In an ever-changing world, there is an inherent impulse in us to continue to alter our voices in order to adapt to the prevailing needs and tastes of the time, to foster a new modernity. Typography is also not unaffected. The crucial moment to enhance typographic literacy is now before us, and by valuing an international exchange of ideas and practices, we seek to explore typography’s origins and to better understand the direction in which it is heading.
In a number of scripts around the globe, all the strokes are not of the same weight; some are thick, some are thin, and the curves show a gradual change from thick to thin. The Roman alphabet, for example, was developed through writing as compared to drawing. The monumental cutting of letters came to be a fine art; carving was done to make the huge letters permanent, yet the only explanation for the written quality of the Roman letters is that they were written in strokes before they were carved. That is why the broad flat nibbed pen is still very important to us when we try to understand the origin of most of the type we use. Only free-hand strokes could have given them the proportion and shapes and variations that they posses. The handling of the tool with which strokes are made and joined together causes the difference and the development of calligraphic styles: pen angle, weight of the letter, shape.
As Gerrit Noordzij writes in his book, The Stroke, after the development of the Afro-Asiatic family of languages, the consolidation of the word shape (“the interruption of the rhythmic integrity of the line”) is the single most important invention in the history of mankind. The word — and with it reading — is what triggered major advances in civilizations, recording its own origins in the Carolingian minuscule hand in the first half of the seventh century. The ascenders and descenders stroke pattern of a letter style, and the placement and form of the negative parts, create the characteristic word image and determine legibility.
Few today believe that legibility alone determines our sense of typographic quality and expression, or that there are absolute typographic rights and wrongs. Still, an understanding of the architecture of letterforms, basic rules of legibility, and stroke theory forms a set of principles that lead to make informed choices when students or professionals choose different modes of typographic expression. So far, letters, and fonts, perform a service: — they must function and be legible.