1.1.2 Notes on the ‘sum of particles’

I consider grapheme systems and subsequently formalized representations, i.e. type, as the sum of particles. Defining these particles not only provides means for a better understanding of the underlying harmonics and dynamics, but also creates parameters for the artificial creation and computerized measurement of type and typography. Computerized measurement could even form the basis for parametrized
legibility research.

Type design: the sum of partcles

The figure above shows the systems involved in the creation of written letters (1–4). By adding the factors formalization and idiom the result is a formal group of graphemes, which may form a ‘typeface’. Of course, the tweaking of the first four systems already creates personal structures and patterns, but type design offers more options for adding sophisticated and refined details, i.e. idiom, than writing with a prefixed or partly customizable tool, such as a broad nib or a flexible pointed pen.

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1.1.3 Notes on conventions

The characters which are part of the scripts that are in use all over the world are inventions of mankind. The differences between these scripts and their underlying structures make it plausible that the requirements are mostly culturally and historically based. One can’t apply the same (design) rules concerning harmony and rhythm for the Latin script on for instance Hangul, like the traditional music of Korea is not comparable with Western music and even seems to lack what we call harmony.

Part of a Korean newspaper combining roman type with Hangul

Therefore the rules for typography, derive from the scripts, i.e. the letterforms themselves. Rules like the ‘hierarchy of space’ (the relation between the space in the counters, the space between the letters, between the words, between the lines, and the size of the margins) cannot be universally, i.e. ‘cross-scripts’ applied, but only within the (elements of the) scripts themselves. These rules are anchored in what I would like to name grapheme systems (see 1.1.1 Notes on systems and models).

The grapheme systems are the result of the sum of evolution, direct interference of scholars, and (the moments in time of) technical innovations. They are neither perfect nor sacred, but anchored in conventions. Conventions are blueprints for conditioning and conditioning on it’s turn preserves the conventions. That might be a scary thought for those who lecture type design (at least it is for me!), but we simply have to acknowledge this fact and deal with it.

To understand the requirements, or to be able to deviate from these, one has to understand the structure of the underlying systems and models. The themes on which all current type designers make variations, find their origin in systems and models that were fixed in the fifteenth century by the invention of movable type. Type designers basically put a relatively thin (but often complex) layer of varnish by making variations on the more than five centuries old themes which have become the standard. The newly created typefaces are the result then of the designers’ insights, technical skills and, of course, the Zeitgeist.

Letterforms that are made for Latin but which are outside the conventions, like for instance Wim Crouwel’s New Alphabet, can only be judged as such by applying the rules that derive from the underlying structure, i.e. conventions that are defined by the deviating type design itself.

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1.2.1 Notes on lecturing

Over the past twenty-five years as (Senior) Lecturer at the Royal Academy of Arts (KABK) in The Hague, I developed an educational program, especially targeted on the first year students of the Graphic Design department. It will not come as surprise here that my program focuses on the harmonics, patterns, and dynamics of the Latin script-representations currently in use, and subsequently on writing, lettering, type design, and typography. The students are guided during their investigation and exploration of the underlying structures with the help of a couple of models and related software tools I developed over time.

Frank E. Blokland explaining the basics to a first year KABK student

In line with my predecessor and tutor at the KABK, Gerrit Noordzij, I consider writing with a broad nib, flat brush and flexible pointed pen a good starting point for the exploration of the factors that give letters their shape, like construction, contrast-sort, contrast-flow, and contrast. Nevertheless I do not consider writing a prerequisite for designing type or for the proper understanding of the basics of typography. Nor is it in my opinion a necessity to (partly) repeat and reproduce the evolution from writing into typography to understand the development of type in the past five hundred years.

