New Faces (Chapter One: Technological and Industrial Change: Setting the Scene)

Essays by Emily King
8 943 words45 min read

A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of Kingston University for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy (1999)

(i) Historiography
(ii) Typographic History in the Context of Broader Design Historical Models
Chapter One: Technological and Industrial Change: Setting the Scene
Mapping Contemporary Type Design
Chapter Two: The West Coast
Chapter Three: The East Coast
Chapter Four: London
Chapter Five: The Netherlands
List of Interviews

Chapter One: Technological and Industrial Change: Setting the Scene

The starting point of this examination is the moment at which access to device-independent typesetting and type design technologies began to have an impact upon the manner in which type was being designed and distributed. The exact chronological instant at which this occurred varies between the geographically defined chapters of this thesis: the West Coast designer Zuzana Licko’s uptake of digital technology being a great deal swifter than that of her European colleagues, for example David Quay and Freda Sack.

The implication of this technologically suggested cue is that the developments in the technique of type design and typesetting of the mid-to late 1980s contributed to bringing about significant alterations in the cultural and economic contexts of those activities. Before the introduction of device-independent technologies, for the most part type design occurred under the auspices of the manufacturers of the machines with which that type would be set. The introduction of device-independent type-software changed that. Once these technologies were widespread, type began to be designed in a whole variety of contexts: as part of the activities of a manufacturer of software; as an element of a publication redesign; or even speculatively by an independent designer at his or her desktop. It was never true that type design was entirely in the hands of a single set of professionals,[172] but in the period before the introduction of device-independent technology, it did have a coherent professional body at its core (represented by the ATypI in the 1950s). The late 1980s witnessed the severe erosion of this body and the purpose of this thesis is to consider type design as a post-professional activity. Not only do the post-professional type designers of this thesis not share the cultural and economic allegiances of their professional counterparts, but significantly they sometimes experience cultural and economic isolation even amongst their peers.

While technology has been viewed as the prompt for the post-professionalisation of type design, it is important to remember that it is not the single cause. As the following chapter reveals, at first it was assumed that new technologies would support existing professional models of type design and the dramatic changes to the structure of the type design profession that did occur were the outcome of the influence of a number of other contributory factors. One of the aims of this thesis is to support the argument that the trend toward independent small-scale activity, of which developments in type design have been a part, is the result of economic and cultural change as well as technological shifts. Also, while independent activity and increasing heterogeneity might dominate the cultural foreground at the end of the twentieth-century, it is important to bear in mind that in the background there is a thriving group of ever-more powerful global capitalists.

The increasing influence of certain large companies comes to mind when addressing the end date of this examination. In choosing 1997, the purpose was to examine, roughly, the first ten years of device-independent type design. But, as things have turned out, the late 1990s have also witnessed a decrease in the amount of notable independent type design activity. The best-known faces that emerged in the late 1980s, for example Scala designed in 1988, remain in very wide use and have not been challenged by a new crop of retail designs. This might be because it has become clear that there is not a great deal of money in the speculative design of new type; a fact which is largely due to the ease with which digital typefaces can be pirated and the lack of regulation regarding their use. Significantly, the design of new typefaces for the screen, the growth area of the late 1990s, is happening largely under the auspices of the software companies. For example, Matthew Carter has been working as a freelance for Microsoft for several years and in 1996 his custom-designed typeface Verdana was incorporated into some of their software packages. If things continue along this course, the design of new type may revert back to being an activity that is financed by large corporations.

The following chapter will explore the technological developments that contributed to the dramatic alteration of the type profession in the last decade. Also, it will offer a sketch of the type industry in the wake of those changes. It is important to remember that this is an industry that is still in flux. The picture offered in this chapter, and the map of type design proposed in subsequent sections, present a view of a decade of dramatic change. What they do not suggest is any kind of lasting consolidation.

Typesetting technology

Accusations of technological determinism notwithstanding, it is widely agreed that the single most important factor determining the form of the present type industry was the advent of the computer language PostScript. PostScript was the first software which allowed fonts to be designed and distributed independent of the manufacture of the systems on which they were to be printed. Pages of type described in the PostScript computer language could be printed on any output device equipped to understand that language. The launch of this technology by Adobe Systems and the subsequent release of desktop font design software such as Altsys Fontographer in 1986 allowed the development of non-proprietary type: by 1988 anyone equipped with the right desktop tools could manufacture type that would be suitable for use on a variety of typesetting systems. The design and distribution of type had been liberated from the large-scale manufacture of typesetting systems.

Over the course of the twentieth century, the type industry has had to cope with several developments in typesetting technology. Albeit subject to constant innovation, since the invention of mechanical typesetting machines in the late nineteenth-century, no change has been as profound as that which resulted from the adoption of Adobe’s PostScript typesetting software as industry standard in the late 1980s. During that period the assumptions of many of those professionally involved in type were completely overturned.

