Optima? serioulsy?

russellm's picture

Link posted on Design Observer. NY Times article about the design process for New York World Trade Center memorial.

In the end, the designers decided that cut-out letters would work best for rubbings and could be effectively back-lit at night. (The typeface they chose, Optima, was designed by Hermann Zapf in 1958.) Raised letters will indicate categories like Flight 11, North Tower or Engine Company 10.

Even an element so minute had a meaningful consequence. “A big part of the whole issue are the rubbings that people will want to take of the names,” Mr. Rogér said. “That was something we never wanted to lose.”
[NY Times]

aluminum's picture

Rubbings seem to be a pre-camera-in-cell-phone thing. But perhaps it's still the tangible preference.

russellm's picture

There's the tactile aspect of a rubbing, but I don't think it would have occured to many people to to make a rubbing without the suggestion that they may want to do it.

As they come "out of the box" the edges of cut metal letters will chew your average piece of cartage paper to bits,

-=®=-

Plaidjaney's picture

I think for families of the victims that had nothing physical to bury (most were empty coffins with mementos inside) this might finally be something tangible and connecting.

Si_Daniels's picture

Optima proved itself in 'Nam. Good choice IMHO.

phrostbyte64's picture

So is there something wrong with using Optima? Maybe I just missed something.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

...from the Fontry

chrisherron's picture

Having been to the Vietnam Memorial in DC several times, it is safe to say that victims' families will take rubbings at least as often as they take cell phone photos.

microspective's picture

I agree with sii.

Though some may say an American face should have been chosen (Gotham, for example, or any of the myriad others [no, not that Myriad]), I think Optima has an arguably American feel to it.

But more importantly, why "seriously?" in regard to Optima? Sure it's overused, happens to be a system font, and lots of other appropriate faces could have been used, but really, this is a great example of the right tool for the job (which, after all, is one of the tenets of good typography).

russellm's picture

There is nothing "wrong" with Optima, in the same way there is nothing wrong with many other possible choices, but, it is somewhat overused and cliche in this type of project, and I do think that does count for something.

IM(always)HO
:o)

If I was being too cute with the title, I apologize.

-=®=-

russellm's picture

Out of curiosity, regarding rubbings at the Vietnam Memorial, how large are the letters, what do people use to make the impressions and how kind are the letters to the paper that people use.

There really is something about a rubbing that a cell phone pic just can't bring.

-=®=-

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

I was quite moved when, on my first visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in D.C., I saw a man touching someone's name on the wall. Plaidjaney's comment about families finally having something tangible is spot-on.

Also, Optima may seem clichéd and overused to many typomaniacs, but that doesn't make it a bad choice. The intended audience is everybody (i.e., the general public, not just typophiles), and the face is a dignified-looking choice for a memorial.

David Rault's picture

Optima is a wonderful typeface, and a great choice. Let's not forget that its origins are on a gravestone in an italian church.

dr

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

I didn't know that, David. Thanks for the info.

kentlew's picture

I thought the inspiration was inscriptions at Santa Croce, not gravestones. I suppose those inscriptions are likely to be memorial. And maybe David's use of the term "gravestones" is just a translation thing, but it conjures up a different image in my mind, here in New England.

Quincunx's picture

Like I commented on the MyFonts blog post about this subject, I would probably commission a custom typeface for the monument. It seems to me something unique would be perfect for it.

phrostbyte64's picture

Considering that the decision was done by a committee, Optima is probably a wonderful choice. If they had waited on a committee to commission a custom font they might never get done.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~

...from the Fontry

David Rault's picture

Gravestones, as in "a big piece of stone with inscriptions on it, placed above a hole inside of which lays a coffin with a dead person inside", in Santa Croce. Am I translating wrong?

dr

David Rault's picture

You might find these 2 docs interesting: first is a photo of the interior of Santa Croce Basilica (in Firenze), and on the floor, you can see the gravestone (in Roman churches, it is a very common view to see gravestones of important people on the very floor of the church; most of the time an early priest, William the Conqueror on the floor of Abbaye aux Hommes in Caen / Normandy, Grace Kelly in Monaco, etc). On the second photo, you'll see a close-up of the gravestone. That's THIS gravestone Hermann Zapf used to design Optima. By looking at the letters, one can understand the genius of Zapf - Optima is quite different and refined IMHO.

dr

William Berkson's picture

The caps of Optima are great on the Viet Nam memorial. The lower case, which is also great in my opinion, has a certain delicacy that a caps-only use does not. So caps-only has a somewhat different character, giving more strength and gravity.

