Blame typewriters?

I love typewriters. I used to own quite a few old ones, including a stupidly heavy Underwood. So I found this Medium article quite difficult to read at first.

Death to typewriters

What are you talking about, they’re amazing machines!

You see, I blame typewriters for double-handedly setting typography back by centuries. Type before typewriters was a beautiful world filled with hard-earned nuance and richness, a universe of tradition and craftsmanship where letters and their arrangement could tell as many stories as the words and passages they portrayed.

The article’s author, the typographer and designer Marcin Wichary, sets out a very compelling case and illustrates very clearly the influence typewriters have had on typography.

blame-typewriters-2

Those habits wouldn’t matter that much, originally; books and newspapers during that time proceeded with more sophisticated machinery and largely excellent typography. But, typewriters transmuted into teletypewriters, then into teletypes, then into “glass teletypes” (teletypes with actual “glass” computer screens), and eventually into computers. … And thus typography of early personal computers was essentially typewriters, realized in pixels.

He outlines in the rest of the article the ways he’s working with Medium to improve on-screen typography and reverse the damage caused by bad typewriter habits. These are set out in detail in Matthew Butterick’s book, Practical Typography.

Typewriter habits
I’ve claimed through­out this book that many bad ty­pog­ra­phy habits have been im­posed upon us by the type­writer. Here, I’ve col­lected them in one list. … 2: Two spaces rather than one space be­tween sen­tences. … 7: Pre­tend­ing that ac­cented char­ac­ters don’t exist. … 13: Ig­nor­ing lig­a­tures. 15: Be­liev­ing that mono­spaced fonts are nice to read.

Whilst I still love typewriters as objects, as word machines, I can absolutely see their point. I’m not sure about a typewriter revolution, but I can definitely see the need for a typography one.

Author: Terry Madeley

I work with student data and enjoy reading about art and design, data, education and technology.

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