Beginnings and Ends

Sad but true, we have returned to the United States and no longer have the Duomo gracing our skyline, nor the Fountain of Neptune across the street. It was truly an unforgettable experience that will remain with us forever. Our explorations in typography were just the icing on the cake. We were reflecting on how it all got started and remembered the bad type we were horrified by (to which the previous post is a tribute). Yet when we started looking more closely, we found much more good, or at the least interesting typography. Type Snobbery also motivated us to explore more deeply into the rich history of a seemingly simple act — putting letters on paper. We discovered that the way for typography was paved not only by the hard work of designers and artists, but also that of scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs just as passionate. We also obtained context and perspective in regards to typography and branding. What might have seemed a bizarre typeface on its own can actually become wonderful signage that illuminates the special characteristics of a business.

However, we got so much more than that. Our visit with Bill Mazza started on one road but took us down another. Bill’s work broadened our view of what was possible for a graphic designer. It was exciting to see that the work of a designer can extend so far beyond the printed page. He also helped us understand the stories behind stories — the hidden details that few people get to see, much less work with. Many people recognize Italy as a place of high fashion, entranced by advertisements of Armani, Versace, Dolce & Gabbana  and others. Yet the work behind each sleek ad is immense, dynamic, and difficult to prepare. Working with Bill, we were able to see and experience a snapshot of the diverse issues a creative director must balance. Bill also shared many helpful tips and proverbs for graphic design students. We learned a lot from Bill and thoroughly enjoyed our time with him.

Spring semester has already begun and we are thousands of miles from Florence, but a part of it will never leave us. We will remember all the great times and things we learned while doing Type Snobbery. Italia, Firenze, Bill, e tutti i nostri amici italiani: arrivederci, arrivederci.

Notre Dame, Paris

Neapolitan Pizzeria

Pompeii

Type Blunders

Though sad but true, bad type is all too common. We do not wish for you to become ill after viewing these photos, so please proceed with caution.

This font was cool in 1999. Amongst 5th grade girls. The rainbow tiles definitely give it the modern update it so truly needed.

Who’s the wise guy that thought it would be funny to mess with Futura? Not funny.

What is that? Are those letters?

Unappetizing.

Definitely not a Kodak moment!

McDonald’s set in Arial? That’s new. Looks like their typographic choices mirror their culinary choices — almost Helvetica, but not quite; almost an apostrophe, but not quite; almost real meat, but not quite.

italsementi
This typeface needs to march itself back to the 1970’s with its chunky platform serif shoes, and leave its terrible gradient at door with it. And never ever come back.

crepes
Crepes are way too delicious to be represented by such a disgusting font.

If anything, we hope our typographic rants have made you…

Milling About in Fabriano

After many visits to TrenItalia.com, we decided the ten hours of travel time would be worth the hour spent at the Fabriano Paper Museum. Boy, were we right! Our day’s journey first brought us to Foligno, where we had a couple hours layover in which to explore. Thirty minutes of futile searching for a restaurant and one lemon coffee cake later, we stumbled upon a café. We each ordered a margherita pizza, which turned out to be as wide as a goat and as thin as a penny. We both agreed that it was the best pizza we’ve had outside of Naples. Upon arrival to our beloved Fabriano, we attempted to make up for the fourteen minutes lost by our treno ritardato. We got lost for a moment but arrived at the museum with two minutes to spare.

Note the beautiful type welcoming paper enthusiasts

The kindly woman at the desk first led us on a tour of the museum, beginning with the hydraulic hammer mill (known as the hydraulicthingermajigger in layman’s terms). This technology is thought to have first been developed in Fabriano during the 13th century. This new technology allowed cotton, linen, and hemp rags to quickly be beaten into a pulp. Later, the pulp was transported into a large basin filled with water, where the papermaker used a paper-making mold to scoop out the pulp. The wire mesh of the mold allowed the pulp to be distributed in an even layer while the water filtered through below. The paper was then pressed onto a woolen felt which absorbed eighty percent of the water remaining in the pulp. These were then stacked and pressed, and then hung to dry. Finally, they were smoothed by a cilindro.

