CLOSE
istock
istock

The Stories Behind 10 Famous Typefaces and Where They're Used

istock
istock

Typefaces are everywhere—in books, advertisements, signage, magazines, and logos—yet we rarely pay them any heed. But many of them have histories richer than their designs convey, including the ten below.

Before we start, some terms you should know. typeface is the letters, numbers, and symbols that make up a design of type, while a font is one particular weight and style of a typeface—Garamond is the typefaceGaramond 12 italic is the font. Serif typefaces have small flourishes or lines at the tops and bottoms of each letter and are most commonly used in books, mastheads, and headlines, while sans-serif typefaces lack those flourishes and are most commonly used for logos, signage, and online.

1. AKZIDENZ-GROTESK

Akzidenz-Grotesk is one of the the most influential of the early sans-serif typefaces. Released in 1898, it was designed by the Berthold Type Foundry and was based on another early sans-serif typeface, Royal Grotesk Light. It got a facelift in 1950s and '60s thanks to designer Günther Gerhard Lange, whose work made Akzidenz-Grotesk into a more useable family of typefaces. Akzidenz-Grotesk is most often used in advertising and logos, and can be seen as the typeface used for the American Red Cross [PDF], in Arizona State University's branding, and in the Brooklyn Nets wordmark logo.

2. HELVETICA

In 1956, Eduard Hoffmann, manager of the Hass Type Foundry, commissioned Swiss typesetter Max Miedinger to design a new sans-serif typeface based on Akzidenz-Grotesk. The result, Haas-Grotesk, was released in 1957; it immediately became popular thanks to its sleek, neutral design. Three years later, the typeface was renamed Helvetica, after the Latin word for Swiss, to make it more internationally marketable. Today, Helvetica is one of the most popular typefaces in the world and is used for all the lettering on the New York subway signage since 1989, the American Apparel logo, and many U.S. government forms. 

More controversially, movies like Titanic and L.A. Confidential have also made use of the typeface, despite taking place in 1912 and the 1950s, respectively. One typographer griped that the use of Helvetica in Titanic (for the dials on the pressure gauge) was “like taking out a Palm Pilot on the deck of the Titanic.” 

3. BODONI

Typographer Giabattista Bodoni (1740–1813) had a killer resume: He was employed by a number of Italian dukes and was the court typographer for Charles III of Spain. Over the course of his career, Bodoni developed numerous typefaces and published a number of books detailing his meticulous designs. The serif Bodoni typeface, which is based on the typographer's original 18th-century designs, features strong contrast between the thick and thin strokes of the letters. The design was recut in 1907 by American Type Founders’ Morris Fuller Benton, and it's this version which is still in use today. Bodoni can most famously be seen in the Columbia Records wordmark logo, and in modified forms in Nirvana’s logo (which uses a variant called Onyx) and the masthead of Vogue.

Bodoni isn't the only famous typeface Benton designed: He also created News Gothic, which is memorably used at the beginning of the Star Wars: A New Hope. That knack for type design ran in the family; his father, Linn Boyd Benton, created the Century typeface in the late 1800s. Today, it's used by the U.S. Supreme Court.

4. FRUTIGER

It all began in 1968, when Swiss type designer Adrian Frutiger was asked to design a typeface for signage at Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport. There was only one requirement, really—that the type be legible from a great distance—but meeting that requirement was tough. Finally, after years of development, Frutiger gave the airport Roissy. It was so popular that he was asked to create a version for mass production. After some slight tweaking, the Frutiger typeface was released to the public in 1976. Due to its clarity, Frutiger is very popular for signage: It can be seen on Amtrak and is used for the publications of various institutions, including the University of Southern California and Cornell University. Perhaps most notably, in 2002, Frutiger was used on the all-new Euro banknotes.

5. TIMES NEW ROMAN

Times New Roman was designed in 1929 by typographer Stanley Morison and drawn by advertising artist Victor Lardent after The Times of London was criticized for the illegibility of its print. Because the typeface was made for newspapers it is fairly narrow so that many words can be fit onto one line. When the typeface was released to the public the two biggest type manufacturers, Monotype and Linotype, worked together to create the molds for casting the type, with one calling it Times New Roman, the other Times Roman—a naming difference which persists to this day, depending on whether you use an Apple computer (which uses the Linotype catalogue) or Microsoft (which uses Monotype’s catalogue), although Apple has recently begun offering Times New Roman as well. But despite being one of the most ubiquitous typefaces in the world, one place that doesn’t use Times New Roman is The Times of London. In 1972, they switched over to Times Europa, and continued to change every couple of years until 2006 when they settled on Times Modern, at least for now.

