Unbelievable that it’s only been two months (Sept 10) since we launched, our new blog on all things type-related, and only one month more since we gathered together as Alphabettes, a loose group of women in type, typography, and the lettering arts. It’s been quite a summer (and we’ve been making quite some waves) but finally having a good place to post what’s on my mind regarding type and our industry — quick, informal, diverse, occasionally super-specialized (where can you write about matrix production in metal type days these days?) and, above all, with awesome new friends — is easily one of the best things that happened to me this year.

To many more quarters, ’bettes! 🍹


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Max Bollwage’s caricatures of type people

Today, my friend Max Bollwage turns 88. I was lucky to get to know this grand Gebrauchsgrafiker and illustrator from Stuttgart at a DIN-classification meeting in 1998 (perhaps the best thing that came out of this meeting) and we stayed in touch ever since. He can look back on a full career and life, designing a broad range of things, from small hand-lettered book-covers to complex design systems such as working on the corporate design of Sparkasse. For years, mainly at type conferences and other gatherings, Max keenly observed and then sketched his colleagues with a quick hand. Erik van Blokland recently found a stash of fun portraits on a back-up drive with ATypI Antwerp things from 1993. Can you guess who is who?




More images in Erik’s album on Flickr

Happy birthday, Max!

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Type excursion through Italy

Early June, I spent a week in northern Italy visiting print shops and other interesting sites on a small type field trip around Kerning conference. It was also an exploration of all the different types of trains Tren Italia is deploying these days. I flew to Milan Linate (wise decision), took the bus to the main station (wonderful from the outside, nightmarish to navigate inside), and then a slooow, crowded and hot regional train to Torino. There I met with David Shields, who happend to be stationed in Florence for VCU summer school, and we took another train to Alpignano to visit Tallone Editore, Italy’s last printer/publisher solely working with foundry type and mostly hand-made paper, run by Enrico Tallone and his family. We got an introduction ot the company and their superb products from his lovely English speaking daughters (Enrico doesn’t speak English) before they showed us around the print shop where also some font-ID fun was waiting for me.

Enrico and one of his daughters

At the Tallone print shop

Nebiolo modular type and locomotives

The highlight was Enrico showing us his rare woodtype specimen books. Jaw-dropping.

David Shields speechless


Next stop was Archivio Tipografico in the center of Turin, where we would meet Nick Sherman who couldn’t make it out to Alpignano. Archivio, named after the celebrated corporate magazine of Nebiolo, is a wonderful print shop cooperative, preserving old type, machines, and producing printed matter for diverse clients; also some type ephemera, like a small brochure about the work of Aldo Novarese. This page, for instance, is showing some of Novarese’s typefaces and the corresponding printing forme with sorts stuck between wine corks:

Letters by Aldo Novarese as printed by Archivio Tipografico

Forme with rotated letters at Archivio Tipografico

David had to go back to Florence but Nick and I stayed in Turin, checking out the pizza at piazza Giambattista Bodoni. Couldn’t get more topical.

Alla Lettra at piazza Giambattista Bodini  Torino

After exploring more of Turin’s sights we took the train to Bologna, the pretty comfortable, superfast one this time. I even bought four tickets by accident, two for adults, two for kids, which we learned while chatting with a kind fellow passenger about fonts.

So good to be back in Bologna at our friend’s shop, Anonima Impressori! Team Baguette, Jean-Baptiste Levèe and Loïc Sander, joined us, too, reviving our visit from 2014 when we also went there on our way to Kerning conference. This time though, Nick determined we should print something, and why not with the largest type they had? These über-letters are cut in half or even quarters and assembled on the press and were larger than the largest press they had, so we had to print in two runs, first bottom, then top half.

The largest type at Anonima Impressori is cut in half



After a lovely night out eating and drinking Bolognese delicacies, we drove to Faenza, a charming “normal” Italian town between Bologna and Rimini where the conference would take place. Most conference goers stayed at Hotel Vittoria (recommended), some of us visited the cemetery (very recommended), or just hung out in the nice courtyard at the hotel. The conference venue is a historic theatre/cinema, a fantastic setting with an adjecent cosy courtyard where we would hang out between talk and snack on more Italian delicacies, or peek into the small historic print shop that is also part of the ensemble. This year, I was invited to give a talk on choosing typefaces, alongside a great line-up with, among others, Laura Worthington, Tobias Frere-Jones, Bruno Maag, and Nicholas Felton. Many type friends come from quite far away to Faenza to enjoy the friendly layed-back atmosphere — and you should totally, too, next year!