The Seybold Report

In the late 1980s and early 1990s the type industry experienced a period of dramatic upheaval. Rapid technological change coupled with an unstable world economy meant that many businesses involved in the manufacture and distribution of type and type setting systems were facing profound restructure or closure. These changes were closely documented in the Seybold Report on Publishing Systems, a privately published, fortnightly round-up of developments within the industry. Produced in America, the Report was intended to deal primarily with developments in the United States. The fact that the journal has become increasingly international reflects patterns in the industry which cannot be ignored. Any account of the type business since the 1980s must necessarily be international in scope. While there are still differences in various national type markets, developments in countries which employ predominantly Roman alphabets have become increasingly closely linked.[173]

Since the early 1970s, the Seybold Report and the annual Seybold Conference which is run in parallel with the publication have become the most important source of information for those involved in the variety of businesses associated with publishing systems. Effectively the journal of record, companies have chosen Seybold as a forum to announce new developments. In turn the editors of the publication have used their influence to actively promote activities which they believe to be worthwhile. As a result Seybold does not only provides factual information about the development of publishing systems, it also offers a barometer of opinion within the industry. For the purposes of this examination, Seybold has been treated both as an empirically trustworthy account of events and also as a vehicle for points of view which merit analysis.

Precursors of device-independence

The Seybold Report first emerged in the early 1970s. By that time photo-typesetting had become well-established and was being widely used. In 1973, Aaron Burns and Herb Lubalin had set up the International Type Corporation, ITC, a business intended to deal specifically with the distribution of type for use on photo-setting systems. With the ITC, Burns and Lubalin pioneered a new way of marketing type. The company sold licenses which allowed their typeface designs to be used upon various typesetting systems, but was completely independent of the industry which manufactured those systems. This early pattern of selling typeface designs separately from typesetting systems laid the template for the model which has become standard in the digital age.

The aesthetic of the many ITC faces has become inextricably bound with the image of the 1970s. Faces such as ITC Caslon, with their rounded edges and large x-heights, reflect the ways in which contemporary graphic designers had chosen to exploit the possibilities offered to them by photo-setting. Setting type photographically, as opposed to mechanically, allowed designers to condense and overlay type in ways that had not been possible previously. The coincidence between the look of the ITC output and the mainstream graphic style of the 1970s is a reflection of ITC’s commercial success during that period. But while the ITC were the extremely successful pioneers of marketing typefaces independent of typesetting systems, their operations were still limited by the nature of those systems. ITC artwork had to be comprehensively adapted for use on each different system and a number of the company’s typefaces were only made available in a limited number of formats. The ITC were anticipating device independence type, but were far from its achievement.

By Seybold’s tenth anniversary, it had become obvious that digital typesetting systems would soon dominate the industry. In 1981 Seybold reported that Mike Parker, “the internationally known head of Mergenthaler’s font design activity”, had left that company taking with him three other colleagues including the well-respected type designer Matthew Carter. The article went on: “these four expect to establish a new company for the purpose of providing digitised alphabets to the market place and to offer new type designs, advice and consulting services.”[174] The company, called Bitstream, went into business soon after that announcement.

Like Burns and Lubalin at ITC, those at Bitstream were attempting to determine the most appropriate way of marketing typefaces in the wake of technological developments. Bitstream were the first company to call themselves a digital foundry, operating in the early years by adapting their designs to suit various digital typesetting systems. Bitstream were attempting to make the design and marketing of typefaces independent of the manufacture of typesetting systems. Also, like ITC before them, initially they had to deal with a cumbersome plethora of existing typesetting formats. In spite of this the company was successful. A customer list published in 1984 announced that Bitstream was selling to 45 customers from a “surprisingly broad market.” These included traditional typesetters such as Hell and manufacturers of small-scale office equipment such as Scitex.[175]

For the purposes of this thesis, the International Type Company and Bitstream are significant as forerunners of the output independent marketing of type that has now become the standard method of distribution. Nonetheless, although the independent retail of fonts has prevailed amongst professional designers, typesetters and service bureaux, a large part of the fonts that are actually in use will have been acquired as part of a package, bundled together with other pieces of software. Amongst the majority of amateur type-users there is very little awareness of fonts as something which properly ought to be bought and sold. Accustomed to obtaining a large number of fonts free with software such as page layout programmes, these potential type-customers have become unwilling to spend money on type. The practice, which is known as bundling, has become the enemy of the independent type designer/distributor and was the subject of lengthy discussion at the 1996 ATypI Conference.

“Aesthetics vs. Technology”

As well as reporting upon events, Seybold attempts to provide industry forecasts. Predictions from a series of articles, written by the type designer Charles Bigelow and published in issues of the Report from 1982, proved very accurate. The series of three articles was titled “Aesthetics vs. Technology”. Their theme was how best to present traditional letterforms, which emerge from analogue designs, in a digital format. While the aesthetics were set against technology in the title of the series, Bigelow was actually much more optimistic. He awaited the “leap from imitation to creation”,[176] which he suggested occurred with every change in letterform technology.

Some of the most significant of Bigelow’s predictions were in the section headed ‘Font proliferation’. Bigelow foresaw that, “because fonts are software, we will see increasing decentralization of font design and production.”[177] He argued that independent companies would not only license fonts to equipment manufacturers, just as ITC and Bitstream were already doing, but also “offer fonts directly to end-users.” To some extent this became the case when Adobe began to sell fonts independently of output devices in late 1985, but fonts did not ‘proliferate’ until a few years later when certain restrictions had been removed. Bigelow also predicted that type piracy would become an increasingly serious problem, which has certainly proved true. To offset that bad news, Bigelow also anticipated the development of a whole host of new typefaces which would properly address their age and the technology.