6. BASKERVILLE

Baskerville is a "transitional typeface"—a departure from traditional typefaces based on hand-written letters but not quite as modern as the strong, bold lines that followed after it. It was designed in 1757 by printer John Baskerville, who created it to use in the printing of classic works for Cambridge University Press. Benjamin Franklin was a great admirer of Baskerville’s work; after the two met in 1758, Franklin took a sample of Baskerville’s typeface back to America, where it was used as the basis for the typefaces used in much of the U.S. federal government papers at that time. Variants of Baskerville can today be seen on the logo of the Metropolitan Opera, on the masthead of Better Homes and Gardens magazine and as the wordmark logo for Canada.

7. GILL SANS

Developed by British artist and typesetter Eric Gill in the 1920s, Gill Sans is a sans-serif typeface based on the work of Edward Johnston, whose 1916 Johnston Sans was used on London Underground signage. Gill first used his new typeface in 1926 on a bookshop’s sign in Bristol. Monotype advisor Stanley Morison noticed the potential of Gill’s type and asked him to develop it into a full alphabet. In 1928, Monotype released the typeface as Gill Sans, and it was immediately adopted by London and North Eastern Railway, where it was used on their locomotives, timetables, and logos. Gill Sans rose to international prominence in 1935 when it was used by designer Edward Young as the typeface for Penguin paperbacks. Today, it can be seen in Toy Story and on Tommy Hilfiger’s logo.

8. GARAMOND

Garamond is a classic, elegant old-style serif typeface that originated in the designs of French punch-cutter Claude Garamond (1480–1561). Garamond’s designs were further embellished in the 17th century by French typographer Jean Jannon. Garamond has been modified and refined over the years, but the family of typefaces can still be said to be based upon the original designs of Claude Garamond. Such is its timeless appeal that Garamond is still widely used today, especially as a beautifully legible typeface in books (all of the Harry Potter and Dr. Seuss books are primarily set in Garamond) and as logos for the likes of Abercrombie & Fitch.

9. COMIC SANS

This world's most-maligned typeface was designed by Vincent Connare in 1994, when he was an employee at Microsoft, to mimic the kind of type seen in comic book talk bubbles (and in fact its original name was Comic Book; the sans comes from sans serif). Connare was working with a team creating software for PCs when he opened a program called Microsoft Bob, which featured a cartoon dog named Rover that spoke in a text bubble. The typeface was Times New Roman, and Connare thought he could do better. After looking at a couple of comic books in his office (The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen) he created the typeface using his mouse to draw on the computer screen. Comic Sans was designed within the week, and was eventually a standard typeface in Windows’ operating system.

According to an article in the Wall Street Journal from 2009, “Mr. Connare has looked on, alternately amused and mortified, as Comic Sans has spread from a software project at Microsoft Corp. ... to grade-school fliers and holiday newsletters, Disney ads and Beanie Baby tags, business emails, street signs, Bibles, porn sites, gravestones and hospital posters about bowel cancer.” Today, it's a typeface we love to hate.

10. FUTURA

This geometric sans-serif type was developed between 1924 and 1926 by German designer Paul Renner. Released in 1927, it was inspired by the modernist Bauhaus school of design, which believed in dispensing with unnecessary clutter and ornamentation. As if to secure its reputation as a thoroughly modern typeface, Futura was chosen for the commemorative plaque left on the moon in 1969 by the astronauts of Apollo 11. Futura is also very popular with filmmakers and was used extensively by Stanley Kubrick in the credits and artwork for his films 2001: A Space Odyssey and Eyes Wide Shut, and also in Wes Anderson films such as The Royal Tenenbaums. Today Futura can be seen on Absolut Vodka bottles, in a modified form on the Domino Pizza’s logo, and on Red Bull energy drinks.

nextArticle.image_alt|e
iStock
arrow
Animals
15 Incredible Facts About Pigeons
iStock
iStock

Though they're often described as "rats with wings" (a phrase popularized by the movie Stardust Memories), pigeons are actually pretty cool. From homing instincts to misleading rump feathers, here are 15 things you might not know about these avian adventurers.

