[Scribus] typography: Matthew Carter

Gregory Pittman gpittman
Fri Dec 2 03:19:47 CET 2005

There is an article about Matthew Carter and typography in the most 
recent issue of The New Yorker (5 Dec 2005).  He is said to be the most 
significant type designer in America. He is British, and lives in 
Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Some of his work includes the type for the ATT phone book and for many 
magazines and newspapers (he's currently working on a new typeface for 
Le Monde). He also designed Verdana for Microsoft.  He originally 
learned typography by carving type out of steel in the Netherlands in 
the 1950s:

"With a needle, a type cutter scratched the outline of a letter on the 
end of a then shaft of steel called a punch. Then he began scraping 
steel away from the borders of the letter. 'It's a subtracting exercise. 
You remove the steel, and the letter is what's left.'"

"Twenty years ago, Carter began drawing letters on a computer. He 
prefers to start with the lowercase 'h' and 'o'. He proceeds carefully, 
because any misjudgment multiplies its effect as he continues. He does 
'p' and 'd' next, because they include elements of the 'h' and 'o' and 
are also inversions of each other. 'If something looks awful with your 
'p' and 'd'  ', he says, 'you know something's wrong with your 'h' and 
'o', and you revise them.' Next he might draw a 'v', because it involves 
new considerations. 'You get half a dozen letters, and you work on them 
again and again until you feel confident,' he says. When he has 
collected enough letters to feel that his decisions are sound, he begins 
printing proofs of them in combinations -- 'ab', 'ac', 'ad', and so on."

" 'The heavy lifting begins when the alphabet is finished,' Carter says. 
'I begin then to see how the letters go together to make words, how they 
line up next to each other, how they sit on the page or the screen, how 
they work with the punctuation and the symbols. I print up forty or so 
pages, and when I first see them I feel suicidal. Nothing is working. If 
it isn't working, I don't necessarily know why it isn't. It simply looks 
bad. Then starts the long process of going back and making changes here 
and there. You change something one day, and the next day you change it 
back, because you realize it wasn't the problem. Nothing gets better, 
you despair, until one day you're looking -- you've changed something 
small -- and you're looking at a typeface.' "

"Microsoft wanted its new typeface to be as legible as possible. Carter 
was aware as he worked that the point might soon be reached where more 
text was read on computer screens than was read on paper, and that the 
purpose in designing this face was not simply that it print handsomely 
but that it also looks good on the screen.

"On a computer screen, Carter would display writing set in his design, 
and, on another screen beside it, he'd display the same words set in 
Microsoft's face MS Sans. Then he would back up slowly until he could no 
longer read one or the other. 'It's a crude way of doing it,' he says, 
'but it works. If you degrade it, you learn.' "


More information about the scribus mailing list