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Typography in Oberlin

I spent the previous weekend in Oberlin, Ohio for a 25th anniversary reunion of the Oberlin Computer Science department.  The major was created while I was a student there, and I leapt on board.

Over the weekend I had the opportunity, during some transient sunshine, to walk through the town and take some pictures.  While I took other pictures, I kept finding myself taking pictures of typography and found some examples both good and poor.  I don’t claim to be a typographer, but the exposure I had at Adobe left a lasting impression.

First, let’s start with the sign for the Oberlin Inn.


The font for the main sign is Copperplate Bold and the subtext is in Copperplate.  This is a slightly stodgy font that only has uppercase letters in it – this is known as small caps, which means nothing more than the small letters are capitals at a smaller size.  Note that the kerning – the space between letters – is very different in the words ‘Hotel’ and ‘Restaurant’.  Restaurant is closer to default kerning, but slightly tighter to fit.  Hotel is loosened up a lot so that it doesn’t feel completely out of balance.  Copperplate is not a bad choice here as the sign itself is sharp and angular.


turtle Here is a sign that shows why typography isn’t something that you can just do with a downloaded font and Word.  So maybe you spotted this font and thought it looked nice and would use it for your logo.  What I’m seeing is something that looks like, but is probably a knockoff of Shelley Std Regular.  It has a similar feel to Shelley, but has a number of sharp edges that are truly horrid when scaled up for signage:

turtledetail This is the connection between the u and r.  It is present at the joins for every lowercase glyph pair and is unforgiveable.  Script fonts should have a smoothness to them.  This level of discontinuity is anathema to the feel of the font.  Ouch.

FeveFacade This is The Feve, which is a coffee house/bar.  You can see another example of Copperplate, but this time it’s different – the letters are made out of stock steel welded into the letters.  It adds a degree of informality to the sign, which is consistent with the feel of the establishment.  Under the bay window, however, is the following sign:

fevesign This is a block of sandstone with carved letters.  I remember seeing a documentary called Final Marks: the Art of the Carved Letter, that centered on John Benson as he carved letters into the East Building of the National Gallery.  So when I saw this, I wondered why someone had gone to the trouble of carving stone and doing it so poorly.  I have to believe that it was intentional that the H and the V are uneven, but the general cutting looked sloppy, the first E being not particularly straight.  I looked for other examples of this logo on the building and found none.  To me, it’s sad that someone committed this to stone but didn’t maintain consistency in design so that this fit in a larger context.  Here is some focus on the layout:

fevesignannotated The final thing I’ll point out was outside of Oberlin at the Cleveland Hopkins airport.  Between the C and D concourses I saw a set of giant “paper” airplanes:

giantplanes The one in the lower left caught my attention in particular.   It was made to look as if it had been folded from newsprint.  I shot a close up and found this:

LoremPlane the artist who created the paper loaded it with lorem ipsum, which is faux Latin used by typographers as meaningless fill used to keep focus on the presentation, rather than the content.  I am no stranger to lorem ipsum, as you can see in a section of the DotImage documentation on OCR region types and PDF layout:

image image

And of course, because I’m funny that way, I try to include pictures of my daughter in the documentation.  Wouldn’t you?

Published Tuesday, April 27, 2010 10:14 AM by Steve Hawley


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