We’re past this now.

by

So the New York Times Magazine this week was The Green Issue. The articles are pretty good, and they’re online with what looks like a lot of other media. I am excited for instance about electric cars that swap batteries rather than refuel. The weekly profile is on Stewart Brand (Whole Earth Catalog, WELL, Clock of the Long Now), who is fascinating and inspiring. But here’s my gripe: Windsor?
avocado

For this issue, the magazine’s feature headlines are all set in this most un-current of types. I know that I am a type geek, but I bet you can see it too this time: these bulbous, deco-a-go-go letters signify the past as surely as tie-dyes with bell-bottoms. Look at the characters “2009”: it looks frickin’ ludicrous to see our current date clothed in this type. It looked old-fashioned the first time Woody Allen used it (he favors the condensed cut) and it’s only gotten more willfully apart-from-the-times in the dozen times he’s kept using it since. (It looked old-fashioned even in the 1970s; like so much of the vernacular type of the day it was stolen from the art movements from half a century ealier.)

The rationale seems to be because it was used for the Whole Earth Catalog, but that doesn’t fly with me. This indicates to me the reader that environmentalism is best thought of as a phase from the 70s. If you’re going to report on the state of the world right now, NYTM, please please don’t use the vernacular type of yesteryear. In fact unless you want to evoke the 70s best to just keep your ITC locked away.

Ok, rant over.

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2 Responses to “We’re past this now.”

  1. Cosmonaut Says:

    I liked reading this rant; it’s interesting, and it definitely shook up my own ideas! I personally have a love for retro, vaudevillian and woodcut style fonts, and it is a very strong trend among hipster and indie craft sorts. It goes right along with being enamored of handlebar moustaches, burlesque, and other dandified and steampunk fashions. But perhaps inclusion in the NYT mag means it has jumped the shark?

    I would be really interested to hear where you think typography should be headed. The opposite I see for fonts like Windsor is skinny sans-serif fonts, which I really hate. What would be the third alternative?

    • owentroy Says:

      Hi Cosmonaut. Thanks so much for commenting; we’d love to have more discussion and dissent here at the ‘Agree.

      Just to clarify, I don’t have a problem with retro type, or Windsor per se, and in fact as you point out their association with the contemporary indie craft scene (and, say, Urban Outfitters’ appropriation thereof) is almost as strong with the cultural movements of the 1970s or 1920s. Nor do I think that any type finding its way to the NYT Magazine means it has jumped the shark — if anything, that publication has a very considered sense of typography generally.

      I had a negative reaction to the juxtoposition of Windsor with articles about the present and future of ecology – new schools of thought on forest preservation, electric vehicles, and the reframing of environmental issues to make them more relevant to today’s Americans. In a special section that begins with a profile of 70s proto-environmentalist and thought-changer Stewart Brand, using Windsor for titles sends a very strong message that what is being discussed is historical rather than very of-the-moment.

      What would be most nail-on-the-head choice for this magazine issue would be, as you say you hate, a skinny sans serif — some monoline humanist-with-a-twist type like Apex New or Klavika or Avenir even. These have a very clean feeling that is appropriate for talking about green issues, a heft of seriousness appropriate to the subject at hand, and they are as zeitgeist appropriate as Helvetica was two or three years back. Or, using the magazine’s standard Rockwell bold & Chalet Comprime would have been perfectly fitting, but somehow treating the titles in a way that made their use in this issue distinctive.

      But that’s not the question you were asking: where typography in general should be headed? That is a big question: and I really like the trajectory it’s on right now, which is to say in a bunch of different directions: in the world of magazines, clean humanist sans and slab serifs and very elegant serifs rule the day, with display types used when appropriate. But in indie movies and etsy crafts the handdrawn letter, the letter rendered in ketchup or candy hearts or stitches, is the way to go. Printing the letter onto something and then photographing that thing, as in the You Blow Me Away photos, has a lot of momentum. Woodtype has a big revival along with letterpress, and brings with it an appreciation of mixed typography. And after a decade of techiness, elegance is back in a big way. I am a fan of all of these movements in its turn.

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