Dan Gayle's picture

Thank you David R! I've heard Bringhurst speak about that very spot when he spoke one time, and I've always wanted a chance to see it.

Looking at those letterforms, I'd almost want to see something MORE like what is on the floor.

kentlew's picture

No, you're right, David. My mistake. "Gravestone" would indeed be an apt term. I hadn't been in Santa Croce and had imagined, from the accounts I'd read previously, a different part of the church -- for instance, an inscription above the apse or something.

Thanks for the wonderful photos.

Quincunx's picture

> Considering that the decision was done by a committee, Optima is probably a wonderful choice. If they had waited on a committee to commission a custom font they might never get done.Considering that the decision was done by a committee, Optima is probably a wonderful choice. If they had waited on a committee to commission a custom font they might never get done.

Well, considering they have already been at it for like 8 years, another year or so isn't really a problem...

Si_Daniels's picture

I think if they'd gone with a custom font, one that was paid market-rate for, there would have likely been an outcry in the press - see this in the UK from time to time when government agencies pay for custom type.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1025876/Taxpayers-face-50-000-Br...

Dan Gayle's picture

I composed a code poem to help committees select their typefaces for public monuments:


var type;
var customType;
var modernType;
var classicType;

type = customType;

if (customType == "pork barrel") {
type = modernType;
}

if (modernType == "can't agree") {
type = classicType;
}

if (classicType == "cliche") {
var boring = "too bad";
type = classicType;
}

Quincunx's picture

> I think if they’d gone with a custom font, one that was paid market-rate for, there would have likely been an outcry in the press - see this in the UK from time to time when government agencies pay for custom type.

It is estimated the memorial and all that belongs to it will cost something like US$500 million, and another US$40 million per year to operate it...
I don't think an additional $60k or so (more or less the price in that dailymail article) for a custom typeface makes much of a difference... ;)

Si_Daniels's picture

Maybe, but people seem to get sidetracked by the $5,000 toilet seat or the million dollar bonus and don't look at the trillions being flushed away elsewhere.

1985's picture

You can't expect much from the Daily Hate sii. The gross error in the article is not to attack the fee but the value.
Strangely the author provides evidence contrary to the point of the article by quoting the spokesperson who states it is cheaper to license that way. However £50,000 does sound quite steep, is that the going rate?

Thanks for the photos David.

1985's picture

And £85,000 for the logo?

Rob O. Font's picture

russellm: "I don’t think it would have occured to many people [] to make a rubbing without the suggestion that they may want to do it."
You are kidding right?

"Considering that the decision was done by a committee, Optima is probably a wonderful choice."
Though I am certain that the VM font was approved by, I'm pretty sure that the Vietnam War Memorial font was not chosen by committee. It was chosen by Fud, (not the Department of Fonts and Urban Development).

Here's something kind of funny, sad, disrespectful and PhoniShop all in one.
http://www.sdvietnamwarmemorial.com/
Notice how the whisps of cloud and proud banner flies over, the elegant, hu?

David: "On the second photo, you’ll see a close-up of the gravestone. "
This was not carved or penned, as you can see, so Optima must have many influences.
This and most of the old floor type was incised and inlaid.

Bill: "So caps-only has a somewhat different character,"
...and a different tradition entirely due to monuments erected before the l.c. was around, perhaps.

Cheers!

Si_Daniels's picture

>It was chosen by Fud

I thought it was chosen by the architect Maya Ying Lin?

