On the “science” of typography

A Reading Note

Regarding the design of Adrian Frutiger’s Univers:

If all this gave off an air of scientificity, attractive to typographers interested in possibilities of logically determined design, the considerable sophistications of Univers depended on old-fashioned drawing skills and patient small adjustments: it was an exemplary product of the Swiss craft tradition. Though it anticipated the possibilities of computer-aided typeface design, this was done quite innocently.

Kinross, Modern Typography, page 154

It’s a common fallacy to observe the trappings of science in a work or text and assume that the process of science lies underneath. Similarly, many people read Pynchon’s novels and assume a familiarity with physics far beyond what he actually possesses (his physics education didn’t persist past his sophomore year); in the preface to Slow Learner, he confesses:

For a while all I worried about was that I’d set things up in terms of temperature and not energy. As I read more about the subject later, I came to see that this had not been such a bad tactic. But do not underestimate the shallowness of my understanding. For instance, I chose 37 degrees Fahrenheit for an equilibrium point because 37 degrees Celsius is the temperature of the human body. Cute, huh?

Pynchon, Slow Learner, page 13

It’s the equivalent of a literary or artistic viceroy, in which the appearance of a scientific justification is enough to suggest the existence of the real thing.

Related books

Modern Typography

Robin Kinross

A rare object—a book on typography that is as beautifully written as it is designed.

Slow Learner

Thomas Pynchon

Pynchon’s early stories are facile at best, but the introduction to the collection—in which Pynchon addresses his readers and talks about his writing—is invaluable.