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1.2 A Brief History of Type

In this lesson, we’ll cover the origin of typography, from early serifs engraved on monuments in Ancient Rome to the evolution of printing presses, the impact of Modernism, and the influence of digital software. We’ll also answer the big question: why is typography so important?

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1.2 A Brief History of Type

Hi there, and welcome to the Ultimate Guide to Typography. In this lesson we outline a brief history of typography all the way from early engravings to the influence of digital softwares. And the reason why typography is so important. Typography has evolved greatly throughout centuries. Punches and dies have been used as stamps back into second century BC Mesopotamia. This is perhaps the earliest form of printing. Similar techniques were used in Babylon, Crete in ancient Greece. Many of the seals we use now can be traced back to ancient Roman capital lettering that was used to inscribe monuments and buildings. In the 12th century in Europe, hand lettering was practiced by monks who created illuminated manuscripts using black letter, a Gothic style calligraphy script. The technique was time consuming until the invention of the printing press. Johannes Gutenberg created a machine that could process movable type, allowing a larger number of sheets to be printed using ink. Gutenberg then develop the first ever typeface, black letter. Starting now, typography would be accessible to the masses. In the 15th and 16th centuries, Roman type styles became popular. Black letter was difficult to read and Roman type styles like Jensen were more readable. Typesetters started to explore different ways to produce affordable books. Space saving techniques like tracking and lighting led to the development of italic weights. Slanted type cells were used when there was limited space available on the page. By the 18th century typographers created more refined versions of serif fonts. Humanist serif like Caslon was used to print documents resulting in extremely elegant design pieces. A couple of decades later, John Baskerville creates the first transitional typeface. Printing presses allowed for refined details. Baskerville feature thin serif and higher contrast between thick and thin strokes. By the end of the 18th century, the Didot family designed one of the first model serifs which feature extremely thin serifs and very high contrast between thick and thin strokes. Nowadays, this type of font is commonly used in fashion advertising in magazines. The industrial revolution brought progress to the mechanical and industrial fields. Printing presses and letter press evolved. Typefaces were widely available, designers started to experiment with condensed and stretched type for advertising materials, like posters and newspapers. The slab serif was born during this era to achieve a punchier and bolder style of serif that would call for attention. The late 1920s brought one of the best known early sans serifs, futura. The German designer Paul Renner was inspired by simple geometric shapes. Around the same time in England, Eric Gill created Gill Sans, the first humanist sans typeface. It feature more organic forms and natural curves. In the late 1950s in Switzerland, another evolutionary step came to fruition. Helvetica was introduced as a functional ultra legible type, characteristic of this was style. The typeface very quickly came to be used in every form of printing. The invention of computers in the 20th century allowed for digital versions of typefaces. While there were some limitations due to the lack of screen technology, many fonts were created as pixel type. Computer technology has been gradually evolving and making sophisticated type design softwares, making fonts available to all computer users. The evolution of typography won't stop there. It has a huge potential to keep evolving and surprises with new groundbreaking designs. So why is typography so important? Typography is a way to use texts as a visual element to convey a message. When used effectively, typography grabs attention, builds hierarchy, and brand recognition. As a communication tool, it is essential to our society. It is important to understand the principles of typography, otherwise we compromise communication, expression, and clarity. On the next lesson, we will go in depth into the different type classifications and type families. We'll see you there.

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