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19 March 2014

From our bookshelves - Designer’s Guide to Typography

New to our library, this book is for lovers of type, paper, and the strong smell of ink, as well as those interested in graphic design and history. Here's Jack Ponting's book review from last week's staff meeting.

The form of letters has always been directly related to the technology used to make them. When looking at what in printing trade terms we call a ‘slug’ it may be difficult to identify that once it was a huge advance in technology.

Instead of every letter having to be individually placed to form a line, it created a complete line of type in one piece. Some of you will have heard the term Linotype. That’s one of the machines that used to create the lines-of-type. During this era all printing was created by inking a raised surface and applying paper to transfer the ink. All material to be printed, text, photos, illustrations had to be 0.918 inches ‘type high’ to give a printed impression.

Some chapter headings

Page 12: Producing Consistently Readable and Beautifully Printed Type — How ink and paper choice can affect the reproduction of type.

Page 18: Readability and Legibility in Text — Learning to understand the subtle distinctions of fine text typography will help you specify the most readable type.

Page 24: Techniques for Display Type — From letterspacing to retouching display type, these time-proven methods will help make your design optically sound.   

Page 28: Combining Type and Colour — It is crucial to understand the importance of contrast in the colour selection process.
Page 32: Typography: More Than Words — Learn how typeface use is influenced by the project, audience, medium and your own palette of preferences.

Other sections of interest may be:
    Typography in Corporate Identity
    Humanising Corporate Images
    Specifying Type in Annual Reports
    Turning Type into Signs.

Designer’s Guide to Typography is by Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel and John Fennell, and was published in 1991.

We review a book from Write's library at our staff meeting, to remind us of the wealth of material we have at our fingertips. Keep an eye out for more blogs 'from our bookshelf'.

11 March 2014

The face behind the font: Mike Russell Parker (1929-2014)

This is the first blog in Write’s occasional series Full Stop: blogs about people in our lifetime who made an impact on the world of plain language and design. If you think a person is worth remembering, feel free to comment your ideas.

Mike Russell Parker (1929-2014)

Classic style. Those two words epitomise Mike Russell Parker. 

Mike Russell Parker
Born in London on 1 May 1929, the typographer, type designer and print historian died on 23 February 2014 aged 84 in Portland, Maine, from complications of stroke and Alzheimer’s disease. In this blog we acknowledge and remember the ‘face behind the font’.

Awarded a BA in architecture from Yale University in 1951, Mike Parker left to enlist in the US Army and served as Executive Officer of an Engineer Combat Company during the Korean War. He then re-entered Yale and in 1956 graduated with a Master of Fine Arts from the university’s Graphic School of Design.

Building a library of typefaces

After several jobs, including working on a typographic project for I.M. Pei between 1956 and 1957, Parker joined the Mergenthaler Linotype Company in 1959. He later became its Director of Typography and attracted famous designers to create various typefaces. Wherever the company’s Linotype equipment was used, the library of typefaces followed.

That library became the industry standard, and Parker stayed at the company until 1981. That year, with Matthew Carter he co-founded Bitstream Inc, a type design company based in Cambridge, MA. Bitstream was in the right place at the right time as the use of digital design, desktop publishing and the PC exploded during the 1980s. After Bitstream, from 1987 Parker worked at a series of companies that included Pages Software Inc (1990–1995). When that company closed, he licensed the Pages patent to Design Intelligence, a company that Microsoft bought in 2000.

Between 2000 and 2014 Parker worked for Font Bureau. He continued to research and release new fonts including ‘Starling’ (in 2009), a Roman font with a matching italic series and based on the 1904 drawings of William Starling Burgess. 

During his life, Mike Parker helped dozens of young designers start their careers. He also helped to develop more than 1,100 typefaces. Helvetica was one.

Quote by thimble

Helvetica started life in 1957 as ‘Neue Haas Grotesk’, for the Haas Type Foundry in Switzerland. Parker oversaw Helvetica develop as a font published for the Linotype machines. The clean, ‘safe’ appearance of Helvetica made it an enticing typeface for company logos and signs. Today we see it everywhere.

A range of logos in Helvetica typeface

In 2011 Mike Parker received the TDC Medal from the Type Directors Club, an international organisation for those devoted to excellence in typography in all its forms. The TDC Medal is awarded to individuals and institutions that have made major contributions to the field of typography. One year later he won the 2012 SOTA Typography Award from the Society of Typographic Aficionados:

“Parker’s knowledge, passion, infectious enthusiasm, and incredible impact on the type industry were just some of the factors in making him the jury’s unanimous choice to receive SOTA’s 10th annual Typography Award.”

The art of clear, classic style

Mike Russell Parker was married to Mary Elizabeth Hart from 1955 to 1981 and to Sibyl Masquelier from 1992 to 2004. He also leaves behind one son, two daughters, and two step-daughters. As his health worsened, Masquelier became his caregiver.

As Masquelier told the Portland Press after Parker’s death:

"Mike ... wanted to create the clearest type because he wanted people to read. He felt type influenced the way we we read, the way we think and the way we act. Type design is a very exact science but it is also an art form.” 
In 2007 Mike Parker featured in Helvetica, a film about typography, graphic design and global visual culture. In that film, he said of a Helvetica character:

"It is not a letter that's bent to shape; it's a letter that lives in a powerful matrix of surrounding space." 
As Yves Peters comments:

"[Mike Parker’s] interview for Helvetica – The Movie merely hints at his formidable knowledge, enthusiasm and wit, and that constant twinkle in his eye was extremely infectious. The type world has lost one of its giants.”

Mike Parker’s family plans to hold a memorial service in the northern 2014 summer to celebrate his life.


Font Bureau website

Helvetica: A documentary film by Gary Hustwit: the full, unreleased interviews from Helvetica are due to be released in June 2014 in the book Helvetica/Objectified/Urbanized: The Complete Interviews.
Helvetica: How did one typeface conquer the world?’, BBC News Magazine Monitor, 1 March 2014.
Hoey, Dennis. ‘Feature obituary: Mike Parker, 84, legendary type designer, print historian‘, Portland Press Herald, 10 March 2014.
Hutchinson, Grant. ‘SOTA Honors Mike Parker with Typography Award’, TypeCon2012.
Landau, Elizabeth. ‘We’ve all read his work - - ‘Godfather’ of Helvetica font dies at 84’, CNN, 28 February 2014.

Masquelier, Sibyl. ‘Mike Parker: The Font God’, blogpost, 4 October 2010.
Peters, Yves. ‘Mike Parker Passes Away at 84’. The FontFeed

Rohrer, Finlo. 'Helvetica at 50’, BBC News Magazine, 9 May 2007.
Wikipedia profile of Mike Parker (page modification date: 3 March 2014).

Photo sources

Photo of Mike Parker
Photo of Helvetica logos
Helvetica quote: by thimble, posted to (closed on 2 July 2012; images now provided by Shutterfly).