Tradition has it that we would visit Tipoteca Italiana in Cornuda after Kerning, where we thus drove on Saturday morning. Since our last visit, Tipoteca greatly expanded and stepped up its game, although it was already the greatest and neatest and well-kept type museum I’ve ever been to (see my report from 2014 in the 365typo book). Opposite of the main building now opened a newly built house with lecture hall, seminar rooms, and a superb restaurant where we met Tipoteca maestro Sandro Berra, joined in by Team Geek, Nina Stössinger and Tobias Frere-Jones. Although we made it relatively singlemindedly through the vast exhibition to have more time at the library, we didn’t even get to the room with the woodtype storage in time before we were totally “fuso”. Obviously, not even two visits are enough.


Metropol flyer




After-type drinks. The firsts of many aperol spritzes that day. We spent the evening in near-by Treviso, surprise-joined by Claudio Rocha, heading home after some ice-cream and 35+ salade de fruits. The band:

New Indie Rock Band

The Bolzonello Lawn Conference the following morning was more meta this time than last year’s edition, nevertheless a staple in our busy event schedule by now. Pre conf internetting:


We hit the road towards Veneziaaa (Team Baguette) and Paduaaa (Team Malade) respectively, heavily packed with poster rolls and book bags. After hanging out for three sad hours at Padua train station due to overbooked trains, we had the privilege to experience yet another fine product of Tren Italia rocking us towards our final destination, Milano. There, we explored the modernist Milan subway signage system (sporting a typeface I mistakenly identified as Forma), and met The Dan Rhatigan & friends for food and drinks with a view. And after another last day exporing type, lettering, architecture and Italian delicacies, I flew home, exhausted but endlessly inspired and ready to learn ever more about Italian type over the summer. To be continued.



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The unforseen merits of girls’ school?

This is an excerpt of an email I sent Amy Papaelias a while ago on the topic of (few) women in design. So you know where I’m coming from.

Throughout all of my youth and adult life, I rarely to never considered that anything that happened or didn’t happen in my life has anything to do with my gender. I went to an all-girls (catholic) high-school. Naturally and unquestioned, we did everything there – science, sports, mathematics, programming (even if only super old-school Basic), cooking, building stuff … it never occurred to me that girls cannot or should not do anything they want. I actually wanted to study chemistry when I finished school. We had male teachers who were wimps and some who were hunks, we had teaching nuns and tough business lady types. If there was a conflict or bullying, we could be certain it was because of who knows what but not because we were girls. With this (maybe super naïve) mindset I went on to study and on to work. I still think it is a good basic attitude, paired with speaking up whenever you see issues or feel treated unfairly, but of course it comes with tons of mine fields I walked through and will proudly walk through in the future.

My advice for female designers: Don’t just do publication/book design and illustration, please. There are so many interesting fields in design besides these classically female dominated departments. Document your work, be an active part in the community, write and publish your thoughts and opinions (have opinions!), talk at conferences even if it’s scary (it is).

My advice for you others: educate and encourage girls, offer them flexible, equal jobs and an environment they want to work in. Be understanding about irrational fears, doubts and weird behavior. Ask their opinions, include them and just generally take them seriously and not only if they adopt male-manners.


Thank you Frau Uffelmann, who pushed through against my parents that I would coincidentally attend this school, Marienschule Fulda.


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Let’s have an all-female-speakers conference next year.
I’d have many ideas.


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Female speakers at conferences

Yesterday, this discussion took place again on Twitter. I hear this complaint all the time, and sometimes complain myself, too. However, I also organized conferences and events in the past and know how hard it is to get more female speakers on board if you still want to cover the topics you find important to cover. We gotta be proactive if we want more women to speak, all of us. I proposed many talks via calls for papers / presentations, because I want to participate in the community, in the discussion and in research. Don’t wait around for other people to cordially invite you. Sometimes these proposals get accepted, sometimes they don’t, but I don’t automatically suspect misogyny or a scheme behind it when I get turned down.

