The Internet Is For Porn

The Art of ImmersionThe internet is for porn—there’s even a song about it. Sung, no less, than by child-like puppets disconcertingly addressing extremely adult themes.

There is, of course, Bookshelf Porn, which I’ve blogged about previously and obsess over daily. But I’ve now stumbled on a site that will enable me to get a double dose: Book Cover Archive.

The site is, as it states, and archive of book cover designs and designers dedicated to the appreciation and categorisation of excellence in book cover design. That’s a bunch of words that really means it’s a site dedicated to book cover porn. And porn it is, with the homepage a breathtaking layout of book cover panels guaranteed to set any booklover’s heart racing.

I’ve had the Book Cover Archive open on my laptop for days and my appreciation for book cover design genius as a whole has reached new levels.

Ugly ManHow greatly simple and powerfully effective, for example, is the Ugly Man cucumber cover?! Who isn’t mesmerised by The Art of Immersion, the cover art that, like those cryptic 3-D puzzles you used to stare at as a kid, reveal more the longer you look at it?!

And whose mind on seeing The War on Words doesn’t whirr off in a million thoughts about the clever intersection of newspaper print, puns, and typography?! I also really love the haunting, show-don’t-tell simplicity of The Ethics of Interrogation.

The beauty of this site’s design is immediately apparent—the crisp, simple header gets out of the away of the site’s real stars: the book covers. But its thoughtful, subtle design is something you appreciate more as you spend time on there.

Each book cover image links to a page containing all the information (and links) you could ever hope for: the author, the publisher, publication date, designer, genre. Each of those enables you to drill down and sort by the one you prefer.

There’s also a small, non-intrusive link to purchasing the book via Amazon if you so desire (which I so don’t), and about which the site’s owners are completely transparent: ‘Amazon sends us a small commission for purchases made by way of The Book Cover Archive. We hope you don’t mind and appreciate your support.’

Who’d possibly begrudge them early a few cents (and it will be only a few cents—we are talking Amazon) after a kindly note like that? Well, me actually. I appreciate their sentiment and it’s nothing personal, but I’ll still be buying the books from this Australian-owned, carbon-neutral bookstore.

The War on WordsThere are other fantastic finds in what’s effectively the site map at the bottom. In addition to the standard social media and newsletter sign-up options, you find out who’s behind the blog and the book covers featured and can leap off onto their sites—fantasising, of course, about one day commissioning them to do work for you.

There are also links to fantastic books and websites about cover design, of which one can never have or ogle too many (in fact, be warned: this entire site is a veritable rabbit hole of book and website and design porn).

My two favourite aspects of the site, though, are the fact that they include a list of planned ‘future enhancements’ for the site and details of the font indentification.

The former outlines how the site is a work in progress, but a considered and (to borrow the word I used to describe their Amazon links) transparent one. As someone who works on websites and (painfully) understands how much goes into even the simplest of designs, I appreciate knowing where the website developers have been, where they’re heading, and especially how far they’ve come.

The Ethics of InterrogationThe latter-mentioned font identification is something that helps all of us solve that eternal question—not ‘What is the meaning of life?’ but ‘What font have they used on that book?’ I’ve committed many hours of my life that I’ll never get back on the hunt for the ever-elusive answer to that.

Which indeed reminds me that the internet is for porn. If you haven’t discovered the mindblowing-ness that is Typographica (which, now that I look closely, has an extremely similar design), I suggest you grab a coffee and buckle yourself and your internet connection in—that’s another, extremely worthy, highly addictive rabbit hole all of its own …

Helvetica

My obsession with typography has reached fever pitch—I’m trying to work out how best to redesign my in-desperate-need-of-it freelance business’ logo. I’m not having a lot of luck (any excellent ideas are welcome), but I am really loving looking at fonts. Like I really needed any excuse.

The search for the perfect has led me via three converging channels to be looking at Helvetica. There’s:

Helvetica the font

Designed by a Swiss designer in 1957 after it was decided that the world needed a modern typeface, Helvetica was originally called the much-less-appealing Neue Haas Grotesk (can totes tell why that name never stuck). The typeface design was part of a deliberate and idealistic post-WWII refresh. Helvetica was, ironically, employed liberally by companies that later supported the Vietnam War, though, so its bright and shiny ethos might have been somewhat sullied. No matter, because this clean, crisp, classic font is still going strong some 50 years later. So strong, in fact, it’s utterly timeless and completely ubiquitous. It stars in anything from subway maps to street signs to iconic logos.

Helveticus the brand that uses the font

The link it tenuous, I know, but there’s something so crisp and clean and clever about the Helveticus logo and the brand’s site itself. I should probably admit I’m an unashamed Mac fan girl from way back, hence my love of such a clean, simple, brilliant, I-wish-I’d-thought-of-that-wee-cross funky design. What the site reminded me of was how Helvetica the font, although not flashy, is effective and powerful in even the simplest contexts.

Goodbye Helvetica art expo

As someone who considers Helvetica a go-to font, an art expo wishing it goodbye piqued my interest, albeit for the wrong reasons. Thankfully it’s not goodbye at all, with the expo more a celebration of a year spent using only Helvetica. Dominique Falla explains is best herself:

In December 2010, I made a foolish and public declaration that I would devote myself for a whole year to one typeface and one typeface only—Helvetica […] This declaration was met with cries of disbelief from my friends and co-workers, all fellow graphic designers. ‘How could I be creative if I had to use that awful typeface?’ ‘How could I possibly express myself with something so…so…common?’ ‘A whole year? It’s impossible.’

I found their responses fascinating, and entirely predictable. I would be responding in much the same way were I in their shoes, but the reasons I made this declaration were twofold: firstly, I had just seen Gary Hustwit‘s excellent documentary Helvetica and was convinced by designer Michael C. Place’s self-initiated challenge to ‘make something beautiful out of something ordinary’, (which he was apparently doing very well). Secondly, I had become tired of the typographic elitism that was settling in amongst my peers over which font you should use, what was cool and what was not, and I thought it would be such a relief not to have to engage in such discussions for a while.

The result was an outstanding example of how design constraints (that is, being forced to use but one font) forced greater innovation and creativity. It also led me to my final Helvetica encounter…

Helvetica the documentary

I’d like to say that I loved Gary Hustwit’s documentary about the font by the same name. I didn’t, but that was mostly because I’m too tired to appreciate its genius. I’m in dire need of a rest and watching a quietly considered documentary that includes a lot of talking heads at 1am on a Sunday wasn’t, perhaps, fair to it at all. I can say, though, that I gleaned some nuggets of gold from the documentary and am certain a re-watch when I have the headspace will yield many more.

The two that really stood out for me, though (and I’m paraphrasing here) include that:

  • Helvetica the font’s been around for 50 years, but it’s just as fresh now as it was then. There aren’t many fonts you can say that about
  • if you’re not a skilled designer (read: if you’re anything like me), use Helvetica in one size and then maybe bold. The font is so good it does 90% of the work.

Both points are important for me as I embark on a crazy logo redesign. Will I end up with something in Helvetica? Just quite possibly maybe.

Typing About Comic Sans Criminals

Just My TypeOne of the most-important and most-used skills I’ve had to develop as a writer who works as an editor is steering clients away from their mystifying obsession with using the most heinous of all fonts every created: Comic Sans.

It’s the kind of noxious weed of a typeface that I have to cover my eyes, Command + A a document, and change its font to something more palatable like Garamond before I can even begin to take in or edit its contents.

I’m not alone, with Comic Sans, the font created to not look like a font and to add a playful, non-threatening element to a Microsoft program, now (as with most Microsoft products) the bane of writers’, editors’, and designers’ lives.

So much so that one designer has created a tongue-in-cheek website that uses humour to politely tell clients that no way, not now, not ever, is Comic Sans an appropriate choice of font. It’s called Comic Sans Criminal and you can order posters and stickers that bear the words like ‘You’re a Comic Sans criminal, but we’re here to help you’.

It’s no coincidence, then, that the first chapter of a book about fonts that I bought myself for Christmas (or bought just for having because I’m obsessed with typography) contains a story warning of the pitfalls of this font. Apparently some people thought it ok to use it on a gravestone. Yep. I know. It blows the mind.

Like the Comic Sans Criminal website, Just My Type contains some Comic Sans jokes. There’s the cartoon that states that every time you use Comic Sans, they’re forced to punch a bunny. And there’s the joke that when Comic Sans walks into a bar, the bartender says, ‘We don’t serve your type’.

But the book contains much more than diatribes against awful fonts and even more awful applications of them. It’s a comprehensively researched, thoroughly well put together thesis about the history of typefaces and their cultural impact.

In just the first few pages I learned that we have even more to thank Steve Jobs about than we thought, as he was the one who invented and brought a variety of fonts to computers. No, I’m not going to get into a how-Apple-is-better rant—I might be a Mac user, but I steer clear of that stuff and was, as I’ve previously mentioned, appalled by Stieg Larsson’s relentless naming of the now-outdated PowerBook in his Lisbeth Salander trilogy. But I am going to say that I’m bemused that many of the rubbish fonts that are now thorns in our sides can be traced back to origins within Microsoft’s evil empire.

Apple versus Microsoft arguments aside, the books outlines the history of the Transport font, which is used in the UK and Europe to clearly convey traffic directions and conditions. It introduces us to the founder of Gill Sans, a guy who had a dubious but well-documented relationship with a dog and his daughters (there’s a camp that believes we shouldn’t use the font on principle, and I’m inclined to steer clear of it now that I know its history).

The book also looks at the font being used for the 2012 Olympics in London and how fonts can have gender. It explains the now-iconic fonts Apple used to use up to the early iPods (Chicago). And, best of all, it contains on the inside covers an incredible and art-like periodic table of fonts.

I highly recommend Just My Type. I highly recommend dobbing in Comic Sans criminals. And if you know where I can obtain one of those font periodic tables in the form of a wall-mounted piece of art, please let me know.