>You can’t expect much from the Daily Hate sii. The gross error in the article is not to attack the fee but the value.

Totally agree - when I posted a link to the article last year I wrote...

British Council Sans
London, UK - 11 June 2008
New custom typeface, created by Monotype UK has apparently saved British tax-payers £450,000 in font license fees.

russellm's picture

@ dberlow,

NO, of course I wasn't kidding. I really don't see a lot of peoople taking rubbings off of monuments, AND, In Canadian, and we just just don't do that. :o)

But if you read on, you may have noticed I have read & learned from the comments of others and changed my point of view on that. I'm still courious about what sort of materials people bring with them to do that.

-=®=-

Si_Daniels's picture

>I’m still courious about what sort of materials people bring with them to do that.

Did you look at the images I linked to? Seems as if there's official paper for people to use, maybe official wax crayons too?

chrisherron's picture

At the Vietnam War Memorial in DC, people bring materials for rubbings, but if I recall correctly, there are also materials provided (along with a ledger listing all the soldiers, and the locations of their names).

eliason's picture

BTW for an excellent documentary on the Vietnam Veterans' Memorial, see the first hour of Maya Lin - A Strong Clear Vision. But I don't recall that anything about the typeface is mentioned in it.
Looks like her original proposal envisioned something more Trajanesque.

nab's picture

yes chrisherron you're right they do provide paper and a ledger at the vietnam memorial...
it has a been a popular thing in the states to do the memorial/tombstone rubbing so it seems normal that this would be the case at the WTC memorial as well...for many many many years people have also done tombstone rubbings, i suppose as personal keepsakes/memories...and in england brass rubbings have been done for years and years...

as far as optima it does seem appropriate, not that i am a big fan of the font (due to the overuse of it at a company i worked for!)...but it hearkens back to classic roman letterforms (ie: roman square caps)...

Si_Daniels's picture

I recall Prof Twyman scolding some of my fellow Reading undergrads on the field trip to Rome, for taking rubbings – “the department has a fine collection of professional rubbings from all of these inscriptions” or words to that effect. And he was right. I assume the rubbings are still there in a dusty drawer somewhere.

Maurice Meilleur's picture

With respect to those posting good information about Optima's pedigree, and admitting that the font looks better in use for this project than it seemed to me it would before I saw the images:

The connection to Lin's Vietman memorial is precisely the reason why I think Optima is a bad choice. Most people in the US would not be able to tell you Optima's name, but they have seen images of the memorial (if they haven't been there themselves), and seeing the font in political and military contexts inevitably evokes the memorial, and by extension, people's opinions about the war. I am convinced that this is why McCain's campaign chose Optima, and why they used it light against dark--to evoke the memorial, the war, and people's memories about the war, hence to associate McCain with his fallen fellow servicemen and -women and to activate the emotions and issues and divisions people used during and after the war to frame political questions and sort information about the 2008 presidential campaign.

No matter where you stand on the so-called 'global war on terror', and no matter what you think about Vietnam and about the political divisions in the US it prompted and reinforced, those emotions and issues and divisions are not an appropriate way to frame the September 11 attacks. The people who died in the crashes and collapse were not analogous to soldiers, the hijackers were not analogous to the Viet Cong or the NVA, al-Qaeda and the Islamist movement are not analogous to Chinese or Soviet communism, and the fights over how to respond to terrorism not analogous to the debates in the US between the hawks and the doves.

To draw the connection on purpose, even in a subtle way, is to invite people to remember the attacks and evaluate policy and events in the intervening years in an unproductive and misleading way at best. At worst, it reinforces the efforts of those in the US who would like nothing more than to relive the last 40+ years of American political-culture warfare on a global stage, with new names for the antagonists.

The board should have stuck with Scala.

William Berkson's picture

Optima is so widely used that it is not identified particularly with the Vietnam memorial. Type fans know it because they are surprised how beautifully it works when they see it. Well, at least I was.

But there is no general identification of this font, with its somewhat feminine lower case, with militarism.

John Hudson's picture

Nice pictures of Santa Croce, David. My immediate response was 'Someone throw out those people wearing shorts!' :)

Si_Daniels's picture

>But there is no general identification of this font, with its somewhat feminine lower case, with militarism.

Yep. During the campaign I don't think many bloggers or reporters focused on the link. If they mentioned the font they made a connection to cosmetics not the wall.

Si_Daniels's picture

Hmmm, doing a web search for "mccain optima vietnam memorial" it seems as if before my "coincidence" comment to the LA Times few people made the connection.

So one would have thought if the plan was for people to make the connection the McCain folks would have planted the seed and there would have been more buzz before that March 2008 article.

Either that or I'm the McCain patsy! Yikes!

Maurice Meilleur's picture

It's not militarism I'm talking about; the issue isn't that visitors will somehow see Optima and want to kill terrorists harder. It's that a memorial to the victims of the September 11 attacks uses an important part of the design vocabulary of a prominent national monument to the soldiers who died in another war, in a way that I think unmistakably and inappropriately evokes in the viewer's mind that other war as a framework for interpreting the September 11 attacks.

Do people here think that visitors to the site will not draw the connection? As a designer, do you think that the meaning and significance of the elements you use in a design are purely a matter of the history and contexts you as the designer choose to think about (basilicas in Firenze and German type designers, not wars in SE Asia and black granite memorial walls) and not what people who see what you do bring to your design? It doesn't matter that they won't know Optima's name. William's right that Optima gets used in many contexts that don't evoke Lin's memorial. But in memorial contexts, where the viewer is invited to mourn people who died, the connection is immediate (if not wholly conscious).

People respond automatically and emotionally to elements of design all the time, based on their personal experience and the culture they share with others; designers make choices about what elements to include in their work based on the assumption that they do. Why should we think that isn't true here?

Maurice Meilleur's picture

I should have said, mourn people who died violently.

Rob O. Font's picture

>Why should we think that isn’t true here?
Well for one thing, the choices at the time were severely limited.

>I thought it was chosen by the architect Maya Ying Lin?
And how do you s'pose she managed that?

Maurice, the memorial to the victims of the September 11 attacks uses an important part of the design vocabulary that was there before the Vietnam Memorial, Vietnam, and even France.

Cheers!

Maurice Meilleur's picture

Look, let me give you an example of how well people recognize graphic elements, even out of context. A fellow student of my wife's in the design class she's taking now submitted the following as a logo proposal for Champaign, IL's 150th year celebration in 2010 (this is not a crit, so lay off if you don't like it):


A person on the city steering committee, the folks making decisions about (among other things) the logo they want to use for the graphic material for the celebrations, said, "No way. That thing looks like the wrong kind of rising sun." I don't know that it necessarily means that the committee shouldn't have considered the design, but you have to admit, he was right on:


People speak design better than a lot of supposedly more informed people give them credit for.

Si_Daniels's picture

>And how do you s’pose she managed that?

Early 80's... hm, I'd guess flipping through Letraset books?

Maurice Meilleur's picture

Come on, David. We're not talking about the letterforms of Roman capitals. We're talking about a specific and noteworthy typeface, being used in a very prominent way, in the context of remembering events with dramatic world-historical, political, cultural, and intensely emotional consequences.

Si_Daniels's picture

I guess the problem with these subliminal connections is that they're hard to prove. Although I suspect you could set up an experiment to determine that connections are statistically significant. Might be as simple as giving a group of people a list of names set in Optima and asking them to say the first thing that pops into their minds. Compare this with the results from people who get the same list in Trajan.

William Berkson's picture

Well, having gown up in Champaign, I know that City Hall, in the picture, is on the north side of the street, and you never see the sun rising over it :)

Also it's not a sky scraper, not that great a building, and not typical of the look of downtown Champaign.

And the "Champaign" has too light type. Other than that, it's great.

Oh and everybody's a critic :)

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