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  • Hey, this is me home stroll a few days ago.

  • During this walk I noticed something,

  • so I started taking pictures of it.

  • Eventually I got my co-workers to join in.

  • Mac took this picture,

  • and Agnes took this one.

  • What we all noticed was this font.

  • If you've somehow managed to never see it on a storefront,

  • you've definitely seen it elsewhere.

  • Because it's everywhere.

  • Strip away the candy wrappers,

  • movie posters, album covers,

  • and corner store signs, and you're left with this typeface.

  • It's called Cooper Black, and the story

  • of how it became so popular has everything to do with its versatility,

  • because these letters have been around for a century's worth of changes in

  • technology

  • and pop culture.

  • To set the stage for the story, I talked to Stephen Heller.

  • Bear with me while I move to another part of the apartment.

  • Among other things, he's written like a library's worth of books about design.

  • Okay, I'm back.

  • And this is Bethany Heck.

  • I am a designer who writes about typefaces.

  • She runs the Font Review Journal where she deconstructs the history and design of notable typefaces

  • like Cooper Black. If you give me like two minutes I can run and find an actual

  • like physical piece of wood type and I can talk through some of this.

  • While she's doing that, let's travel back in time a hundred years to the city of Chicago

  • where our story begins. It's 1919 right after World War 1.

  • Advertising was reaching an early zenith at that point because with the end of

  • the war there was a great resurgence of product and demand. The two dominating

  • materials for commercial printing were wood and metal. Wood was cut out of the

  • end pieces hard wood, they were usually large size typefaces that were used for

  • large-scale advertising and posters. The bold typefaces you see in old wanted

  • posters? Those were made from wood type. Metal was the process that was created

  • by Gutenberg when he designed the type for his Bible. Each individual character

  • was physically formed into words, and those words were cast into tiny lines of

  • text. Those molds allowed for smaller more precise blocks of type. That's the

  • kind of type that was used for most commercial purposes, from book publishing

  • to magazine publishing. By the turn of the 20th century huge Rube Goldberg-like

  • machines called linotypes drastically sped up this process.

  • This is the world Oswald Cooper, Chicago's preeminent letterer and

  • illustrator, lived in. In 1918, after years of making custom hand lettered ads for

  • car companies and banks, he designed a fully-formed

  • typeface dubbed Cooper. It took a classic Roman form and softened to the edges.

  • Seeing promise in Cooper's design and the prior success of his lettering work, the

  • type foundry Barnhart Brothers and Spindler asked him to make a bold

  • display typeface based on the font. Around 1920, Oswald Cooper released

  • Cooper Black, and it was an immediate hit. It was used for newspaper headlines and

  • large-scale posters. It sold cars, cold medicine, music lessons, turntables,

  • and ginger ale. With Cooper Black, it was like somebody took an air pump to a tire

  • and blew up that tire. I mean this ad for Cooper Black credits the font for

  • getting five thousand customers into their client's new store on opening day.

  • And in countless reviews, it was considered the most popular typeface

  • design of the time. So what made it work so well? For one, its curves. Perhaps the

  • most unconventional aspect of the curves are that willingness to be unafraid to

  • curve the bottom parts of the letter forms. So if you look at the bottom parts

  • of the stems of the "A" like there's no flat edges on that, which is very strange.

  • If you look at most typefaces, they have flat bottom somewhere. Even Cooper Black's

  • imitations like Goudy Heavy and Pabst Extra Bold failed to fully break tradition.

  • You want that consistent line for legibility, and so the fact that Cooper

  • doesn't have that means that it's very forgiving to irregularities. Like the

  • baseline serif of one character naturally flows right into the curve of

  • another even when the characters are slightly uneven. Those irregularities

  • look more like mistakes than quirks in straighter edged designs. The fact that

  • Cooper doesn't necessarily need to be laid in a straight line to look good is

  • an advantage. Let's talk about this weird F. It's an identifiable feature of Cooper

  • Black. Turns out it's pretty genius. Draw a rectangle around that F, and you have

  • to think like "okay I've got a draw of really bold F

  • and I only have this rectangle of space to play with." You've got the crossbars,

  • and then you've got the hook at the top, and the serif at the bottom, you're kind