1. THEY MIGHT BE THE FIRST DOMESTICATED BIRD.

The common city pigeon (Columba livia), also known as the rock pigeon, might be the first bird humankind ever domesticated. You can see them in art dating back as far as 4500 BCE in modern Iraq, and they've been a valuable source of food for thousands of years.

2. THEY WON OVER CHARLES DARWIN—AND NIKOLA TESLA.

Pigeon-breeding was a common hobby in Victorian England for everyone from well-off businessmen to average Joes, leading to some fantastically weird birds. Few hobbyists had more enthusiasm for the breeding process than Charles Darwin, who owned a diverse flock, joined London pigeon clubs, and hobnobbed with famous breeders. Darwin's passion for the birds influenced his 1868 book The Variation of Animals and Plants Under Domestication, which has not one but two chapters about pigeons (dogs and cats share a single chapter).

Nikola Tesla was another great mind who enjoyed pigeons. He used to care for injured wild pigeons in his New York City hotel room. Hands down, Tesla's favorite was a white female—about whom he once said, "I loved that pigeon, I loved her as a man loves a woman and she loved me. When she was ill, I knew and understood; she came to my room and I stayed beside her for days. I nursed her back to health. That pigeon was the joy of my life. If she needed me, nothing else mattered. As long as I had her, there was a purpose in my life." Reportedly, he was inconsolable after she died.

3. THEY UNDERSTAND SPACE AND TIME.

In a 2017 Current Biology study, researchers showed captive pigeons a series of digital lines on a computer screen for either two or eight seconds. Some lines were short, measuring about 2.3 inches across; others were four times longer. The pigeons were trained to evaluate either the length of the line or how long it was displayed. They found that the more time a line was displayed, the longer in length the pigeon judged it to be. The reverse was true too: If the pigeons encountered a longer line, they thought it existed in time for a greater duration. Pigeons, the scientists concluded, understand the concepts of both time and space; the researchers noted "similar results have been found with humans and other primates."

It's thought that humans process those concepts with a brain region called the parietal cortex; pigeon brains lack that cortex, so they must have a different way of judging space and time.

4. THEY CAN FIND THEIR WAY BACK TO THE NEST FROM 1300 MILES AWAY.

A pigeon flying in front of trees.
iStock

The birds can do this even if they've been transported in isolation—with no visual, olfactory, or magnetic clues—while scientists rotate their cages so they don't know what direction they're traveling in. How they do this is a mystery, but people have been exploiting the pigeon's navigational skills since at least 3000 BCE, when ancient peoples would set caged pigeons free and follow them to nearby land.

Their navigational skills also make pigeons great long-distance messengers. Sports fans in ancient Greece are said to have used trained pigeons to carry the results of the Ancient Olympics. Further east, Genghis Khan stayed in touch with his allies and enemies alike through a pigeon-based postal network.

5. THEY SAVED THOUSANDS OF HUMAN LIVES DURING WORLD WARS I AND II.

Pigeons' homing talents continued to shape history during the 20th century. In both World Wars, rival nations had huge flocks of pigeon messengers. (America alone had 200,000 at its disposal in WWII.) By delivering critical updates, the avians saved thousands of human lives. One racing bird named Cher Ami completed a mission that led to the rescue of 194 stranded U.S. soldiers on October 4, 1918.

6. TWO PIGEONS ALMOST DISTRACTED FROM THE DISCOVERY OF EVIDENCE OF THE BIG BANG.

In 1964, scientists in Holmdel, New Jersey, heard hissing noises from their antenna that would later prove to be signals from the Big Bang. But when they first heard the sound, they thought it might be, among other things, the poop of two pigeons that were living in the antenna. "We took the pigeons, put them in a box, and mailed them as far away as we could in the company mail to a guy who fancied pigeons," one of the scientists later recalled. "He looked at them and said these are junk pigeons and let them go and before long they were right back." But the scientists were able to clean out the antenna and determine that they had not been the cause of the noise. The trap used to catch the birds (before they had to later be, uh, permanently removed) is on view at the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum.

