TypeCon, Minneapolis, USA.
August 2019


Many thanks for the introduction and also many thanks for the organization for inviting me. It's a true honor to give this presentation in front of such a distinguished audience. This talk will be about type and color, a subjects which fascinates me for quite some time now, however, before we start there's a small disclaimer; This presentation is prejudiced, subjective and completely unscientif approach to the subject. This presentation reflects my own personal opinion ragarding the subject.
Before I start I will give you a small introduction about my studio Novo Typo. We are based in Amsterdam, however, we work for clients all over the world. We like to collaborate. The output of our studio is very diverse, we design prototypes, typefaces and we're graphic designers. We publish books, write articles, and we organize workshops. In a way you can say that our world is not bigger that 26 characters, however, everything we do is in full color. There is no black and white in our world


As said, type and color is a subject which fascinates met for quite some years now. This started when I heard a very high profile type designer stating: 'Traditionally, typedesigners think in black and white' … On which I thought; Oh? Really? Is this true? Color is eveywhere. Our world is in full color, the web is in full color, Hollywood doen't produce any black and white movies anymore. And only typedesigners continue to think in this restrictive terms. This was the moment when my research took off.


Some while ago, when I discussed the possibility about publishing a book about type and color with Bertram Schmidt Friderichs of Hermann Schmidt Verlag in Mainz Germany he warned me; 'Never start a book, or presentation with Gutenberg; people will be bored, will fall asleep or will leave to the bar, you will not have their attention'. So I took this advice and I will not start with Gutenberg but, I will start with two contemporaries and former assiociates of Gutenberg, Johannes Fust and Peter Schoeffer, who printed almost right after Gutenberg printed his famous 42-line bible, the Mainz Psalter. It is quite amazing to see how thy printed the multicolored initials in this beautiful book. The leadtype is organized in a form, you can compare it with a jigsaw puzzle, the three different forms are inked seperately, and printed in just one printrun. Obviously, their aim was to imitate the handwritten illuminated manuscripts from before. It is a pitty that this method was too cpmplicated and too time consuming that they only printed this book. However, when I see this, the claim that typedesigners traditionally think in black and white left me in doubt. Afterall, this book was printed in 1459. Ofcourse, you are all invited to disagree with me, but, there's is more evidence.
After this introduction we will jump to the beginning of the 19th. century. Obviously the heydays of multicolored, or chromatic, typography.
All the typefaces which I show you now are woodtype. For example, Harrild and Sons, from London 1809 or George Nesbitt, from New York, from 1841. These are typical examples of multicolored woodtype from that time. One of the highlights of that era is made by Wiliam H. Page (1874) who published his multicolored typespecimen. The woodtype is now part of the collection of the Hammilton Museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin. All these beautiful typespecimen makes you think about the use of type. We now see these beautiful specimen, however, during my research I could not find typical examples of the type in use. We may suppose that the type was meant to be used for advertising on posters or any other large display sizes. Actual evidence for that is not available.
For example, this specimen Album du peintre an batiment, 1882 (Lettre Fantasy), designed for a letterpainter on shopwindows in Paris. Or Day & Collins - Atlas Works from 1884 from London.


However, all these examples make me completely reconsider the whole black and white approach for my own work. Having a look at these examples, from a designers point of view, they all have one thing in common. All designs are based on a decorative approach, meaning that they all have a lot of colored inlines, outlines, shadows, florals or ornaments. If you take the 'decorative' designapproach one step further, and you start with constructing and deconstructing the basic shapes of a character you can bring chromatic chromatic to a whole new level. This brings us to Bifur form French designers Cassandre. It is interesting to see that Cassandre is constructing the basic shapes of the characters and divides them on different colored layers. Reconstructed they form a new set of multicolored letters.


From decoration to deconstruction
This example illustrate a decorative approach; next examples show a different 'constructed' approach.
This illustration, from Frank Blokland LeMo, shows a schematic designed, lowercase o and n. It is interesting to see how this model, based on a rennaisance model is divived in different colored parts. This schematic model can be a blueprint for a multicolored typeface. The next sample, a page of Albrecht Düre Symmetria can be used a constructed blueprint for the characters. And, as last example, an illustration from my book Type and Color showing basic colored shapes made into new characters. These examples shows that if you can construct a typeface, you can also deconstruct a typeface. And if you can deconstruct a typeface with color you can bring this designconcept to a complete new level.


