I’m writing to you from my favorite cafe in the Castro, Spike’s, and trying not to lose my mind whilst looking at this board of coffee beans that are available for purchase:

Everything about it is wrong; there are multiple styles of serif mixed with a variety of sans and many of the numbers and letters are matched with partners of the wrong size. It looks like a computer is trying to speak out to me but hasn’t quite figured out Unicode yet and so is attempting to sell ồℝGǡⓝI𝐶 𝘾Ǭ𝐅𝗙ē⒠ instead.

However! I sort of love this style, too. It reminds me of what the graphic designer David Carson said in an interview years ago where he bemoaned the typesetting in advertising and how it often doesn’t have any relationship with the product it’s selling. He points at a magazine and says something along the lines of “how does this word mean coffee?”

“It doesn’t look wired and it doesn’t look as if it’s buzzing all over the place – this typesetting is atrocious because it doesn’t look like the word ‘coffee’! This word could be ‘soda’ or ‘ice cream’ or anything at all!”

I’m not sure I agree with everything David Carson says and I especially don’t agree with his work on grungey-style layouts and typesetting – but! but! – I’ve always thought about this rant of his and how it relates to my work. And so I cannot think of a better way to say ‘coffee’ than with broken characters and nonsensical punctuation.

To put it simply: I unabashedly love 𝘾Ǭ𝐅𝗙ē⒠.

I’m thinking of all this as I’m staring at a full-screen PDF of Namrata Goyal’s Biblio which happens to be one of the strangest things I’ve ever seen. How do you even being to describe this typeface? I suppose that it looks as if the shapes were cut out of paper with a pair of scissors. All the counters (the shapes within each letter) appear to be sharp squares and rectangles with never a curve in sight. But on the outside of each character the strokes are smooth and somewhat elegant even.

Here’s an example from that specimen:

Biblio has this really lovely pace to it as you read and somehow all the squarish characteristics fade away, leaving you with this lively impression and texture. Okay, that sentence wasn’t much of a readable sentence at all but that’s because I’m so thoroughly excited that I’m looking at something entirely new to me.

It also probably has something to do with the 𝘾Ǭ𝐅𝗙ē⒠ which is particularly strong at Spike’s.

Biblio’s letters are overwhelmingly wonky and fun, both at small and large sizes – you get the impression that the designer Namrata Goyal had a dizzying amount of fun whilst she was making them all.

And sure, I know that the 2007 design scene is long gone but I think Biblio might be enough to make me love ampersands all over again.

What I’ve been reading lately

This weekend I started Creativity, Inc., the highly detailed biography of Pixar by one of the co-founders, Ed Catmull, and I haven’t been able to put it down since. Ed looks back at his patient, decades-long goal of making the first animated motion picture and so far I’ve found it to be endlessly inspiring.

I think it’s because I’ve been thinking a lot about team structure and (ugh) management lately – not that I want any part in it – but because I always want to work on a team that is fast moving and has the respect and authority required to do great work. Last month I ranted about that very thing:

...today we’ve built our engineering teams around missions or features or pods – giant clumps of engineers that sit next to each other everyday but work almost entirely in isolation – and I think that makes things easy for management and org structures but it makes things so much harder for capable engineers to get good work done.

I think we’ve built these teams in service of managers and not what the work requires of us.

And so to read that Ed Catmull was thinking about these same problems decades ago when forming his own animation team is wonderful to hear. I have absolutely no idea how this relates back to typography or fonts but somehow in my head it all does.

I think it’s because I now realize that to make great work you have to make an environment for great work to be possible. You have to incentivize the right attributes in a giant, sprawling organization. You have to care for every detail, as Ed writes about constantly in Creativity, Inc.:

Over time, we’d fallen into a trap. Even though we were conscious that a room’s dynamics are critical to any good discussion, even though we believed that we were constantly on the lookout for problems, our vantage point blinded us to what was right before our eyes.

And so this is most certainly a bit cheesy but to make beautiful fonts with characters that swoon and delight or even great companies that produce outstanding work at a massive scale, you first have to learn how to see.

Huh? Eh? Who the heck?

Since a lot of folks have signed up lately I thought it might be a good idea to reintroduce myself here, briefly.

My name’s Robin and I’m a web designer from the UK although now I live in San Francisco where I work at Gusto. My day to day job is in the field of design systems but on weeknights and weekends I’m thoroughly obsessed with typography and letter-making of all kinds, whether that’s neon letters, digital fonts, or the typesetting of websites and dictionaries and posters.

This here newsletter is where I jot down my thoughts about typography mostly but in a very roundabout way. I’m not too much into traditional writing about type because I find it extraordinarily dry. Instead I want to make everyone feel that they can talk about typography as if it isn’t a dark art or a secret club where you need to learn the special handshake to enter.

So: to hell with the secret societies and the clubs. Screw the designer circles on Twitter where you need a beard and a Dribbble account and a string of tech jobs to earn the prestige. Instead: welcome to Adventures in Typography!