Part of a hydraulic hammer mill

Stacks of wet paper and woolen felt would be pressed by this machine to help rid excess water

Finally hung to dry

Fabriano is not just your run-of-the-mill town though. As previously mentioned, Fabriano was the first to use the hydraulic hammer mill. It was also the first to use animal-based gelatin to coat the paper for durability and protection against aging. This was obtained by boiling the waste pieces of animal skins from local tanneries in a copper vat. The gelatin made paper durable enough to replace parchment, a much more expensive and resource-intensive medium. Fabriano had and still has a reputation for fine, handmade paper produced with 100% cotton. Fabriano’s reputation went back even as far as the 16th century when it was used by Michelangelo, as well as many other artists. As two paper-consuming artists ourselves, we see Fabriano paper in art stores all over Florence. Additionally, Fabriano is among a few select producers of the paper used for Euro banknotes. The watermark, stripes, holograms, and confetti seen on Euro banknotes are added to the paper by Fabriano. The paper is then sent to Rome, where the bills are printed and cut.

Most notably, Fabriano is famous for among the first to implement the watermark. Copper, bronze, or silver alloy wire is bent into a shape and then sewn onto the copper mesh of the paper-making mold. When the pulp is laid across the top, the relief of the watermark can be seen under a light due to the different thicknesses of the paper. There was a wide variety of symbols used for watermarks, ranging from city crests to sirens. Our favorite was a unicorn :). A more recent development in the art of watermarks is the light and dark watermark, which came about in the 20th century. There is a terribly complicated process to make them, but long story short, layers of copper make thin sheets on top of a precisely-carved beeswax mold. When using the copper molds to print, the pulp settles in various thicknesses, creating the light and dark areas. This allows for incredible detail, enough to reproduce complicated paintings with intricate areas of highlight and shadow.

First watermark from Fabriano

One of the more modern exhibits in the museum was the room shown below. The museum uses this section to emphasize the importance of recycling to all visitors, especially children. All the furniture in this room is made with 100% recycled paper.

Better than IKEA?

Believe it or not, this cardboard furniture is actually very sturdy

So what does this have to do with typography you ask? Well, typography is an efficient way of communicating ideas and information, but without an equally efficient medium to print on, typography loses its power. Before paper, parchment was used for this purpose. However, because it was made from animal skins, it was extremely time-intensive to produce and expensive, thus limiting it only to those who could afford it. The creation of paper made the dissemination of written knowledge attainable to those not extremely wealthy. This in turn brought about the knowledge which made printing possible, and with the help of the right combination of paper & ink, further increased the sharing of the written word.

Encounter with William Mazza

It’s not every day you are able to meet someone so completely enthralled with what they do. When Tina Rocchio, our Resident Director from Arcadia University, presented us with the opportunity to meet a graphic designer/creative director working in Florence, we did not know what we were getting ourselves into. We went with the intention of talking with Bill about typography, but we sure got a whole lot more than that.

With his vibrant Navajo sweater, turquoise arm cuffs, and thick-rimmed Marc Jacobs glasses, he did not appear to be one to follow the crowd. He has a slight east-coast accent and speaks at a rate of speed matched only by his enthusiasm.

After showing us several portfolios and past projects filed in his office, we were amazed by how versatile a designer’s work can be. He has created packaging, made books, staged promotional events, directed and choreographed photo shoots, and worked with students from art schools in Italy, showing them the behind-the-scenes work he is involved in. Although he does not teach at a university, he is very enthusiastic about working with a younger generation and sharing his knowledge of design with them. He even told us about some upcoming work he will be doing with students — but if we told you about those, he might have to kill us ☺. This passion for teaching is no surprise. In his own words, he thrives on the personal relationships built in his day-to-day work. This carries over to photo shoots, where he often features professionals involved with the products rather than professional models. His relationships have led him to work with clients such as Ferragamo, Pepsi, Davide Oldani, Technogym, Mondavi and Frescobaldi wineries, and Schönhuber Franchi, to name a few.

