La linéale géométrique dans un labyrinthe étranger

A typical 19th century French galerie... or is it?

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée, or La croisée dans un labyrinthe étranger, was a pleasant surprise and one of my favourite shows this season. Even though Junichi Sato is only doing series composition, it still feels like Aria. We have girls leaving their homes to go to a strange foreign land and learn about it, set to classy music. All we have to do is trade MANHOME for Japan, Space-Venice for Paris, 23rd century for 19th century, and strings for clarinets.

But there was one thing that caught my eye and has bugged me ever since.

Why does this text on my window look so round?

Now, I’m not a graphic design student or anything. I just think typography is cool, so please bear with me as I play amateur type historian. I’m also not that confident in my ability to identify typefaces on the spot. I’m relying heavily on Linotype’s excellent sans serif history articles and Robert Bringhurst’s excellent The Elements of Typographic Style for more general stuff. I’ve been using a combination of Identifont and FontBook to attempt to identify stuff. Anyhow, I expect I will say some wrong things.

A few months ago, I got the chance to read through some type history for a paper. While most of it was on neoclassical type, which was late 1700s/early 1800s, I did skim through 19th and 20th century stuff. Armed with that knowledge, I thought it was a bit weird seeing stores with sans serif signage in general. But other than the problem of sans serifs possibly existing before they were created, they just felt wrong because they looked too “new”. Croisée is set some time in the second half of the 19th century and a quick search revealed that the earliest sans serif faces showed up early in the 19th century but didn’t get big until almost 100 years later.

An attempted reproduction of the above

So I’m pretty sure this is Futura. If it’s not, it’s definitely a geometric sans serif. And as it turns out, geometric sans serifs are products of the early 20th century, with Futura being created in the 1920s. Geometric faces are born from attempts to form idealized letterforms out of circles and lines, coming out of the whole Constructivist movement. It’s a pretty huge contrast to anything from the Romantic era, which is why it look so strange hiding among all of the old shops in the Galerie.

Definitely not Arial

Here, we have what appears to be Helvetica, that venerable Swiss typeface that is used everywhere nowadays, from subway signage to being slapped on photos on tumblr. Or, at least, I’m pretty sure it’s Helvetica, based on the G. The problem is that Helvetica was created in the 1950s. Of course, that’s not a lot of letters to go by and it could be one of Helvetica’s ancestors, but the earliest of those seems to have appeared in the 1880s or 1890s at the earliest. These typefaces, called Grotesques, were pretty popular in Germany, but didn’t catch on elsewhere until the 20th century. This might make its appearance in Paris a little strange, although I’m not sure of the exact timeline.

The lowercase letters were especially helpful

On this cart, we have a gothic sans serif. Gothics are a British creation from the late 19th century and early 20th century. These are recognizable as the ones that show up in old-timey newspaper headlines. Again, I’m not sure about the exact timeline so I’m not sure how it propagated in Europe, but they were pretty popular in the States. However, it’s my understanding that very few gothics were drawn before 1900.

It was annoying trying to take screens with this lady in the way

Finally, here’s what appears to be a humanist sans serif, based on the R and the C. Humanists are supposed to resemble writing more than the mechanical construction of geometrics or grotesques, but it’s hard to tell from just the capital letters. And again, since there aren’t too many letters to go by, it could turn out to be something else, but I don’t recall seeing anything that resembles that C when going through the other early 20th century typefaces. Anyhow, I feel like that could’ve come straight off of a Windows 7 screen or something.

What other typographical shenanigans are hiding on those storefronts?

I focused on sans serif typefaces because they’re relatively easy to pick out and differentiate between. I’m not pro enough to be able to distinguish between serifed fonts yet. But, this little exercise makes me wonder if there isn’t any typographical weirdness lurking among the signage set in serif faces.

I got started on this entire thing because I remembered Mark Simonson writing about the fonts on the maps in the Indiana Jones movies. I actually didn’t think about it until that Le Papillon d’Or sign caught my eye and made me go ‘waaaaaaait a second’. It’s the first time I remember doing that for anime, probably because most of the time, the signs are in Japanese. I guess the fact that it’s trying to present an accurate historical depiction of Paris also creates a sort of uncanny valley effect and things that would normally get passed over start to pop out.