Many times when I spoke at events where I was the only, or one of the very few women, I couldn’t help but wonder if I was only invited because they needed some (more) girls on stage. Because, you know, complaints. This is not the feeling you want to have. You want to think, they invite you or accept your proposal because they think what you could contribute is interesting and fitting.

Instead of only looking at the diversity on stage, we should take a closer look at the boards and teams that are organizing events, the councils and committees that are shaping organizations. And don’t say “they should”, be an active part in your community and offer yourself as a candidate.


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Equality in our industry

“I don’t want nobody to give me nothing. Open up the door, I’ll get it myself.” — This line from James Brown’s still timely song is what I have to think of every time I read another piece on gender and race inequality that stresses minorities and problems more than it offers suggestions for improvements. I don’t want no special treatment, I want equal treatment. I don’t want a job, an award, a speaking engagement, feature, or interview request because of a quota for alleged minorities, but because someone thinks I do good work, have expertise in a field, or can contribute someting valuable, regardless of my sex.

I’m not sure it really helps to constantly complain about women not being on stage enough at conferences, or not getting a certain award. It promotes the feeling that women who do get invited are only asked because of that. It may just take a little bit more time until the fantastic recent graduates rise and get the next life-time achivement award. In the meantime, see what you can do to support them. And if anyone reading this needs tips, names, contacts of people to invite, talk to, or hire, I’m more than happy to point you to some great colleagues.

What can you do to support women, people of color, or just anyone in general:

• Educate them. Suggest and pave the way to technically oriented programs, too. While the same education is theoretically available to all, not everyone can afford to follow an expensive program (thumbs up for Germany!). Set up scholarships, offer internships and apprenticeships (and pay them).

• Offer them (flexible) jobs. Many design programs report that they have around 70% girls in their classes, but only about half of them are later working in the field, lets alone in a leading role. Offer part-time positions and flexibility in working remotely. In many countries it is not easy to find affordable child day-care (boo Germany!).

• Offer them an environment they want to work in. No bullying, no bro culture/talk, team building over booze. Be understanding about different cultural backgrounds, socialization, and different constitutions. Be patient if not everyone is exhibiting the consistent and smooth mood and behaviour that would be desirable at all times. (Trust me, you don’t want to go through this hormon stuff every four weeks.)

• Encourage them. Recognize them and show appreciation for their work and effort. Unfortunately, because of many reasons discussed elsewhere, some women tend to have less confidence when it comes to applying for a challenging position, taking on new tasks, getting into technical areas, speaking in public, or just speaking up in general. Especially if they have had bad experiences before (which I can unfortunately assure you they have). Ask their opinion, include them, point them to opportunities and openings, offer your genuine support and help.


Why not make a series of blog posts about great people in our industry that are not that visible in general? Jill Pichotta or Andreas Frohloff heading font production at foundries, tech geniuses like Inka Strotmann and Jens Kutilek, staff designers like Sandra Winter, Sara Soskolne or Robin Nicholas, or Petra Weitz or Joyce Ketterer running a type foundry.


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Typography on the Web

I’m pretty content. Almost all the things we got accustomed to in everyday (printed) typography are now also possible on the web — and more — if you only know and care enough about it. I don’t mourn poorly produced paperbacks when I can read a casual story on screen (and then delete it), nor do I miss huge format newspapers that pile up in my wastepaper and were always too large to read on trains anyway.

Of course, not everything we see and read on screens is fine typography, but that’s how it was in the early days of DTP, too — people using a medium and software who aren’t experts in the field yet — and how it still is for the majority of “offscreen” typography. Think sales flyers, cereal packaging or patient information. What we gained with modern web technology is the ability to have the layout (and even fonts) automatically react to outside conditions like screen format, device capabilities, user preferences, or even reading distance. Design is no longer about tailoring invariable content to one specific embodiment; the web forces us to think about typography in terms of parameters and to get clear about content versus form.