However, the chirographical practice has proven to be a solid basis for designing type and for gaining insight into the basics of typography. Especially for the developing of a refined and sophisticated ‘hand’, I consider writing an important basis still, like type designers as for instance Jan van Krimpen, Hermann Zapf, and Gerrit Noordzij have proven. As Bruce Rogers commented on Lutetia in a letter from 1953 to Jan van Krimpen: ‘The Italic in particular seems to me almost without flaw; though emphatically and unequivocally type, it could hardly have been produced by any other than an accomplished calligrapher’.

The ‘lettermodel’ is meant for exploring construction and harmonics

As a starting lecturer at the Royal Academy of Art in 1987, I introduced the geometric model (‘lettermodel’) for what Edward Johnston baptized the ‘Foundational Hand’. I developed this model back in 1986 for my students of the Graphic School in Haarlem, where I was a teacher then until 1990. The students used this model for exploring the construction and harmonics of the supported letters, for creating their own writing examples, and for experimenting with the basics of typography. Therefore the emphasis was not only on writing anymore, but also on the research of the basic patterns and structures, and on typography as the ultimate formalized form of writing.

Construction-patterns for the Humanistic minuscule and roman type

For the lettermodel I was inspired by pictures of blackboard demonstrations by Edward Johnston, dating back to 1930 and 1931, and also scribbles and sketches Gerrit Noordzij made for me to explain the relation between the pen strokes that construct a letter, during his lessons at the KABK. In the decades that followed I added additional construction methods for capitals and cursives. In the book accompanying the television course Kalligraferen, de kunst van het schoonschrijven (‘Calligraphy, the art of writing’), that I wrote at the end of the 1980s, the lettermodel took a prominent place.

Around 1990 I started to use the expression ‘Harmonieleer van het schrift’ (‘Doctrine on the harmony of scripts’) and one of the first talks I gave on this subject was at a meeting of the Dutch TEX society midst 1993. Over the years my program at the KABK was enhanced and refined, and actually it is constantly under construction still. The challenging aspect of lecturing freshmen is that one is forced to constantly define and refine the most elementary information. As a result, lecturing works in both directions; as much as the information I hand over to the students form the foundation for their research, their findings and questions form a basis for my research. Or, to quote Seneca: ‘Hominus dum docent discunt’.

The ‘lettermodel’ and related systems

In the course of time the lettermodel became more and more versatile. Related systems were defined by me and got a name and a place, like the relational system, the proportional system, and the rhythmic system (see also: 1.1.1 Notes on systems and models). Subsequently the idea arose to further enhance and refine my findings and conclusions, and to collect these in a publication, because there is none that describes the most elementary underlying structures of type and typography on a micro-level. Perhaps the fact that both typography and type design are from origin the metiers of craftsmen, is the reason for the lack of such a publication. For lecturing type one needs a micro-level description though, to educate students, to understand matters like legibility, or even as a basis for the automation of type design processes.

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6.1 Notes on the construction of letterforms

Commonly letters are treated as skeleton forms on which a certain contrast-flow is applied. According to Sumner Stone in an article on Hans Eduard Meier’s Syntax-Antiqua in Fine Print On Type (London, 1989) ‘It seems doubtful that Renaissance scribes thought of their letterforms as anything but organic units, but the abstractions to a skeleton form do capture the essence of the letters […]. The concept of an essential linear form is not unknown in the lettering pedagogy of this century. It is mentioned by Edward Johnston in Formal Penmanship, and was used extensively by the Austrian lettering teacher Rudolf Von Larisch and his student Friedrich Neugebauer. Father Catich also used it in his teaching of letterforms.’

So, one could argue that capitals, uncials, book-hand minuscules, and cursive minuscules find their origin in the movements that result in a single heart (‘skeleton’) line, on which a certain contrast sort (‘translation’, ‘expansion’, or a combination of these), contrast, and subsequent contrast flow (either or not influenced by rotation) are applied. However, another point of view is that the letter shapes find their origin in (the restrictions of) the tool that was used to make the movements. In case of the Humanistic minuscule and cursive minuscule variants from the Renaissance, the pen in question was the broad nib, as was the case with their prototype from the 8th century, the Carolingian minuscule.