Anyway, everyone should watch this show, because clarinets and cheese and baguettes and 19th century weeaboos and Yuneeeeeeeeee.

Wolf and Terrible Cover Design

So today, we found out what the US cover of Spice and Wolf volume 1 is going to look like. It is pretty terrible. It looks like either a terrible teen novel like Twilight or a terrible trashy romance novel that you’d pick up at some supermarket. I understand that you don’t want to publish a book with an anime wolf-girl on the cover, that’s fine. I’m not sure how a naked wolf-girl advances the notion that Spice and Wolf is quality stuff any better though. And of course, their offer of an alternate slipcover in an issue of Yen+ isn’t really enough to make me go out and buy a volume.

So in about five minutes, I’ve managed to think up a better cover design. The problem beyond the cover being terrible is how they plan to make covers for future volumes have the same look and feel. My ideal cover would be some sort of sketch or watercolour of the place they’re visiting, say a field of wheat for volume one or Rubenhaigen for volume two, and Lawrence’s cart somewhere on the cover. There, we have a classy cover scheme that conveys the atmosphere of Spice and Wolf, fits the target audience (light, fantasy, not trash), and can be extended for future volumes.

It’s baffling because their Haruhi cover redesigns were actually pretty good. The silhouette of Haruhi is recognizably Haruhi and the use of a bright solid colour makes it easy to distinguish volumes apart while keeping them visually consistent.

It’s unfortunate, because I was looking forward to buying Spice and Wolf much more than Haruhi. I guess that won’t be happening now.

UW logo critique-athon

Unlike other terrible ideas that no one liked, Waterloo decided it was probably not a good idea to press ahead with a logo that was universally loathed. In a rare moment of humility, they even decided to solicit feedback from real people. Of course, all this is for naught if the new logos are as terrible as the old ones.

AHAHAHAHAHAHA. It’s pretty terrible. ( ´_ゝ`)


Here, we have the first new one. It’s a huge improvement over the other one. The most obvious criticisms of Unlimited Laser Works were the billions of lines and the billions of colours used. The first is taken care of by focusing on black and gold, the school’s colours. The second is taken care of by the slight tilt and cutting the top a bit. That conveys the dynamism or whatever without having tons of crazy lines flying all over the place.

I wouldn’t mind this one at all, although I think some explanation of the process and what it symbolizes would help make it more interesting. Of course, I’m not going to whine and say it’s too plain, because it’s worlds better than the other extreme.


At first glance, this one is kind of unsettling because of the way the E fits in with the T and R. But if you take a look on the stationary (the letterhead and the business card), those three lines becomes a really clever little motif that is really flexible. I think it’s a lot better than the random curvy lines that they’re using now. It’s also not too hard to change for faculty use, just by swapping the gold for a faculty colour.

I think this one grew on me and became my choice. The problem with the other one is that it doesn’t have any strong elements that could be taken on its own, so the use of the giant W is forced upon you. This one also has the advantage of a fairly distinct wordmark.

Arial rage again

I will never, ever understand why people think that Arial is an acceptable choice to use for something that isn’t a webpage with lots of text. I get angry when I see it. Unless you have a very good reason for using it, and you will know exactly when that is, there are only two other possible reasons that you use it.

It takes all of about fifteen seconds to analyze the text that you’re setting and choose a more suitable font. It costs nothing to acquire a typeface that works better with your text. If you can think of a sans-serif font that is legible, then 90% of the time, all you have to do is use that font instead. And believe me, everyone should know at least two, unless of course, you are blind. Knowing this, if you still choose Arial, then you are lazy.

The other case happens when you actually like Arial and think that it looks good. I can’t believe that anyone who understands design honestly thinks this. So, if you do think it looks good, you probably have no business setting any text to type at all. You should probably defer the selection of any typefaces to someone more knowledgeable in these matters.