Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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.