Bigelow suggested that, as more people were given the opportunity to work directly with type, typographic literacy would become increasingly widespread. Bigelow’s technophilia is in marked contrast to the fears of the typographic conservatives. Critics such as Walter Tracy have assumed that the accessibility of digital technology can only be dangerous. Tracy has suggested that, rather than increasing literacy, it will provide only an opportunity for hoards of philistines to storm the typographic bastions.[178] The divergence of the attitudes of Bigelow and Tracy might be partly accounted for by their nationality. Coming from the United States, Bigelow is inclined to welcome new technologies and the changes that they herald; Tracy, based in Britain, has an instinctively suspicious approach.

Bigelow’s predictions are significant because they demonstrate that, well before the development of PostScript, those at the forefront of the industry were expecting a standard typesetting software to emerge. At the time he wrote the article there were already several software systems competing to become that standard. The two that Bigelow mentioned were Ikarus, which was commercially developed at URW in Hamburg by Peter Karow, and Metafont which was written, initially as an academic exercise, by Donald Knuth at Stanford. These systems took very different views of the letterform as their starting point. In Ikarus the parameters of a letter, such as stem weight and x-height, were defined as contours. Metafont allowed one to imagine a virtual tool which defined the parameters of the letters. Bigelow believed “A further generation of tools for font design and production is possible and necessary.”[179] Even as he wrote those words, there were probably several contenders lurking in various R&D departments.

Device-independent software had been a theoretical possibility since the world’s first digital typesetter, Hell’s 50T1 Digiset, was made commercially available in 1965. Availability notwithstanding, at that time few were giving the possibility much serious thought. It was only with the proliferation of small scale, low resolution output devices first in the office market and later in the domestic market that the idea began to appeal commercially. As long as typesetting remained the province of a few professionals, the traditional tie between font and output device continued to make sense. But once a mass of untrained users were given the tools to set their own low resolution type it no longer did. These type users had no stake in established professional relationships. Any development which would widen the range of typefaces available to them was to be welcomed.

The LaserWriter

In January 1985, a few years after Bigelow’s prophetic articles, the Seybold Report announced that “the pre-press industry is in the midst of profound technological change”, “which will stand a portion of this industry on its ear.”[180] In the next issue they reported upon a co-ordinated new product announcement from Apple and Adobe Systems. The headline read “Apples’s LaserWriter – the Micro revolution arrives”. Inside they challenged their readers “If you still cling to the notion that typesetting systems and products can be clearly distinguished from the mass market personal computer and office products, we think it is time you changed your minds.”[181]

The digital language employed by Apple’s LaserWriter was Adobe’s PostScript which allowed type to be set at high or low resolution using the same set of commands. Adobe was essentially a manufacturer of software, relying upon other firms to produce the machines which would run this software. At the launch of PostScript, Adobe had made agreements with Apple and Linotype for them to develop output devices which understood this language. The Apple LaserWriter was a relatively low resolution printer, 300-dot-per-inch, but provided a lot more graphic and typesetting flexibility than similar machines that were on the market, for example the Hewlett Packard’s LaserJet. Seybold believed “that the LaserWriter will be a widely accepted substitute for a [professional] typesetter.”[182] As well as the LaserWriter, which was suitable for office and domestic use, to cater to the end of the market which demanded high quality output, Adobe made a deal with Linotype for them to equip their high resolution typesetting machines with the ability to understand the PostScript language.

Resolution independence was a quality foreseen by Bigelow. To those working in digital graphics software the Apple/Linotype/Adobe agreement was viewed as an important step toward that goal. In “Aesthetics vs. Technology” Bigelow had proposed something called a macrofont. This was a font “designed to be produced at any number of possible digital resolutions, but the design is not identical at different resolutions”. At high resolutions there would be room for more design features, at low resolution compensations would be made for the small number of dots that make up each letter.[183] This was exactly how Adobe’s Type 1 PostScript fonts operate. With this software, in theory you could produce anything from an office newsletter to a finely printed book. In practice, the range of high quality output devices at the professional of the market, in spite of Linotype’s participation, was still thin. Seybold petitioned the manufacturers, “all we are really missing are the heavier duty PostScript compatible electronic printers a PostScript output drivers for typesetting systems”, but added confidently “both of these will certainly come.”[184]

The co-operation of various firms in the development of digital typesetting technology has been crucial in determining the nature of that technology. Jonathan Seybold, an editor of the Seybold Report, did not confine himself to reporting upon partnerships, he took an active role in their encouragement. Importantly, Seybold suggested to Apple that they allow Paul Brainerd of Aldus, a company working on page layout software, access to their computers and output devices. This meeting was very productive. Aldus’s PageMaker software, built to operate on the Mac, was one of the first programmes that allowed you to put together reasonably graphically sophisticated publication upon the screen of your computer.[185] The editorial board of Seybold were not neutral, they had an agenda which they enthusiastically promoted. They wanted powerful publishing systems to be as accessible as possible. A family run journal themselves, they were advocates for independent publishing activity.

