We asked John Downer, an American specialist in sign painting, to comment on several pictures taken in our home city of Malakoff, a surburb of Paris. This article was initially published in 2000. In 2004, couple of the original signs are gone. Its why we decided to update the article a little bit.
It all began in September 1997, during the ATypI conference in Reading, England, when Mark Batty asked me if I would be involved (with others) in organising the next conference, which would be held somewhere in France. In November, the organising team — which then consisted of Robert Norton, Thomas Gravemaker, Sharon Irving, Mark Batty and me — decided that the city of Lyon was the best location.
Let us begin with a short overview of those nineteenth & twentieth centuries that no longer really belong to us. All the generations of typographers who used metal type in their daily work understood the power of that poem of rectangularity, Gutenberg’s mechanism, the industrious craft that reached its first apogee with the arrival of the Industrial Revolution, & carried on until the middle of the twentieth century.
Gérard Blanchard (1927-1998) had worked in many facets of type and graphic related industries, as a graphic designer, engraver, illustrator, writer and historian. His work brought him into touch with many well known designers including Roger Excoffon, Maximilien Vox and José Mendoza.
Contemporary type design taken from the past viable forms. For example, in the thirties, Futura was a sober version of the Bauhaus experimental typefaces. In France, it found an easy market throught Deberny & Peignot under the name of Europe.
It looked at me. All round. His face wouldn’t leave me. Again today, I asked myself why. And how? I recall the first time we met. It was in 1994, towards the end of the year. Jean-François Porchez had come, carefully bringing his typeface to Le Monde. In great secrecy, Jean-François Fogel & Nathalie Baylaucq, who were busily cooking up our new systems, considered this face damned seriously.
Few short notes originally published in Le Monde specimen about legibity basics.