Digital Evolution – Bruno Maag

During a recent conversation, I was asked to give my impression of how the type industry has changed since I started my apprenticeship in 1978. For one, I can say that the job I apprenticed in doesn’t exist anymore. And, when I started with my apprenticeship, type design wasn’t an industry in its own right but attached to typesetting equipment, as a means to sell more machines.

Bruno certificate (web)

When I set up Dalton Maag we designed typefaces with print in mind. Display on screens was a secondary consideration, if at all. The BMW typeface we designed with our colleagues at Interbrand in Cologne, in 1999, required that the fonts also looked good on screen. That was probably one of the first projects where, from the start, both print and screen were considered conceptually, although print was still prioritised. Of course, specialist applications, such as interactive CD-ROMs required type for the screen but often type would be presented as image files.

BMW typeface

BMW typeface

One such project was for Dorling Kindersley in 1995 to create a bitmap font for its interactive CD products, for 72 dpi colour screens. Using Fontstudio – a font tool which is no longer available – allowed me to create the bitmaps for 9pt Garamond Italic, with a colour foreground and white background. Carefully selecting the shades between white and full foreground colour I created an anti-aliased character representation that could clearly be identified as Garamond Italic, despite the horrifyingly low resolution. Interestingly, my work showed that only 5 shades between fore- and background colour were necessary to emulate the design so well.

Soon screen display had to be considered with every project, and gradually the emphasis of use changed from print to screen. Generally fonts needed to be designed and engineered for resolutions of 72 to 120 dpi and extensive hinting was necessary to create even textures of type on the screen, as well as emulating the actual design features as closely as possible. In addition, the design and hinting needed to be considered for black & white, anti-aliased (gray), and ClearType rendering.

b+w hinting

An example of anti-aliased character


An example of a clear type character

For the last five years the vast majority of the fonts we have designed have been primarily aimed at screen based devices. That the fonts work faultlessly in print is naturally expected. This has been made possible with the high resolutions available on contemporary devices, some with over 500 dpi. Hinting is rarely necessary anymore for smart phones and tablets but still needs to be taken into account if fonts are applied to other digital environments such as desktop or laptop computers, and legacy devices.

Although the output environment has changed, we have found that the actual process of designing and engineering the font has not changed that much. We still create initial sketches and design concepts which are tested for their creative originality and usability within the intended environments. Throughout the entire implementation process, when executing the design concepts to all the necessary characters, we bear in mind and anticipate the effects of design decisions on different platforms.

The major challenge of creating fonts for a digital environment is the diversity of output platforms. We cannot predict how and where fonts are used, and how the fonts are rendered. Because we have had the fortune of living through the entire digital revolution, we have the skill to design fonts that can live in the digital legacy, as well as in the digital present. Who knows what the future brings…

Bruno Maag



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