The Seybolds called the LaserWriter “the imagesetter for the rest of us” an echo of Apple’s earlier promotional campaign for the Macintosh computer.[186] By the mid 1980s the Apple corporation had built a very clear image of themselves in the minds of a large part of the American population. This image informed public perception of the nature of the Adobe/Apple alliance. The most important building block of the Apple image was the well-remembered 1984 television advertisement. The advertisement was shown a single time on national television, in the middle of the otherwise unmemorable Super Bowl. It was said to have been the only advertisement that got people in bar rooms talking about the commercial instead of the game. Not only was the advertisement discussed in bar rooms, it was covered in the evening news of each of the three American national networks.[187] Created by the British film director Ridley Scott, the 60 second film shows an army of shaven headed, drably dressed, sunken eyed individuals marching through a shabby futuristic city and into a large auditorium where a dictator barks ideological commands at them from the screen. A single athlete, who was borrowed from the US Olympic team, breaks out from the reach of a menacing looking armed guard. Clutching a sledgehammer, she approaches the screen. She hurls the hammer into the screen, which to the astonishment of the hoard of slaves, explodes. The slogan that followed the advertisement was “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like “1984”.

The advertisement assumed that technological progress was identified with oppression. In the film IBM, the major manufacturer of personal computers, was implicitly set-up as the oppressor. IBM was associated with the monolithic business systems that were employed by large-scale corporations. These were often felt to deprive the individual of autonomy, turning them into data-entering drones. Apple allied itself with the idea that technology was a potentially liberating force, a force that, properly employed, could promote rather than repress individuality. To a certain extent Apple computers became associated with counter-cultural forces, but they were acceptably rebellious, not dangerously revolutionary. As a representative of freedom, a blond Olympic athlete is not someone who would in any sense threaten mainstream American culture. Famously, while IBM executives wore suits, those at Apple wore jeans.

The cultures associated with various technologies have been influential in determining the ways in which those technologies are eventually employed. Apple’s carefully crafted image of non-conformism and productive rebellion has almost certainly had an influence upon the shared ethic of many Apple users. Remaining the favoured computer amongst independent designers, by 1997 Apple’s technology, embodied in the look and feel of their distinctive interface, carries with it a heavy load of cultural baggage.[188]

In the mid 1980s, while Apple was announcing “the computer for the rest of us”, Adobe Systems was relatively anonymous. Like Apple, the firm was based on the West Coast and, also like Apple, it had chosen a friendly, organic sounding name. The founders of Adobe Systems, Dr John Warnock and Dr Charles Geschke, were very experienced in computer technology. Unlike Apple executives such as Steve Jobs, the pair were seen as corporate men, not independent hackers. Warnock and Geschke had worked for Xerox for several years before they left to start the company. In the late 1990s, Adobe remains relatively unobtrusive in terms of company image. A recent leaflet advertising Adobe software admits that while their programmes are widely used, few are aware of the company behind them. In competition with such anonymity, it was bound to be Apple’s very strong identity that became popularly associated with the PostScript/LaserWriter project. Immediately the possibility of low-resolution desktop typesetting was perceived as something liberating – a blow to corporate monoliths. This image is misleading. The success of any computer technology has always depended upon capturing the corporate market. Computers have never been primarily for “the rest of us.”[189]

PostScript Type 1 & Type 3

The launch of Adobe’s PostScript language in 1985 was the first step towards a truly device-independent typesetting. But early in its development Adobe were torn between the desire to remain in full commercial control of the PostScript language and their ambition for it to become the industry’s standard. John Warnock, the company’s president, announced that Adobe were prepared to sublicense PostScript only to suitable output device manufacturers. But to encourage these manufacturers to come forward, they would do so for a ‘nominal’ fee.[190]

The more important restriction from the point of view of the font business was the encryption of PostScript fonts. Only official versions would obey the full set of commands. In effect, this meant that there were two classes of PostScript fonts, they were known as Type 1 fonts and Type 3 fonts. Type 1 fonts were fully functional Adobe fonts, including hints for optimal appearance at low resolutions or at high point sizes. Type 3 fonts, which could be made by anyone with the right software, were interpreted by a PostScript output device in the same way as any other piece of graphic design written in the language. They could be printed at various sizes, but had none of the hints which made Type 1 fonts the first digitally scaleable fonts. In 1985 the LaserWriter was launched with nine fonts masters, which produced Adobe adapted versions of Times Roman, Helvetica and Courier. There was excited talk of more downloadable fonts being available from Adobe soon, but there was no discussion of Adobe allowing others to manufacture Type 1 fonts. Adobe’s PostScript language always offered the possibility of completely independent font manufacture, but their early management of the technology conformed in many ways to the proprietary model.

The editors of the Seybold Report championed the PostScript language as the strongest contender to become the standard. Assuming the voice of all sides of the industry, they claimed that “virtually everyone is anxious for a standard way of encoding page output.”

“Vendors that do not supply their own output devices would love to get from under the burden of writing special driver programs and building special hardware interfaces for every output device that comes along. Users would love to be able to pick from a range from interchangeable output devices.”[191]

The Seybolds actively supported the drive for greater compatibility and ran reports on each new PostScript compatible output device that arrived upon the market, seeing each as a step towards full standardisation. Their enthusiasms almost certainly reflected those of the market; the initial article on the PostScript page descriptor language and Apple LaserWriter had generated more interest and enquiries than any other article that they had ever published.[192]

The desktop revolution

This widespread enthusiasm was probably largely the result of a ready-made desktop publishing market. As soon as computers and output devices with significant graphic capabilities became available, this market took off. So much so that Seybold, who were planning to do a single issue round-up of desktop publishing, decided to publish a separate desktop publishing report.[193] It has been suggested that the immediate success of desktop publishing was partly due to the recession. Producing documents and journals from the desktop saves a great deal of time and money. Reg White, formerly of the traditional typesetting firm Berthold, has suggested that “without the recession PostScript would have come in, but probably not as quick.”[194] By the mid to late 1980s price was the prime factor; quality had become secondary.

