)

Celeste's picture

— Ricardo
Yes, it was through "Design Observer" that I found the thing — I always take a look at the links posted there by MB, which is one of my absolute heroes (though I can disagree with him sometimes, obviously).

Dan Gayle's picture

What I think would be the ultimate homage to the real periodic table is to create the uncreated: A placemark for the un-designed typefaces. Mendeleiev’s Periodic Table of the Elements was amazing because it predicted elements that weren't even known about at the time of its creation.

It would be cool if somehow you could make a typographic table do the same thing, but for type.

What is to be the next major typeface(s)?

William Berkson's picture

>What is to be the next major typeface(s)?

A squared sans with added semi-serif slabs :)

russellm's picture

the Periodic Table of Elements, as you all know, simply lists the elements in numeric order based on the number of particles they are made up of, starting with Hydrogen. This allows you to predict and classify undiscovered elements by simply filling the blanks once you've listed all the known ones, and further, to predict their properties.

To do this with type, Is really quite easy. Let's say we assume a 1000 × 1000 M quad, going in a similar numeric order, just start listing all possible combinations of units that are black or white and can be classed as glyphs in a known alphabet…

Then again, maybe not. :¬)


Dan Gayle's picture

Wow. What would that chart look like? I wouldn't want to design a million unit chart. That would be rough on the synapses.

Nick Shinn's picture

John Hudson posted a "phylogenetic" chart of type styles quite recently, something to do with expanding the stroke by varying degrees, with varying degrees of contrast.

Nachos's picture

@ Celeste

I'm not sure if you've looked closely at this graphic but the firm that created this "periodic table" is pulling it's content from numerous surveys of typical typefaces that designers use professionally. So, your comment that "without referencing a specific context (academic, professional, publishing, etc.) is utterly useless" is baseless because the context is implied.

thinking that one of my students could genuinely take this so-called “Periodic Table of Typefaces” at face value and mistake it for a serious, useful tool makes me very, very, very angry. Now, we all have our jaded view on what typefaces we like/dislike and why but if this is "One of the stupidest things I've ever seen" you lead a truly privileged life.

Mendeleiev is dead, so I wouldn't worry about him being offended. But if you are that upset about it I would suggest taking a vacation.

mbojkowski's picture

I feel like I've seen this before... possibly in a copy of U&lc? Doesn't anyone recall something similar in ITC's U&lc magazine?

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