Different vector angles applied on a static heart line

The image above show that when translation is applied on a fixed heart line of a book-hand minuscule n, the construction changes significantly depending on the vector angle. The position of the highest contrast in the arch changes position in case the vector angle is changed. Due to the conventions one would expect the highest contrast in the arch nearby or even attached to the stem. So, the heart line works well for the n on the right, but not for the other ones, because it finds its origin in a minuscule n that was written with a vector angle of 30 degrees.

Different vector angles applied on a static heart line

When writing such a book-hand minuscule n, normally (but not necessarily) the pen is lifted and the heart lines of the stem and arch are not connected. When stem and arch have to be connected at the point of the highest possible contrast (defined by the thickness of the nib), the heart line should represent/follow the ‘vector bridge’, i.e. the angle and width of the vector (nib-width) applied.

Combining construction methods

The letter x,y,z tweaked into the primary harmonic model

In the primary harmonic model (phm) the letters s, k, and v–z range are lacking. To fit these letters into the phm, quite some tweaking is necessary. One could conclude that therefore the model is to much restricted, or is even incorrect to represent the Latin book-hand minuscules. In fact, it is not strange that the letters in question cannot be defined faultlessly with the phm; as everyone who writes with a broad nib knows, these letters have a different morphological background and they need some tweaking and bending to make them fit the other ones.

Vector applied on the heart line of the capital A

The k and the v-z range, but also the s are directly derived from the capitals, and therefore represent a different harmonic model. Capitals do find their origin in heart lines, which were eventually vectored by the Romans. The geometrical and relatively simple shapes of the capitals allow the appliance of broad nib effects using different vector angles.

Notes on the construction of serifs
There is a simple relation between the top and bottom serifs of the letters. Noordzij suggests in De staart van de kat (1988)* that the triangular top serif of for instance the lower case i theoretically can be divided by a horizontal line into two identical parts. This can actually be pushed a step further.

The relation between top and bottom serif defined

The bottom serif is in theory made of half the top serif. If the serifs are straight triangular shapes, the top half of the top serif is identical to the bottom serifs. If the bottom half of the top serif is curved, the bottom serif is a mirrored copy of this curved part (see image above). To maintain the total weight of the top serif, the top half can be copied to the right side of the stem bottom.
In case the pen (vector) angle changes, the serifs will change too. The steeper the pen angle, the more weight will be in the arches and subsequently the more weight will be in the serifs. Increment of the contrast is achieved by making the thick parts of a letter thicker.

This manner of constructing serifs has been implemented in LeMo (see Downloads). A future addition will be the ‘disconnection’ of the serifs of the basic model afterwards, by using the ‘general’ parameters and the subsequent applying ‘independent’ general parameters, i.e., for all serifs, or even local ones (that is per [part of the] serif).

* ‘The tail of the cat’

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3.2.1 Notes on standardization

It is my experience that not all present-day type designers embrace the idea that the famous punch cutters from the past applied advanced regularizations and standardizations. The reactions seem to be in line with Fournier’s comment in his Manuel Typographique from 1764–1766 on the attempts of Jaugeon and his colleagues to standardize the design of type: ‘These gentlemen would have been well advised to a single rule which they established, which is chiefly to be guided by the eye, the supreme judge […]’.

One of the design patterns for the ‘Romain du Roi’

When it comes to punch cutting, the patterns for the construction of a new series of types for the exclusive use of the Imprimerie Royale developed by the Académie des Sciences in eighteenth century France are generally considered a unique case. Updike states in Printing types, their history, forms and use (Cambridge, 1937): ‘[…] every Roman capital was to be designed on a framework of 2304 little squares. Grandjean, the first type-cutter who attempted to follow them, is said to have observed sarcastically, that he should certainly accept Jaugeon’s dictum that “the eye is the sovereign ruler of taste” and accepting this, should throw the rest of his rules overboard!’ It should be noticed here that it is suggested that Updike made up Jaugeon’s remark.

