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  • In 1969 in July,

  • three Americans launched into space.

  • Now, they went to the surface of the moon,

  • they famously made the great leap for mankind.

  • Buzz Aldrin, Neil Armstrong, they walked on the surface,

  • they planted this flag.

  • It's rightly celebrated as a moment that in America we say is a triumph.

  • We think it was this amazing accomplishment.

  • They didn't just leave behind this flag, though.

  • They also left behind a plaque.

  • This plaque is a beautiful object,

  • and one that I want to talk to you a little bit about.

  • First, you might notice that there's two globes,

  • representing all of earth.

  • And then there's this beautiful statement:

  • "We came in peace for all mankind."

  • Now, at first, this is just nice poetic language,

  • but it's also set in a typeface that's perfect for this moment.

  • It seems industrial, it seems engineered.

  • It also is the best possible name

  • you could come up with for something on the moon: Futura.

  • Now, I want to talk to you about fonts,

  • and why this typeface is perfect for this moment.

  • But it's actually more than just ceremonial.

  • Now, when all of you arrived here today,

  • you actually had to think about fonts.

  • You might not realize it,

  • but you're all unconscious experts on typography.

  • Typography is the study of how fonts inhabit our world,

  • they're the visual language of the words we use.

  • Here's the thing that's funny about this, though.

  • I know you're probably not like me, you're not a font nerd,

  • maybe some of you are, but if you're not, that's alright,

  • because I might spend hours every day

  • trying to pick the perfect typeface for the perfect project,

  • or I might spend thousands of dollars every year,

  • trying to get ones with the right features.

  • But all of you actually spend hours every day, evaluating fonts.

  • If you don't believe me, think about how you got here.

  • Each of you had to judge by the signs

  • and maybe even on your phone,

  • which signals to trust and which to ignore.

  • You were evaluating fonts.

  • Or maybe when you're just buying a new product,

  • you have to think about whether something is expensive

  • or cheap or hard to get or easy to find.

  • And the funny thing about it is,

  • this may not seem extraordinary to you,

  • but the moment you see something out of place,

  • you recognize it right away.

  • (Laughter)

  • The thing I love about typography,

  • and why I love fonts and why I love Futura,

  • is that, for me, what I study is everywhere.

  • Every street that I walk down, every book that I pick up,

  • every thing that I read is filled with the thing I love.

  • Now, once you understand the history and what happens with typography,

  • you actually have a history of everything before you.

  • And this is the typeface Futura.

  • As previously we've discussed, this is modernism in miniature.

  • This is a way in which modernism infiltrated this country

  • and became perhaps the most popular, or promiscuous typeface,

  • of the twentieth century.

  • "Less is more," right, these are the aphorisms of modernism.

  • And in the visual arts, the same thing happened.

  • Let's focus on the essentials, focus on the basic shapes,

  • focus on geometry.

  • So Futura actually holds this to its core.

  • You might notice that the shapes inherent in Futura

  • have circles, squares, triangles.

  • Some of the shapes are all based on circles,

  • like the O, D and C,

  • or others have this pointed apex of the triangle.

  • Others just look like they might have been made

  • with a ruler or a compass.

  • They feel geometric, they feel mathematic, precise.

  • In fact, this whole system carries through with the way

  • that the typeface was designed.

  • To not look like it was made like other typefaces, to be something new.

  • Here it is in the lightweight, the medium weight and the bold weight.

  • The whole family has different things to commend to it.

  • This was a conscious break from the past,

  • something that looked like it was made by a machine, and not by hand.

  • When I say not made by hand, this is what I mean.

  • This is what we think about maybe,

  • when you might create something with a calligraphic brush or a pen.

  • That there's thicks and thins.

  • And even more traditional typefaces, say like a Garamond,

  • holds vestiges of this old system

  • in which you can see the A where it get little bit thinner at the top

  • and thicker down below,

  • because it's trying to look like someone had made it by hand.

  • But Futura, in contrast,

  • is designed to look like no one had touched it at all,

  • that this was made by a machine,

  • for a machine age, for an industrial age.

  • There's actually a sleight of hand here

  • that Paul Renner, the designer who made this in 1927, employed.

  • If you look at the way in which

  • the circular shape joins with the vertical shaft,

  • you'll notice that it tapers just every so slightly.

  • And this is one of hundreds of ways

  • in which this typeface was designed to look geometrically perfect,

  • even though it's mathematically not.

  • And this is what typeface designers do all the time

  • to make typefaces work, every day.

  • Now, there were other designers doing this at the same time in Europe and America.

  • These are a few other excellent examples from Europe,

  • trying to create something new for the new age, a new moment in time.

  • These are some other ones in Germany

  • that in some ways look very similar to Futura,

  • maybe with higher waist or lower waist or different proportions.

  • Then why did Futura take over the world?

  • In this case, if you can read the titles there,

  • some of these names don't quite roll off the tongue:

  • Erbar, Kabel Light, Berthold-Grotesk, Elegant-Grotesk.

  • These aren't exactly household names, are they?

  • And so when you compare that to Futura,

  • you realize that this was a really good choice by the marketing team.

  • What's amazing about this name --

  • you know, what's in this name is that this is a name

  • that actually invokes hope and an idea about the future.

  • And this isn't actually the word for future in German,

  • it wasn't a German name,

  • they actually picked something

  • that would speak to a wider, larger audience, a universal audience.