In the first issue of their Desktop Review, Seybold cites Apple’s LaserWriter as the most important catalyst of the desktop “revolution”. By referring to the advent of desktop publishing as a “revolution” it was implied that these technologies have been a significant democratising force, but it is possible to overestimate their revolutionary impact. Although it is true that the combination between the Apple’s LaserWriter, Adobe’s PostScript language and Aldus’s PageMaker software allowed the production of sophisticated publications from equipment that could sit on a desktop, the urge to publish independently predated these technologies. Before they had emerged, keen amateurs were able to use other means, chiefly photocopiers, to produce communicative, if comparatively unsophisticated, publications. It has been argued that the photocopier has been “the 20th century equivalent of the Caxton Press”, offering channels of communication for dissenters world-wide. Alongside other achievements, the photocopier has been credited with playing an active part in bringing down the communist government of Czechoslovakia.[195]

In the early days, desktop publishing technology remained largely in the hands of the corporations. In his history of the Macintosh, Steven Levy described how corporate buyers were lured by the computer’s ability to produce attractive documents and argues that it was winning over this market that “saved Macintosh’s skin.”[196] Initially the desktop revolution was largely one of in-house reports and company newsletters. It took a few years and several price drops before the technology got into the hands of a significant number of individuals. By the early 1990s several professional looking publications had emerged from various small-scale outfits, who previously would have been unable to set up in this way. The subjects of these range from sports to contemporary art, and the styles from slick to wilfully subversive. What these publications share is that they are the celebrated beneficiaries of the desktop publishing ‘revolution’. While they were not the primary targets of this technological development, they have thrived in its wake.


Those who argue that computer technology works against, rather than in favour of, the corporation often cite the growth of independent publishing as evidence. This argument doesn’t convince everyone. George Wayne, editor of the camp anti-fashion zine, Rome, continues to photocopy the entire run of the journal. Wayne has claimed: “I look at the xerox as my easel and my canvas’.[197] The raw-edged, photocopied aesthetic continues to belong to the subversive. The danger that desktop publishing will produce a corporate look is something that many independents are aware of, often going to the lengths of using page layout software to simulate a photocopied look.[198]

The triumph of PostScript

At the Seybold Conference held in 1986 Steve Jobs, formerly of Apple Computer, declared that PostScript had won the race to become the industry standard.[199] Jobs was an important industry guru. His resignation from Apple in 1985 and subsequent launch of Next computers had made headlines in both the trade and the mainstream press.[200] Endorsements like this cemented PostScript’s position and could have made the difference to output manufacturers who were weighing up whether to adopt the language. The success of PostScript meant that its imitation was inevitable. In 1987 and ‘88, as well as reporting upon a number of new PostScript compatible output devices, Seybold had news of a number of PostScript clones. The performance, compatibility and even the legality of these clones was often in question. In 1988 Adobe attempted to impose some kind of control over this market by licensing some of these clones to call themselves PostScript compatible. A number of manufacturers were keen to acquire this stamp of approval. Although Adobe had not legally established that the series of commands in the PostScript Language were eligible for copyright, many of these firms did not want to risk going to court.

Selectively loosening up on their control of the market probably put Adobe in an even more powerful position. Certainly, the move greatly strengthened their bid to become the industry standard. By the late 1980s, Hewlett Packard, a very significant manufacturer of small-scale output devices for office use announced that they would be emphasising the PostScript language in their products. For some time this important firm had held out, supporting a competing page description language, Imagen’s Document Description Language. Their transfer was important because it gave Adobe a virtual monopoly. In May 1987 a Seybold editorial pondered the problem:

“At the moment, Adobe Systems is almost in a monopoly position. It licenses PostScript and PostScript fonts. It sets the priorities on what implementations get done. It collects royalties on the sale of every output device. This makes a number of people very nervous.”[201]

What this editorial did not mention was that, as the PostScript language caught on, Adobe were also gaining a monopoly in font supply. For those accustomed to the proprietary font system, the number of fonts in the Adobe library must have seemed generous. By January 1987 they had more than 100 downloadable faces in their library.[202] Certainly, the editors of Seybold seemed to see no reason for complaint. However, with the benefit of hindsight, Adobe appear to have been acting very restrictively. For a short while Adobe were able to artificially prevent Bigelow’s predicted ‘font proliferation’ by keeping Type 1 fonts locked up in encrypted computer language.

