William Drenttel | Essays

Typography and Diplomacy

Tom Vanderbilt is a writer whose observations on design I respect: I wish he had written this piece for Design Observer. Instead, we have a very good writer making smart design observations on Slate. Check out this story: the United States State Department has moved from Courier New 12 to Times New Roman 14.

I always love it when typography makes the news. It's a scary thought, though, when U.S. government policy is driven by design considerations...

Posted in: Graphic Design, Politics, Typography

Comments [4]

Way back at the beginning of my career, I worked for two designers -- Chris Pullman at WGBH, and Massimo Vignelli -- who loved to use Courier. We would pull it right off the IBM Selectric -- then the ne plus ultra of cutting-edge technology -- and use it in mechanicals. The philosophy was that good typographic principals were so universal that they could transform even something "undesigned" like Courier.

Of course, today nothing is undesigned, and Courier is just another design choice. And I would agree that Times (more conversational, more "persuasive") makes a better choice for the State Department than Courier (more neutral but somehow more bureaucratic). As for more effective persuasive tools in the hands of the current administration? I won't get into that.

But 14 point? It's been observed on Typographica that Times at that size is best suited for padding a term paper. So perhaps bureaucracy prevails after all.
Michael Bierut

Some of Chris Pullman's early work with Courier—the in-house newsletters he produced at WGBH in the 1970s, for example—are as elegant as any editorial product I've ever seen. On the other hand, Paul Rand, for reasons I don't quite understand, was enamored of American Typewriter. At Yale in the late 1980s he was outraged by the rapid proliferation of digital fonts made accessible to students by virtue of what I can only imagine was Fontographer 1.0, and in retailiation, he restricted his classes to AT and one or two other typefaces (I think one was Caslon). In any font, padding a term paper would have been a virtual impossibility under his rule—a different political administration, to be sure. But equally bureaucratic. (Or maybe just autocratic.)
jessica Helfand

while offering a crisper, cleaner, more modern look

That gave me my first really good laugh of the day. They should have stuck with Courier. Very cutting edge.
marian bantjes

I wish he had written this piece for Design Observer.

Why just wish? Why not make it happen? Commission pieces from writers and designers you like.

Jobs | July 21