  • And when you compare it to what was being done in America --

  • these are the typefaces from the same period

  • in the United States in the 1920s,

  • bold, brash, braggadocios.

  • You almost think of this as exactly like what the stock market looked like

  • when they were all going nuts in the 1920s.

  • And you realize that Futura is doing something revolutionary.

  • I want to step back and talk about an example of the typeface in use.

  • So this is a magazine that we all probably know today, "Vanity Fair."

  • This is what it looked like in 1929, in the summer.

  • And in many ways, there's nothing wrong with this design.

  • This is absolutely typical of the 1920s.

  • There's a photograph of an important person,

  • in this case Franklin Roosevelt, then-governor of New York.

  • Everything seems centered, everything seems symmetrical.

  • There's still a little bit of ornamentation,

  • so this is still maybe having some vestiges of the painted lady

  • and not fully modernistic.

  • But everything seems kid of solid.

  • There's even drop caps to help you get into the text.

  • But this all changed very quickly and in October of 1929,

  • a Berlin-based designer came and redesigned "Vanity Fair."

  • And this is what it looks like with Futura.

  • Instead of the governor

  • now we have a photograph of an abstract, beautiful setting,

  • in this case, the ocean.

  • Instead of drop caps, there's nothing at all.

  • And replaced with a centered layout is now asymmetry.

  • And it gets even more radical the further you enter the magazine.

  • In this case, even more dramatic asymmetry.

  • In this case, illustrations by Pablo Picasso, moving across the page

  • and breaking the gutter of the two pages.

  • And there's something even more radical.

  • If you look closely at the Futura, you might notice something.

  • You might not pick it up at first,

  • but there are no capital letters in the title or the captions on this page.

  • You might not think that's very radical,

  • but pick up any magazine, any book or go to any website,

  • and I guarantee, you are not going to find it very easily.

  • This is still a radical idea.

  • And why is that radical?

  • When we think about what capital letters denote,

  • they denote something important,

  • whether it's our names, or our titles.

  • Or maybe even just the name of our corporations,

  • or maybe our trademarks.

  • Actually, in some ways, America's the home of capitalization.

  • We love putting capitals in everything.

  • (Laughter)

  • But think about how radical this would be

  • to introduce a magazine where you're taking away all the capital letters.

  • This has maybe had the same political force

  • that we now argue over things like pronouns in our society today.

  • In the 1920s,

  • this is just shortly after Soviet Russia had a communist revolution.

  • And for them, this actually represented a socialist infiltration into America.

  • All lowercase letters meant that this was an egalitarian,

  • complete lowering of everything into one equal playing field.

  • Now this is still kind of a radical idea.

  • Think about how often you do capitalize something

  • to have more power or prestige to it.

  • So for them to do this was a way in which Futura was using this idea.

  • Now, other designers were doing other things with Futura.

  • Others brought other ideas of modernism with it,

  • whether it was interesting new illustration styles,

  • or interesting new collage types of illustration.

  • Or even just new book covers,

  • whether they were from Europe.

  • But here's the funny thing.

  • In the 1920s, if you wanted to use a new typeface,

  • you couldn't just go download it onto your computer.

  • You actually had to have pieces of lead.

  • So for Americans who wanted to adopt this

  • and make it part of their own system,

  • something they could use in everyday typography,

  • whether in ads or anything else,

  • they actually had to have metal type.

  • So being good American capitalists, what did we do?

  • We made all sorts of copies.

  • Ones that had nothing to do with the name Futura,

  • but looked identical to it,

  • whether it was Spartan or Tempo.

  • And in fact, by the time that World War II started,

  • American corporations were actually trying to boycott Nazi goods.

  • But they said, "Go ahead and use our copies.

  • Use 20th Century, use Spartan, use Vogue, use Tempo.

  • These are identical to Futura."

  • And in fact, for most people, they didn't even learn the new names,

  • they just still called it all Futura.

  • So America took this typeface in,

  • conquered it and made it its own.

  • So by the time World War II finishes,

  • Americans are using this on everything,

  • whether it be catalogs, or atlases,

  • or encyclopedias or charts and graphs,

  • or calendars, or even political material.

  • And even the logo for a new expansion football team.

  • And in fact, it was used even on some of the most important advertising

  • of the 20th century.

  • So it's in this context

  • that when the US government was picking a typeface

  • to use after World War II for new maps and new projects,

  • they picked Futura.

  • It wasn't an astounding choice, it wasn't a radical choice,

  • it didn't have anything to do with communism.

  • But in this case, it was used on some of the most important maps,

  • so this one, an air force map in 1962,

  • or used for the maps in Vietnam in '66.

  • And so it wasn't a surprise

  • that when astronauts first started the Mercury program,

  • such as John Glenn orbiting the earth,

  • that charts and maps that he was using were in Futura.

  • And in fact, by the time Mercury morphed into Apollo,

  • it started getting used more and more for more things.

  • So in this case for a safety plan,

  • or even starting to get used on instrument panels,

  • or navigational aids.

  • Or even on diagrams to show how the whole system worked.

  • But here's the amazing thing,

  • it didn't just get used for papers that they handed out to people.

  • It started to get used for an interface,

  • for an entire system that helped the astronauts

  • know how to use the machine.

  • NASA wasn't just one big corporation making everything.