The Font Wars

Those at Seybold need not have worried. In late 1988 and early 1989 a series of dramatic events lead to Adobe loosening controls on the manufacturers of output devices and also opening PostScript technology, which allowed anyone with the tools to manufacture Type 1 fonts. It began with the announcement by Rob Friedman, president of Bitstream, that his company had cracked Adobe’s encryption. PostScript printers would now accept and process Bitstream fonts as if they were Type 1 fonts.[203] This announcement was made at the Seybold Conference. It was reported to have “startled attendees”, particularly those from Adobe who were sitting in the audience. Adobe had been very confident of the effectiveness of their code, bragging that anyone able to crack it would be hired on the spot. Hearing Bitstream’s news, Adobe retracted their offer. It was now possible for the type user to build a library of Bitstream and Adobe fonts to output on their PostScript device. While Adobe were not pleased with this development, they were not in a position to take legal action against Bitstream. The company had not misused Adobe software, all they had done was to persuade Adobe’s Machine to accept data from a new source. “Fonts and font technology have become a high-stakes game”, concluded Seybold, who predicted further developments in the coming months.[204]

A few months later, in April, Seybold updated their readers on what had become known as the ‘Font Wars.’ By this point Seybold’s editors were beginning to recognise Adobe font encryption as a barrier to their ideal of an industry standard.[205] A number of people were working to break-down that barrier. For example, the manufacturers of the competing font format, F3, had not only opened their format but were actively encouraging type producers to convert their libraries. “The closed world of Adobe PostScript and Adobe fonts is rapidly giving way to an open world”, enthused Seybold.[206]

In October 1989, Adobe finally opened the PostScript page description language, a move in the aftermath of an industry battle initially concerned with the technology behind displaying typefaces upon screen. Since the original Adobe/Apple agreement, Apple had sold the software which translated Adobe typefaces into screen faces. In mid-1989 Adobe began selling its own programme, Adobe Type Manager.[207] The two firms became competitors and Apple sought revenge by teaming up with Microsoft. The product of that alliance was a competing outline font technology developed by Apple, which was intended to be used as the default option in Microsoft Windows software. At that point this technology was called Royal: it later became known as TrueType. Seybold saw the Microsoft/Apple alliance as “a serious threat to Adobe Systems.”[208] Microsoft supplied a large percentage of the corporate world’s software, Microsoft’s default options were adopted unquestioningly by a large proportion personal computer users. Like the Bitstream scoop, the Apple/Microsoft alliance was first announced at a Seybold Conference and it prompted an immediate and “emotional” response from John Warnock of Adobe Systems. Warnock immediately took the stage and publicly agreed to open Adobe’s Type 1 font format and also to allow unlicensed output device manufacturers to produce fully compatible PostScript output devices.[209]

In spite of producing a technology with the potential to allow full compatibility between the fonts and output devices of any number of manufacturers, Adobe had attempted to keep their activities within the proprietary model for as long as possible. By encrypting their Type 1 fonts and attempting to protect the PostScript language under copyright, they attempted to limit their customers to a small range of output devices and a single font library. These limitations were not viable in the long term, but by the time that others in the industry had forced Adobe to give up their monopoly, the company had a sufficiently sizeable head start to make a nonsense of the notion of free competition. By 1989 Adobe had a large library of Type 1 fonts that were already widely used, as well as established connections with many output device manufacturers.

In early 1990, Seybold announced the end of the Font Wars. Rather than any one font format being proclaimed winner it was recognised that a number of formats could coexist.

“If you were to ask the major font makers whether they intend to support Type 1, True Type or PCL 5 (Hewlett Packard’s font describing programme, which was mainly used on small-scale office printers), they would simply answer “Yes. The font wars are (mostly) over, and we expect all the font houses will be making their libraries available in all three formats.”[210]

Increasingly it became in everyone’s interest to make sure all their products and programmes were fully compatible. PostScript and the other outline formats worked in parallel on a range of output devices which served every segment of the publishing industry. The industrial patterns left over from the days of proprietary type had been rubbed out. In the space of five years the type industry had been changed almost beyond recognition.

The new consumer

One of the important ramifications of this change was that policing the quality of new typesetting equipment had been taken out of the hands of professionals and put into those of a new breed of customer. Strictly speaking most of these customers were professionals – at that point there were still relatively few amateurs who used this type-setting equipment – but their position tended to be that of the anonymous mass consumer, not the valued customer. Rather than there being a small and knowable community of people who bought and sold typesetting equipment, there was a large and ever expanding market. Purchasing decisions were no longer based on professional advice from colleagues, and a need for consumer testing of new equipment arose. To some extent, Seybold adopted the role of consumer champion. Manufacturers of publishing equipment would present demonstrations to Seybold, who would report on their conclusions. But Seybold recognised the need for more comprehensive testing: “With the proliferation of Adobe and non-Adobe PostScript output devices, there is a desperate need to test and certify PostScript printers and typesetters for both compatibility and performance.”[211] They applauded the efforts of a new company called Desk Top Publishing Solutions, which was established specifically to undertake this task.

As PostScript became more widely used, PostScript User groups sprung up all over the country. These groups did not confine themselves to testing the technology that they were offered, they also attempted to influence its development. In 1989 Seybold reported upon two user groups who were “attempting to assemble a consortium to develop PostScript as an independent standard.”[212] Again Seybold’s editors were fully behind this initiative. They believed it was the duty of consumers to let the industry know “what functions and features are needed for publishing work, so that the standards we get will be good ones.”[213] This ethic of consumer responsibility and voicing of consumer opinion through user groups was something new to the industry. Reg White, formerly of Berthold, has recalled that his company had very close ties with those who bought their typesetting equipment. Berthold gave one on one tuition to their customers and a personal support service.[214] Those kind of professional relationships had come to an end with the demise of proprietary typesetting equipment and the widespread use of desktop publishing equipment.