7. YOU CAN TRAIN THEM TO BE ART SNOBS …

Japanese psychologist Shigeru Watanabe and two colleagues earned an Ig Nobel Prize in 1995 for training pigeons, in a lab setting, to recognize the paintings of Claude Monet and Pablo Picasso and to distinguish between the painters. The pigeons were even able to use their knowledge of impressionism and cubism to identify paintings of other artists in those movements. Later, Watanabe taught other pigeons to distinguish watercolor images from pastels. And in a 2009 experiment, captive pigeons he'd borrowed were shown almost two dozen paintings made by students at a Tokyo elementary school, and were taught which ones were considered "good" and which ones were considered "bad." He then presented them with 10 new paintings and the avian critics managed to correctly guess which ones had earned bad grades from the school's teacher and a panel of adults. Watanabe's findings indicate that wild pigeons naturally categorize things on the basis of color, texture, and general appearance.

8. … AND TO DISTINGUISH WRITTEN WORDS.

In a 2016 study, scientists showed that pigeons can differentiate between strings of letters and actual words. Four of the birds built up a vocabulary of between 26 and 58 written English words, and though the birds couldn't actually read them, they could identify visual patterns and therefore tell them apart. The birds could even identify words they hadn't seen before.

9. FLUFFY PIGEON FEET MIGHT ACTUALLY BE PARTIAL WINGS.

A white pigeon with curly feathers and fluffy feet.
iStock

A few pigeon breeds have fuzzy legs—which hobbyists call "muffs"—rather than scaly ones. According to a 2016 study, the DNA of these fluffy-footed pigeons leads their hind legs to take on some forelimb characteristics, making muffed pigeon legs look distinctly wing-like; they're also big-boned. Not only do they have feathers, but the hindlimbs are somewhat big-boned, too. According to biologist Mike Shapiro, who led the study, "pigeons' fancy feathered feet are partially wings."

10. SOME PIGEONS DISTRACT FALCONS WITH WHITE RUMP FEATHERS.

In a life-or-death situation, a pigeon's survival could depend upon its color pattern: Research has shown that wild falcons rarely go after pigeons that have a white patch of feathers just above the tail, and when the predators do target these birds, the attacks are rarely successful.

To figure out why this is, Ph.D. student Alberto Palleroni and a team tagged 5235 pigeons in the vicinity of Davis, California. Then, they monitored 1485 falcon-on-pigeon attacks over a seven-year span. The researchers found that although white-rumped pigeons comprised 20 to 25 percent of the area's pigeon population, they represented less than 2 percent of all the observed pigeons that were killed by falcons; the vast majority of the victims had blue rumps. Palleroni and his team rounded up 756 white- and blue-rumped pigeons and swapped their rump feathers by clipping and pasting white feathers on blue rumps, and vice versa. The falcons had a much easier time spotting and catching the newly blue-rumped pigeons, while the pigeons that received the white feathers saw predation rates plummet.

Close observation revealed that the white patches distract birds of prey. In the wild, falcons dive-bomb other winged animals from above at high speeds. Some pigeons respond by rolling away in midair, and on a spiraling bird, white rump feathers can be eye-catching, which means that a patch of them may divert a hungry raptor's focus long enough to make the carnivore miscalculate and zip right past its intended victim.

11. DODOS WERE RELATED TO TODAY'S PIGEONS.

Two blue and green Nicobar pigeons.
iStock

Though most of this list focuses on the rock pigeon, there are 308 living species of pigeons and doves. Together, they make up an order of birds known as the columbiformes. The extinct dodo belonged to this group as well.

Flightless and (somewhat) docile, dodos once inhabited Mauritius, an island near Madagascar. The species had no natural predators, but when human sailors arrived with rats, dogs, cats, and pigs, it began to die out, and before the 17th century came to a close, the dodo had vanished altogether. DNA testing has confirmed that pigeons are closely related to the dodo, and the vibrant Nicobar pigeon (above) is its nearest genetic relative. A multi-colored bird with iridescent feathers, this near-threatened creature is found on small islands in the South Pacific and off Asia. Unlike the dodo, it can fly.

12. AT ONE POINT, MORE THAN ONE-QUARTER OF ALL THE BIRDS LIVING IN THE U.S. MAY HAVE BEEN PASSENGER PIGEONS.

Wild/feral rock pigeons reside in all 50 states, which makes it easy to forget that they're invasive birds. Originally native to Eurasia and northern Africa, the species was (most likely) introduced to North America by French settlers in 1606. At the time, a different kind of columbiform—this one indigenous—was already thriving there: the passenger pigeon (Ectopistes migratorius). As many as 5 billion of them were living in America when England, Spain, and France first started colonizing, and they may have once represented anywhere from 25 to 40 percent of the total U.S. bird population. But by the early 20th century, they had become a rare sight, thanks to overhunting, habitat loss, and a possible genetic diversity issue. The last known passenger pigeon—a captive female named Martha—died on September 1, 1914.

