dot-font: A New Slant on "Italic"
While Italy is the home of the roman letter (and its sidekick the italic), and Italian industrial and graphic design were legendary for much of the 20th century, modern Italy has not been at the forefront of the art of type design. But this is clearly changing. The recently published bilingual book "Italic 1.0: il disegno di caratteri contemporaneo in italia / contemporary type design in Italy" (Milano: AIAP Edizioni, 2002), which serves as the catalog of an exhibition that was shown in Rome in September, shows off the variety and quality of the type design being created today in Italy. The exhibition coincided with this year's ATypI conference, and attendees had the opportunity (if they could tear themselves away from the conference's multiple tracks of programming on Italian and international typography) to see both "Italic 1.0" and a companion exhibition, "5 Masters of Italian Graphics," at the National Library in Rome.
I never managed to get to the exhibitions, much to my regret, but the catalog of "Italic 1.0" is an impressive introduction. It's a well-made 120-page book, in A4 format on a comfortably toothy off-white paper stock that takes color printing very well yet feels like a book, not a glossy magazine. The design accommodates a wide variety of showings, both horizontal and vertical, of typefaces and their uses, organized into short chapters (of one to three spreads) on each of 25 designers.
The two typefaces used for the text are both the work of type designers featured in the book, but they are radically different from each other. The main text and the biographical notes on the designers use Giovanni de Faccio's Rialto, an elegant, lively calligraphic face rooted in Italian Renaissance type, which features subtly different versions that are suitable for text at various sizes. (I had admired Rialto when I first saw it, but I thought it might be too lively to work as a versatile text face. It isn't; its use in this book proves that it does work very well in text, and I could easily imagine putting it to good use in the design of books.)
In contrast, the descriptions of each typeface are presented in CP Company, an industrial sans serif designed by Fabrizio Schiavi as a corporate typeface for a clothing company; the CP Company family is intended to be legible onscreen as well as on the printed page, and its simplified, slightly squarish forms contrast surprisingly well with the elegant Rialto. (CP Company is also used as a headline face for the names of the designers on each spread.) All of the text is bilingual, first in Italian and then in English, but the distinction is made purely by position of the text blocks; there is no typographic distinction between the languages. (In the two introductory essays, there is one more distinguishing element: the English runs across the bottom half of the page, in black, while the Italian runs across the top, in a dark reddish-brown ink that's used effectively throughout the book.)
A Typographic Explosion
I keep coming back to the word "variety." Any survey of type designs will show a wide variation in approach, style, and execution, but "Italic 1.0" covers a very wide range indeed. We find elegant, carefully crafted serif text faces like Rialto or Jane Patterson & John Downer's Simona (yes, a few of the type designers are non-Italians who, like Patterson, work in Italy; some of the others are Italians who work outside Italy); purely calligraphic typefaces like Anna Ronchi's Etruria and Mulino Bianco; signage type based on ancient Roman incised lettering (Giovanni Lussu's Scipio, which has been cast in bronze and used in plaques along the pedestrian route between the Pantheon and the Trevi Fountain); and cheerful eccentricities like the distressed Apocalisse (Apocalypse) from the Milan design studio Jekyll & Hyde, or Enrico Baldetti's Jollymusic with its curly dots, which will clearly look right at home on a music flyer or CD cover.
A few of the designers, such as Fabrizio Schiavi, Alessio Leonardi, Antonio Pace, and Albert Pinggera, are already familiar to international audiences because their type designs have been published by internationally known font distributors like Linotype, FontShop, or T-26.
Two essays lead off the book: "Dopo Novarese / After Novarese," by Mario Piazza and Silvia Sfigliotti, and "Caratteri moderni / Contemporary type" by Carlo Branzaglia.
The first essay takes its title from the hugely influential Aldo Novarese, head of the Artistic Studio at the Nebiolo type foundry for half a century, but the writers look both forward and back from Novarese (who died in 1995), showing both the effect he had and the limitations that he labored under. Piazza and Sfigliotti make the case that Italian typography suffered from a long split between graphic design and type, where graphic designers neither learned much about type nor thought it very important, and where the expertise of type designers like Novarese wasn't valued in the successful halls of industrial design. This has only changed, they say, in the last decade, with the flowering of independent digital type-design studios and the creation of a market for new type designs for corporations and cultural institutions.
The second essay takes off from the influence that Neville Brody's design of "The Face" in the UK in the 1980s had on art directors everywhere, including Italy, bringing home the realization that type was an integral part of graphic design. But Branzaglia's essay veers too far into the academic in style, at the same time that it jumps around in subject, trying to touch on as many of the designers included in the exhibition as possible.
A third introductory piece isn't an essay so much as a visual experiment: "Alberobanana." Alessio Leonardi developed the Alberobanana project, he says, for a conference on typography and religion. As a kind of thought experiment, he imagined that the Phoenicians had picked difference symbols for each of their letters -- so that, for instance, the letter that became our "A" started out not as a cow but as a tree -- and he then let these alternative symbols evolve along the same lines as our real letters did. So he came up with variations like Alberobanana Onciale (in the medieval Uncial style), Alberobanana Bodoni (you guessed it), and even Alberobanana Franklin Gothic. This concept, which is given a single spread in the book, is amusing and perhaps thought provoking, although in essence it's the same process followed by any type designer adapting a type style from the Latin script to, say, Greek or Cyrillic.
Everyone who attended the ATypI conference in Rome this year came away with a copy of "Italic 1.0" (whether they got to the exhibition at the National Library or not), but for the rest, I suggest either buying the book through Nijhof & Lee in Amsterdam, who were selling it there as the conference's official book dealer, or getting in touch with the publisher directly. It is well worth adding to your working bookshelf.
Read more by John D. Berry.
Liked This? Read These!
Italian Oldstyle designed by Frederic Goudy in 1924 has now been digitized by Paul Hunt. This new font is not to be confused with the font "Adobe Italian Oldstyle MT", which is an earlier design from... Read More
As you might imagine, the city of Rome was a wonderful place to hold the annual conference of the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI). There may be no place in the world, even in Egypt... Read More
When Jean-François Porchez handed me a copy of a Japanese graphic-design magazine, "Idea," while I was visiting him in Paris last month, my first impression was that it featured a very nice article... Read More
Digital type design and development firm Canada Type is pleased to announce the immediate availability of the Ronaldson book face font family. Rooted in rich history as far back as the American Civil... Read More