  • of like running out of space. The shape of this negative space in the ascender

  • allowed Cooper to make the F as bold as possible for as much as possible while

  • still maintaining legibility, which wasn't always the case for heavy

  • typefaces of the time. This is actually a good example, like this is a very bold

  • four, and you can see that like the counter space in there is like really

  • tiny. The tininess is what makes the four look bold and heavy, but that four

  • could get sort of like filled up with ink and then essentially vanish. These

  • negative spaces within each character made Cooper Black incredibly light and

  • friendly while still commanding attention. The fact that it worked both

  • big and small was a huge selling point. Every character of Cooper Black has its

  • own little quirks. The G is always the thing that I think about first, it has

  • like this sort of anthropomorphic quality. I think it looks like a duck. Now

  • that you say that, the Q kind of looks like a snail. Weird. At any rate, I

  • think the letter that shows just how fun and functional Cooper Black can be, has

  • to be the O. A lot of typefaces have a vertical stress, so the oval inside would

  • just point straight up and down. Cooper's tilts back, and while it looks

  • off-kilter on its own, when placed in a word or phrase it always seems to

  • compliment the letters around it. The central conflict that a type designer is

  • facing is how do I make something that feels cohesive as a whole design system

  • as opposed to a beautiful collection of letters. Somehow Cooper achieved both.

  • Oswald Cooper believed Cooper Black was at its best when there was thin spacing

  • between the words and not much leading between the lines. Basically it worked

  • best when the letters were all cramped together. But that sometimes posed a

  • problem. Even when Cooper Black was first designed, like just the act of squishing

  • type together tight was like in some cases extremely difficult or impossible

  • to do. In the 1950s, two dramatically new ways of printing made it easier to push

  • letters closer together, and that thrust Cooper Black into the second half of the

  • 20th century. There was a basic change in the material of which type is made, a

  • change from lead to paper or film. The first was photo type hot metal

  • typecasting was replaced by film strips in dark rooms and by the early 1960s

  • machines like the phototypositor were small enough to fit in local print

  • shops the other was the invention of dry rub transfers which just required a

  • ballpoint pen and a piece of paper it was perfect for customizing headlines

  • letter set the company that made them marketed it as fast simple and

  • economical these two technologies opened up graphic design to more adventurous

  • compositions something wood and metal had struggled to do and cooper black

  • flourished it thrived as always in advertising it's friendly curves fit the

  • tongue-in-cheek aesthetic of the 1960s and 70s but it also showed up in

  • magazines movies and hundreds of album covers Pet Sounds was like the

  • quintessential setting just look at the way the D works with the E and the Y and

  • boys fits so nicely over the oh it it's fluidity is what makes it special

  • and it's boldness makes it special I think all type designers would come in

  • and say like they have an idea of how a typeface is is meant to be used but I

  • think that a typeface doesn't really reach its full potential

  • until it's put into somebody else's hands because Cooper black was readily

  • available in letras at int I posit or catalogs it was no longer just in the

  • hands of professionals and designers it was in the hands of the DI wires of the

  • counterculture movement it seamlessly jumped from Burger King to underground

  • posters and magazines and became a staple the idea of using something

  • that's basic vernacular but using it with intention to make a statement is

  • something that you see throughout design or cultural history

  • these early hip-hop posters are actually the perfect example of Cooper blacks

  • adaptability and its legacy like take a look at this one it doesn't really

  • matter that these are two lowercase LS because the S fits so perfectly next to

  • them and the types ability to be squeezed as tightly as possible and

  • still be incredibly legible holds up even under extreme circumstances it's

  • always fun to look at something that's used an assertive lowbrow way and then

  • to realize that this isn't like some cheap tacky thing this is actually like

  • very good that's why Cooper black is just as

  • popular today as it was when it was first made from corner store signs and

  • fashion brands to food packaging grassroots movements and hip-hop album

  • covers Cooper's ability to work as like rebel

  • and letterings and in photo type and as movable type and also now like in

  • digital that's why it's everywhere and that's something that Oswald Cooper

  • couldn't have predicted

  • you

Hey, this is me home stroll a few days ago.

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Why this font is everywhere

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    林宜悉 posted on 2020/08/18
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