Surprisingly, our discussion on type was the shortest part of our chat. He says he only uses two typefaces at a time — one serif and one sans-serif. Currently, his fave five are Goudy, Baskerville, Caslon, Bodoni, and Century, with the latter being his most recent obsession. When asked about bad type (such as Comic Sans), he had few comments, although he did say that he “didn’t care for [Comic Sans] very much.” Using Comic Life on his Mac, he demonstrated comic and display typefaces, as well as the humorous sound effects. Referring to the type, he asked jokingly, “where would you use something like this?”

However, Bill did have much to say outside of the realm of typography. Writing out everything that was said would be extremely difficult, or more likely, impossible. That said, Bill is a wealth of knowledge concerning design and below are our attempts to distill the most precious gems that we took home with us.

  • Invitations are for those who will not be coming. On average, only 10% of invitees will actually attend. Design for the other 90% and you will generate a positive opinion amongst even those who cannot make it. (See example below.)
  • Design is all about observation and association. When asked what advice he would give to graduating design students, he said to take a few months off to explore, observe, and learn about the world. Theory will not make you a better designer, but a wide range of experiences will create new connections and different ways of thinking.
  • When proposing your ideas to clients, you much simultaneously take them through step-by-step explaining why your concepts are great, while making them think it was their idea.
  • Being a graphic designer is more than just ink on a page. You have to be ready to deal with salesmanship, networking, and much more.
  • “You better love what you’re doing, because you’ll be doing it the rest of your life.”
  • Always be prepared — even if it means carrying antacids and two shirts around with you.

The Handmade Touch

Long before there were computers and the wonders of digital technology, type was created by hand with a little bit of love and some elbow grease. Handmade type has a unique rhythm that digital type cannot always capture. Lucky for us, there are still some that believe in the distinctive style of handmade type, and we wish to bring them to you!

artema
Handwritten signs like this are all over shop windows and displays in Italy, and it’s nice to see some that don’t hurt the eyes. Thank you for your efforts shopkeeper, they haven’t gone unnoticed.

ceramica
Type on tiles? Che bello! The amount of detail invested in this typography hints at the hand-painted ceramics that are typical of Italian craftsmanship.

instituto
Sign us up for this art school!

signs
Typography Land is a beautiful place when the short and squat can be friends with the tall and thin! It’s also nice to see a sans-serif font with some humanistic touches.

flora
The geometrical design of these characters creates an ironic contrast with the organic forms sure to be found in this Super Flora shop.

villaggio
Yet another successful geometric wooden typeface. Needs some work on the kerning, though…

joann-and-brasiliana
Wow! What a quirky little typeface. Squashing the tall letters to fit into the same line with the short ones — that’s what I call equality.

brasiliana-close-up
Please observe the relationship between the positive and negative shapes in and around the R; it’s love. And that A — it’s just got so much spunk!

Bellemo
Bellemo? More like bellisimo! The funky baselines make these little letters look like they’re going to dance right off the doorbell.

menini
Found in the back alleyways of Venice, the green and orange copper combo makes this Bauhaus-y type pop. Who ever knew doorbells could be so much fun?

Found Type in Lucca

Type is everywhere! As we are constantly bombarded with information, we sometimes don’t stop to look at what actually lies in front of us. The words we read on signs are surprising little works of art, if we only take the time to stop and notice. As Joel and I peruse through Italy, we capture these hidden gems, and share them with you. The following are examples of typography found while visiting Lucca, enjoy!

ottica
How elegant! The elongated characters and contrast in stroke width is a match made in typographic heaven. We’d definitely buy our glasses there.

miraglia
The art deco reference may be a bit odd for a gelateria, but the style and artful use of maroon and gold (go Gophers!) sets it apart from any other gelateria we have encountered.

fiori
We like this one because of its vintage appeal as its unusual width.

orologeria
Check out those legs! The curve in the R is just perfect. We also appreciate the fact they accomplished a 3D effect without screwing it up. The photo doesn’t show this well, but the gold in the letters was actually very reflective and shiny, as any nice orologio should be.

gerrieri
Bauhaus!