Multiple Master & GX

Seybold’s prediction that most type manufacturers would continue to offer their fonts in several different formats has proved correct. TrueType never took off as Apple had hoped. This was mainly because the owners of the IBM-compatible computers that ran Microsoft’s Windows were not the typophiles that everyone had hoped they might be. PostScript remains near enough industry standard and Adobe have attempted to reinforce that position with various refinements to the language. In 1992 they began to offer Multiple Master typefaces, which allowed the user to vary the width of the strokes of the letterforms. Although the idea behind these faces is heretical to traditional typographic law, which would insist that only the stroke width chosen by the designer of the face can possibly be correct, Adobe counted many of these faces in their list of best-sellers in 1993.[215] Adobe’s occasionally produced type magazine, Font and Function, quoted John Plunkett, Creative Director of Wired magazine insisting Adobe’s Multiple Master faces offer “a degree of flexibility which traditional typefaces can’t match.”[216]

Despite the relatively minor impact of TrueType, Apple continue to compete with Adobe in the font format arena. Their most important recent contribution has been the introduction of QuickDraw GX fonts. Like Multiple Master, GX fonts allow the user more control over their fonts. Unlike Multiple Masters, the options that they offer are based on traditional typographic refinements, like sophisticated ligatures and diphthongs. The extent to which the industry is moving towards full compatibility is reflected in the fact that Adobe are offering their own version of GX fonts. But while Adobe have put out, amongst others, a GX version of Adobe Garamond they are not supporting the programme in their graphics software such as Illustrator. This is less the result of restrictive practices, than that of the expected cost of development and manufacture. Andy Benedek, writing on GX in Eye magazine, commended the features offered by the fonts but recognised that the format will not take off until it has received widespread support from others in the industry.[217]


The general trend in the publishing systems business, and particularly in the typesetting subset of that business, is for full compatibility. The ideal is that any programme works in combination with any other on any computer and output device. A recent important step towards this ideal had been the development of the OpenType format, the product of an agreement between the long-term rivals, Adobe and Microsoft. OpenType is a subset of both PostScript Type 1 and TrueType and will allow users to employ these formats interchangeably without fear of running into problems of compatibility.

Dan Mills, Type Development Manager at Adobe, has suggested that the OpenType initiative will allow “users to pick and choose on the basis of what a product does well and what it does not do well” rather than on that of “geeky things like the technology”.[218] Acknowledging that Type 1 fonts are more successful in some circumstances and TrueType in others, software firms are generally acting on the belief that increasing compatibility is in all their best interests. By making various formats interchangeable, OpenType also reduces the need for the consumer to be actively aware of the technology they are employing. Whereas early adopters of desktop publishing technology welcomed the opportunity to develop expertise, subsequent generations of users have preferred these technologies to be transparent.[219]

The Type Industry

The development and gradual adoption of PostScript has been the major technological determinant of the shape of the current type industry. However the existing structure of the mainstream type business also owes a great deal to its history. While many new firms have sprung up specifically to deal in digital type, several firms who have weathered numerous shifts in type technology remain in business. The survival of these firms has involved radical change, but to some extent they are still trading off reputations and expectations built up in the pre-digital age.

This part of the chapter will examine how established type firms have dealt with recent changes and compare them with the new firms that have emerged during the digital age. Concentrating on case studies of Monotype, a firm set up in 1893, Adobe, a software manufacturer who found themselves dealing with type, and FontShop, a font distribution franchise established in 1988, it will also refer to several other new and traditional companies. This research for this study is UK based, but its scope is not confined to Britain. All the companies discussed operate across the globe, and have done so throughout their corporate life.


When Monotype started in business in the late nineteenth century its chief concern was the production of mechanical typesetting machines. Monotype’s main competitor in the field of hot-metal typesetting was Linotype, a company also founded over 100 years ago. Both firms became established on both sides of the Atlantic in the early decades of this century. Linotype and Monotype machines operated differently, as their respective names suggest. Linotype machines worked more quickly, casting metal type by the line; Monotype machines achieved superior quality, casting letter by letter. The Linotype method leant itself to newspaper production, while the Monotype method dominated in the setting of books. In spite of their different strengths the two companies tended to pace each other in terms of technological innovation. As the twentieth century progressed, Linotype and Monotype introduced new photographic and digital typesetting equipment at roughly equal rates.

When mechanical typesetting machines first came into use, they were seen by many contemporary typophiles as presenting a profound threat to typographic quality. At the outset, quality of design was not these firms’ primary concern: the design of the typefaces to be used on Linotype and Monotype machines was a secondary activity. In reaction to mechanisation, those allied to the Arts and Crafts movement revived pre-mechanical typesetting methods, William Morris at the Kelmscott press, for example. Over the course of the century, fears that new technology will lead to a disregard of important typographic rules and a fall in standards has become a constant theme amongst many of those involved with type. The issue, first raised at the introduction of hot metal setting, was brought up again at the cusp of the widespread adoption of photo-typesetting and once more at the onset of digital typesetting.

While in the middle of this century photo-typesetting was the villain, the enemy is now digital technologies. Some believed that type lost its dignity in the photo-setting era, becoming merely part of the photographic image. The colour supplements, some of the most significant employers of photographic type, are full of gimmicky colourful headline faces, an anathema to the conservatives. Similarly, the emergence of digital type is also thought to have eroded important typographic preserves. It is a fairly widespread belief that, once type becomes software standards must be threatened. Under the title ‘Is creativity in alphabet design still wanted?’, typeface designer Hermann Zapf argued that digital technology allows the unscrupulous to plunder the work of others and gives those ignorant of basic laws of type design the tools to create travesties.[220]

The rapid turnover of typesetting technologies during the last century and the widespread technological suspicion of many in the typographic community has meant that Monotype and Linotype, once seen as endangering standards by promoting mechanical technology, are now seen as upholders of traditional typographic values. Although these firms now deal in digital type, they have attempted to maintain an image of selling something other than merely software. To some extent they survive by trading off a century’s worth of typographic tradition.

The Monotype Corporation sought to become allied with the highest of typographic standards in the first half of the twentieth century. Monotype’s overtures towards the established typographic community meant that the relationship between those who practised type as a craft and industrial typesetting was not purely oppositional. The first typeface designed specifically for use on the Monotype System was Imprint, designed in 1912. This typeface took its name from the journal The Imprint, which was printed on Monotype machines and whose editors were influential in the company. One of these editors, Edward Johnston combined designing typefaces for mass production – for example London Underground’s familiar typographic identity – with practices such as calligraphy using animal quills.[221] Johnston’s student Eric Gill also was employed by Monotype. A keen calligrapher and engraver, Gill designed the typeface Gill Sans, a typeface that had its origin in a hand-painted sign. Gill Sans has became Monotype’s long-term best-seller, and in its digital format continues to outsell almost every other face in Britain.[222] Gill went on to design other faces for Monotype typesetting machines, but his letterforms always made clear references to pre-mechanical printing methods.[223]

The movement to promote high typographic standards became known as the ‘typographic reformation’. This ‘reformation’ was led by a number of type designers and historians on both sides of the Atlantic whose shared concern was the history of letterforms. While those involved were interested in historical printing methods, they were also keen to see mechanical typesetting benefit from their interest. The Monotype Corporation took the initiative in type design during this period and employed many of these scholar/practitioners. Some, such as Bruce Rogers, recovered historic type designs for use on mechanical composing machines. Rogers’s Centaur, derived from drawings he had found in the Metropolitan Museum in New York, went into production at Monotype in 1928. Others, for example Beatrice Warde, wrote scholarly histories on type and essays on typography which were published in the company’s promotional literature.

Stanley Morison was made Monotype’s first typographic consultant in the early in the 1920s. The invention of this kind of role within Monotype, a major commercial composing machine manufacturer, reflects the increasing emphasis upon typographic quality within the company. Morison has become a monolithic figure in the history of British typography. Not only did he oversee the design of typefaces at Monotype, Morison was also active in documenting the history of type and promoting his own typographic theories. An important vehicle for Morison’s historical and theoretical works was The Fleuron, a typographic magazine which was published under the auspices of Monotype and ran for seven issues, the last of which appeared in 1930. In the second half of this century Stanley Morison’s credibility as a type designer, scholar and theoretician has been questioned. Increasingly credit for the still widely used Times Roman face has been passed on to Morison’s lesser known Monotype colleagues; also questioned has been his claim to have established a complete and rational set of typographic principles. But in spite of posthumous criticism, Morison still has a very high profile in the history of British type design and his long-term association with Monotype has leant the firm a lasting credibility.

Warde believed that she and her colleagues at Monotype were setting universal and unchanging typographic standards. Morison and Warde did not expect the designs that they oversaw to be bettered or the opinions they put forth to become redundant. In the essay ‘The Artist and Typography’, reprinted in a collection in 1955, Warde insisted that “the ‘typographic reformation’ has so far achieved its ends that from now onward any intelligent compositor, adequately trained in the principles of layout and print-planning, could organise the production of effective printed matter.”[224] The implied that there was no longer any need for the design of new typefaces. Warde even believed that such designs could lead to “graphic monkeyishness.”[225] In another essay in the same collection titled ‘On the Choice of Typefaces’, Warde argued that “if a Monotype user has four body compositions faces, and each is well-designed and adapted to a particular printing process, it would be inordinate to expect that man to increase his type repertory.”[226]

Warde’s ideas have been very influential. Amongst conservatives, the typographic activity of the 1920s and early 30s is still held up as an ideal. Monotype is inextricably bound to that ideal and it remains a significant part of its company identity. Although an important element of Warde’s philosophy was to produce the highest possible standards using the most up-to-date technology (she dismissed the hand-press tradition as ‘precious’[227]), many of those who hark back to the typographic high point of 1920s and 30s deplore new technologies. Ironically Warde’s theories, which were allied to a technophilic stance, have now been adopted by those who believe that innovative technologies are associated with an inevitable drop in standards. Monotype’s name is identified with the typographic quality of an earlier era, and the company often seems to have little to with the contemporary typographic scene.

Although Monotype’s heyday could be said to be the era of Warde and Morison in the interwar years, the company remained one of the major sellers of typesetting equipment and typefaces right up to the 1980s. While the company never led the field in terms of post hot metal typesetting technology, it had always managed to catch up. During the 1970s, Monotype had suffered extreme financial difficulties as a result of not being able to sustain the high levels of investment required to keep up with rapid technological change. Monotype’s journal, the Monotype Recorder went out of print for nine years between 1970 and 1979. In the first issue of the new series, published in November/December 1979, the managing director claimed that the reappearance of the publication “heralds the resuscitation of a patient who came close to death’s door.” In the journal a