In 2015 we designed the BixaColor typeface which is based on the deconstruction design approach. This is a very interesting and challenging design approach because it allows you - as designer - to enter a new way of typography. By adding different colors and overlapping different deconstructed parts of the character the possibilities are endless. We received a lot of international attention and prizes for the BixaColor typeface such as an European Design Award and the Special Jury Award by Type Directors Club New York. Showing all possibilities of BixaColor we designed a specimen with posters explaining our point of view regarding typedesign and color. This sis a serie of posters we designed for tha Typewood specimen. As an addition to this project, and to fully understand the whole concept of designing a layered chromatic design we also produced a 5 layer woodtype of BixaColor which we published as the Typewood project.


From large to small
Because we were quite happy with the results of BixaColor we became fascinated by the idea to bring this concept avaialble for type which is designed for use for smaller sizes. This was the start of the design of the typeface what later became Ziza. Before I will share you some images of this typeface I would like to bring up the next statement. Every caharcter is legible, if not, it is not a character anymore. Again, you're invited to disagree with me, however, in our studio, this is common sense to us.


For this project we were interested in the construction and deconstruction of color and form. We designed a seie of typefaces again based on deconstructed layers and colored shapes. To take our color-research one step further we transformed and translated the colortheories of Johannes Itten into typography. The contrast-theories of the famous Bauhaus instructor gave us valuable insights on chromatic typography. We designed a serie of typographic colorwheels according to the results of our research. This study was published in 2017 in the Novo Typo Color Book.
As we see there are many interesting directions to invesigate regarding chromatic typedesign. Many questions are waiting for designed answers. For example, how will color influence the patterning of a typeface? Or, can color be valuable for optcial corrections in the basic shape of a character?


Multicolored or chromatic typedesign is based on three different parameters. First, there is font, pointsize and type of text. It seems clear that the size of your letters will influence legibility or readibility of the text. Some type is better for display size as some is better for bodytext size. Second there is the style of your multicolored letter. This means the contrast of form; how is the letter constructed or deconstructed? Or is it based on a decorative designconcept? Third parameter is the contrast of color; some colorcombiantions are exteremly legible as others are very difficult to read, this also depends on the color of the surface.


Chromatic typography in an editorial context
As a graphic designer or typographer, your primary task is to organize information.
You give hierarchies to a text, thus making information tangible and comprehensible to the reader. Establishing a hierarchy, or separating the important and less important, can be accomplished in various ways. If a text starts with a title or a headline, increase the point size a bit. This makes the title stand out better, enabling the reader to quickly see where the text begins. Within a paragraph, it is common to set words or sentences in boldface to highlight them. This makes them more important than the rest of the regular featured text. In this way, the typographer or graphic designer creates an editorial hierarchy in texts. But you can also highlight and accentuate text parts in other ways, for example, by chromatizing a word in a sentence that is otherwise set in a normal style.


Humans are creatures of habit. They have been trained to read letters in black and white. People are usually skeptical of change. This is also true of font designers. But it would be smart of them to arouse new needs in their readers. Typeface designers need to design multicolored fonts, and graphic designers need to use them in their layouts. Only in this way can readers get used to this new manifestation of letters. This habituation process is comparable to the transition from the black letter to our established Latin script today. In the Middle Ages, black letter was easy for people to read, while it is more difficult for most to decipher today. A century or so pass before multicolored typefaces become mainstream. However, that is no reason not to further develop the concept; and, as we already have the technical means at hand to do so, it would be nonsense not to use multicolored typefaces.
Taking this concept one step further we can conclude that Color will be the new Bold!


We are experiencing the dawn of a new era in which color will play a major role in typeface design and typography. This epoch will be accompanied by readability and usability studies. The use of multicolored letters will proceed slowly but surely and become increasingly common, which will also fuel the habituation effect among readers. After all, it's simply a matter of time before multicolored scripts become the most normal thing in the world for us all.


This brings us back to the beginning of this presentation. Using color to define editorial hierarchy on a printed page. I invite all type- and graphic designers to reconsider the use of color in their work.


Many thanks to
- Gutenberg museum mainz
- Nick Sherman
- Stephen Coles
- Letterform Archive
- David Wolske
for sharing images of the beautiful typespecimen with me.


Creative Industustries Fund NL for funding the trip.


Many thanks for your attention.

Mark van Wageningen / Novo Typo