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Building a better Futura

The history of typefaces may seem irrelevant in a digital age. But it is tradition and not technology that defines the letters we read

By John Holbo   September 2008

Font. The Sourcebook edited by Nadine Monem (Black Dog Publishing, £24.95)

Once upon a time, the word “font” meant the individual bits of lead from a foundry used in printing: “font” and “foundry” both come from the Middle French verb fondre (to melt), which lead does nicely. These fonts were created in a number of distinct alphabetic looks, known as “typefaces.” Each typeface had a unique name, like Garamond or Geneva, and spanned a variety of heights and weights (italic, bold). Everything was done by hand; aesthetically and pragmatically, printing was a demanding business.

These days, only type designers—typographers—think in…

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