Typography hits us on two different levels: by the look of it, telling us if this is something we may like or should be interested in, and by the necessity to read it. If we have to read this time table, contract or assembling instruction we will do so regardless of its looks. We may find it more or less comfortable to read but our brains are incredibly capable of deciphering the most cryptic glyphs in context. If you want to attract designer or improve everyone’s reading experience in general, here are a few things to keep in mind, in any medium:

☞ Make sure the rendering of the typeface you chose is excellent in the size you chose, well spaced and of even color. Set font-smoothing options to “subpixel-antialiased” or “auto” for small text on light background for better legibility; “font-smoothing: antialiased” (full-pixel greyscale antialiasing) looks good in sizes above 60px.

☞ If you don’t have good control over hyphenation, don’t justify texts, especially not in narrow columns. Hyphenation on the web is still tricky and algorithms for anything but English poor. Java Script hyphenation is an option.

☞ Make use of the font’s built-in kerning. Switch on kerning (and other features like ligatures) via “font-feature settings” or “optimize-legibility” (read up on the quirks of the latter option).

☞ Beware of faux-bold and faux-italic. Don’t use the styling functions/tags if you don’t have the respective font available on the site. Check how you call the fonts in your font-loading CSS, either as a merged family (via “bold” or “italic”) or individually by its full name.

☞ Text doesn’t have to be large to be readable, dare to use sizes smaller than 24px, but check the rendering across all browsers and platforms if the type is smaller than 16px. Keep the apparent size (large or small x-height) of the font in mind.

Line-length (and other measures) should scale with your screen size, but set an appropriate max-width. You can use media queries to switch font styles relative to line-length, or landscape vs. portrait screen orientation. Short lines look and read well in a narrower, economic typeface, longer lines in a wider font.

☞ Adjust line-height and margins in relation to line-length. Text on small screens in short lines need only a little bit of leading and padding and are more comfortable to read when set quite compact (= less scrolling). Longer lines need larger line-height (120% of the font-size and more).

Size is relative. The closer we hold a text to our face, the smaller the nominal font-size, line-height and margins can be. (Check universal measures like arc minutes: size in relation to reading distance).

☞ Try size-specific variants of a type series for different text types and sizes, e.g. a family’s text styles for body copy and display styles or narrow variants for headlines. Multiple widths of a family can be used to accommodate longer and shorter headlines for instance.

☞ And lastly, mind ortho-typography sandtraps like “” ’ — and –, especially in large headlines and pull-quotes. Correct quotes and dashes are easy to use on the web (make sure you spec UTF-8 encoding). These kind of things stand out saliently and contribute to the still prevailing skepticism whether good typography on the web is possible at all. It is.


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Deutscher Gießzettel für Antiqua

bei Lieferung nach Minima, von 48p aufwärts:

– – – – -::::;;!!??(())[[]]’’**»»««„„““111122223344555566778899990000A

Nach TGL 2967 (DDR Industrienorm). Weil ich das gerade brauchte. Vielleicht hilft es ja noch jemandem.

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Udo Jürgens – Indra

Ich habe da diese Theorie, dass ich nach einem Lied von Udo Jürgens benannt bin. Was sonst? 1970er Jahre, meine Eltern waren Schlagerfans, mein Vater hatte eine riesige Plattensammlung (zusammen mit dem hellblauen Käfer auch so ziemlich das einzige, was er mit in die Ehe brachte, wie meine Mutter ihm bis heute vorhalten würde). Erst sehr viel später erfuhr ich von der Mutter eines Freundes, einer Hinduismus-Expertin, was Indra noch ist.

Zurück zu Udo. 1970 war Indra die B-Seite von Babuschkin, einem Lied nach dem Muster seiner Erfolgsplatte Anuschka. Udofan dazu:

Nach dem Riesenerfolg mit Anuschka versuchte man auf dieser Welle weiter zu reiten. Babuschkin funktioniert nach dem gleichen Strickmuster, wie die Vorgängersingle und schaffte es wahrscheinlich auch aus diesem Grunde ebenfalls in die Charts (höchste Platzierung Rang 12). Die anspruchsvollere Nummer war aber sicherlich die B-Seite: Indra. Sie wurde von Udo Jürgens sogar in englisch aufgenommen und in Südafrika veröffentlicht.

Jetzt möchte ich das Lied natürlich brennend gerne auf englisch hören. Udo Jürgens ist gestern gestorben.

67-babuschkin_indra_frontCover Songtext:


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