13. THEY'RE REALLY GOOD AT MULTITASKING.

According to one study, they're more efficient multitaskers than people are. Scientists at Ruhr-Universitat Bochum put together a test group of 15 humans and 12 pigeons and trained all of them to complete two simple jobs (like pressing a keyboard once a light bulb came on). They were also put in situations wherein they'd need to stop working on one job and switch over to another. In some trials, the participants had to make the change immediately. During these test runs, humans and pigeons switched between jobs at the same speed.

But in other trials, the test subjects were allowed to complete one assignment and then had to wait 300 milliseconds before moving on to the next job. Interestingly, in these runs, the pigeons were quicker to get started on that second task after the period ended. In the avian brain, nerve cells are more densely packed, which might enable our feathered friends to process information faster than we can under the right circumstances.

14. PIGEONS PRODUCE FAKE "MILK."

Only mammals produce genuine milk, but pigeons and doves (along with some other species of birds) feed their young with something similar—a whitish liquid filled with nutrients, fats, antioxidants, and healthy proteins called "crop milk." Both male and female pigeons create the milk in the crop, a section of the esophagus designed to store food temporarily. As is the case with mammal milk, the creation of crop milk is regulated by the hormone prolactin. Newly-hatched pigeons drink crop milk until they're weaned off it after four weeks or so. (And if you've ever asked yourself, "Where are all the baby pigeons?" we have the answer for you right here.)

15. ONE STUDY SUGGESTS THAT, GIVEN THE RIGHT CONDITIONS, THEY'RE AS GOOD AT IDENTIFYING CANCER AS DOCTORS.

We've already established that pigeons are excellent at differentiating between artists and words, but a 2015 study revealed they can also distinguish between malignant and benign growths in the right conditions. Researchers at University of California Davis Medical Center put 16 pigeons in a room with magnified biopsies of potential breast cancers. If the pigeons correctly identified them as either benign or malignant, they got a treat, According to Scientific American.

"Once trained, the pigeons' average diagnostic accuracy reached an impressive 85 percent. But when a "flock sourcing" approach was taken, in which the most common answer among all subjects was used, group accuracy climbed to a staggering 99 percent, or what would be expected from a pathologist. The pigeons were also able to apply their knowledge to novel images, showing the findings weren't simply a result of rote memorization."

Mammograms proved to be more of a challenge, however; the birds could memorize signs of cancer in the images they were trained on but could not identify the signs in new images.

No matter how impressive their results, "I don't anticipate that pigeons, no matter how good they become at pathology or radiology, will be playing a role in actual patient care—certainly for the foreseeable future," study co-author Richard M. Levenson told Scientific American. "There are just too many regulatory barriers—at least in the West."

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Henson Company
arrow
Pop Culture
Jim Henson's Labyrinth Is Being Adapted Into a Stage Musical
Henson Company
Henson Company

More than 30 years after its cinematic debut, Labyrinth could be hitting the stage. In an interview with Forbes, Jim Henson's son and Henson Company CEO Brian Henson shared plans to transform the cult classic into a live musical.

While the new musical would be missing David Bowie in his starring role as Jareth the Goblin King, it would hopefully feature the soundtrack Bowie helped write. Brian Henson says there isn't a set timeline for the project yet, but the stage adaptation of the original film is already in the works.

As for a location, Henson told Forbes he envisions it running, "Not necessarily [on] Broadway, it could be for London's West End, but it will be a stage show, a big theatrical version. It’s very exciting."

Labyrinth premiered in 1986 to measly box office earnings and tepid reviews, but Jim Henson's fairytale has since grown into a phenomenon beloved by nostalgic '80s kids and younger generations alike. In the same Forbes interview, Brian Henson also confirmed the 2017 news that a long-anticipated Labyrinth sequel is apparently in development. Though he couldn't give any specifics, Henson confirmed that, "we are still excited about it but the process moves very slowly and very carefully. We're still excited about the idea of a sequel, we are working on something, but nothing that's close enough to say it's about to be in pre-production or anything like that."

While fans eagerly await those projects to come out, they can get their fix when the film returns to theaters across the U.S. on April 29, May 1, and May 2. Don't forget to wear your best Labyrinth swag to the event.

[h/t Forbes]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios