David Berlow

Abstract Type for Abstract Documents

June 14, Sunday 10:45 – SALT Galata

Beginning in the mid-1970’s fonts became digital outlines in expensive computer systems at foundries and large printers. By the end of the 80’s digital outlines and applications that could use them were in personal computers, and printers that could get digital fonts into print production via laser printers and PostScript typesetters, were beginning to revolutionize publishing.

By the end of the 1980’s, I and others began to see that digital outlines could do more than store a single, discrete style, but rather that they were flexible. By 2000, fonts had hints, so they could change depending on the pixels available to display them, Multiple Masters had appeared and disappeared from Adobe Apps, and their font library, and Apple’s more sophisticated TrueType GX technology had been rejected by developers and the public.

Hints, remain a useful part of font technology to users, but interpolations like those of both Multiple Masters and TrueType GX exist and are commonly used in modern type founding. With twenty years of the web now, there are millions of fonts running around in cyberspace, many of them highly capable of producing great typography. But there is ample evidence this simple version of digital font technology, an outline that only scales up and down without changing, is beginning the end its product life.

There are now 2 billion smart phone users, and by 2010, there are projected to be 4 billion smart phone users. To me as a type designer, that means there are now two billion type experts, and that’s going to double in the next 5 years. What’s begun to penetrate the consciousness of operating system, device and standards developers as this occurs, is that users are mixing scripts, designs, weights and widths of type are numerous, not all type can simply scale up and down from a single master, and the sizes of the font files matter greatly on the web.

I wonder what will happen next.


About David Berlow

David Berlow entered the type industry in 1978 as a letter designer for Mergenthaler, Linotype, Stempel, and Haas type founders, all now part of Monotype. In 1982 he joined the newly formed digital type supplier, Bitstream, Inc. with nine other ex-Mergenthaler employees. After seven years of entrepreneurial digital type founding, inventing new tools, font formats and designs, Berlow left Bitstream. The Font Bureau, Inc. was founded in 1989 with Roger Black and began building a custom font service based on PostScript fonts. Shortly thereafter, Apple computer enlisted Berlow’s service in the development and launch of TrueType, and later TrueType GX. Font Bureau has since developed fonts for tradition publishers like Chicago Tribune, Entertainment Weekly & Rolling Stone, but also Apple, Microsoft, Palm, Hewlett Packard and other technology companies. Along the way Berlow gathered independent designers and with Font Bureau’s staff, developed a Retail Library of over 500 typefaces, launching them all into web service through Webtype.com, in 2004. Berlow is a member of the New York Type Directors Club (TDC) and the Association Typographique International (ATypI), and remains active in typeface design, tool development and business.