Just my type

Jesse Simon continues to pay attention to the details of his built environment.

The colours of Berlin: yellow
The colours of Berlin is a new bi-monthly series that will run throughout 2019. Where other posts on this blog have attempted to describe typographic trends and phenomena in Berlin, the entries in this series will focus on a particular colour by presenting a collection of images without additional text. Every city has its full spectrum on display; this is the one that belongs to Berlin.

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It’s hard not to feel down about the ugly state of my city, when I compare it with those examples of considered design. So here’s something quirky to lift my mood.

“Something illegible still has something to say”: Eliott Grunewald on his type designs
“I’ve been more interested in display typefaces, for their expressiveness and ‘voices’; like type as an image more than the design of a text typeface,” he tells It’s Nice That. “So I guess, sometimes, it does result in letterings which are formally too intense or even illegible. But something illegible still has something to say, to show or to promote, I don’t feel that even if you cannot read the word, you cannot get anything from it.”

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And, for a full account of what goes into good typeface design, take a look at this.

Why San Francisco
We got our first glimpse of Apple’s new sans-serif typeface, San Francisco, when the Apple Watch was unveiled in September of 2014—a new typeface designed specifically for legibility at small sizes on a tiny, high-resolution screen. Big news for type nerds and Apple fans alike.

It’s very thorough, and I don’t pretend to understand half of it, but it’s nice to see someone paying such close attention to the details.

Words on the street

From Atlas Obscura, an interview with Jesse Simon about his Berlin Typography project.

Celebrating Berlin’s typography, before it vanishes
“I came across a sign for a shop called Betten-König, an exquisite, yellow, cursive neon sign attached to the façade of what otherwise looked to be a fairly modest shop,” Simon recalls. “Something snapped into focus.” He realized that he’d been thinking about Berlin’s civic and commercial signs only in terms of their function. And yet, “this Betten-König sign, which seemed somehow too grand and too glorious for its purpose, was doing something entirely different. It brought a kind of joyous irreverence to the street,” he says.

There are some wonderful examples of street typography here, with a range of styles unlike anything I’ve seen before, I think.

Something else one finds in Berlin (and in most larger German cities) is a kind of creative tension between Western European and traditional German approaches to typography. Although German uses the Latin alphabet now almost exclusively, blackletter or Fraktur scripts were dominant in the previous centuries, and the influence is still present today. German also has its own orthographic traditions and its particular variations on the Latin alphabet, specifically the umlauted letters and the Eszett (ß). Again, this is not unique to Berlin, but is definitely a part of what makes its urban typography so distinctive.

I’ve heard of Blackletter, at least, but Sütterlin? No idea.

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Sütterlin is a form of handwriting that was prevalent in Germany during the first half of the 20th century; it fell out of common use in the second half of the century but, as with Blackletter, is still used in signage to evoke the values of a previous age. The sign here reads ‘Alt-Berliner Wirtshaus’ although this is not immediately apparent. If you stare at it for long enough (or go to the Sütterlin Wikipedia page) it begins to make sense.

The Atlas Obscura interview covers more examples but check out his Berlin Typography website for his extensive, and growing, collection. Long may they last out there, the streets will look poorer without them.