The ‘RdR’ is merely treated as an isolated attempt to regularize and standardize type, and so often it is disliked. For instance Fred Smeijers writes  in Counterpunch (London, 1996): ‘The best known case of the separation of design from execution is the “romain du roi”. Here in France at the end of the seventeenth century, intellectual reason struggled in a dialogue with practice and human limitations’, and Albert Kapr notes in The art of lettering (München, 1983) : ‘A commission was appointed in 1692 to fix the proportions of the romain du roi. Under the chairmanship of the Abbé Nicolas Jaugeon, it went even further in determining the design of typefaces by mathematical rules and diagrams. We need not overrate all these attempts, for artistic success is scarcely achieved through geometric or scientific means’.

Van Dijck’s ‘true’ shapes (Moxon: top/red) compared with engravings for the ‘RdR’

The framework of 2304 little squares was perhaps not so unique as many authors on type try to let us believe. The relation between the lowercase letterforms in Moxon’s engravings and the plates for the ‘RdR’ (see illustration; the red lines are Moxon’s contours) can be coincidental, but it seems that the Académie des Sciences thoroughly researched publications on type and it is therefore not impossible that Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises was consulted also. And Moxon actually shows in his plates a 42-unit grid, and this results in a framework of 1764 units. That is also quite a lot and Moxon remarks: ‘We shall imagine (for in Practice it cannot well be perform’d, unless in very large Bodies) that the Length of the whole Body is divided into forty and two equal Parts’ and he continues: ‘It may indeed be thought impossible to divide a Body into seven equal Parts, and much more difficult to divide each of those seven equal parts into six equal Parts, which are Forty two, as aforesaid, especially if the Body be but small; but yet it is possible with curious Working […]’.

Just like Moxon, Fournier divided the body also into seven parts, but apparently without the subdivision. In his Manuel Typographique he writes: ‘I divide the body of the letter which I am to cut into seven equal parts, three for the short, five for the ascending and descending, and seven or the whole for the long letters.’

Moxon’s 42-line grid (based on his units)

One wonders why Moxon’s grid seems to be overlooked; is it because he did not actually draw the grid lines, like I did in the illustration shown above? So, could it be that the ‘RdR’ is actually a formalization of a much older process?

Van den Keere's Middelbaar Canon measured with a digital caliper

End of 2010 I started measuring French Renaissance type at the Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp to find prove for my ideas about the standardization of widths. One of the types I measured was the Middelbaar Canon (dutch) or Moyen Canon Romain (French), which is an adaptation by Hendrik van den Keere of Garamont’s Gros Canon Romain. The Gros Canon Romain appeared for the first time in 1555, and was ‘extremely widespread over western Europe from about 1560 onwards’ according to H.D.L. Vervliet in Sixteenth-Century Printing Types of the Low Countries (Amsterdam, 1968). Hendrik van den Keere shortened the ascenders and descenders of the Middelbaar Canon, and he made accompanying capitals, which appear in Plantin’s books from 1571 onwards.

The Middelbaar Canon as cast in 1959

In the 1959 a small set of foundry type was cast from the original matrices of the Middelbaar Canon at the Museum Plantin-Moretus. The letters were apparently fitted (more or less) according to Fournier’s ideas about spacing described in his Manuel Typographique: ‘The letter m of every fount is taken first, and when this is right it is used as a pattern for the others. Three m’s are put in the lining-stick and the first to be cast of every sort is put between them and made to tally with them. The necessary alterations are then made in the mould and the matrix’; the widths of all characters being different. Actually the widths are so different, that things are completely messed up, like the n and h show.

Middelbaar Canon as cast in the 16th or 17th century

As I expected, original sixteenth (or perhaps seventeenth) century type shows a clear standardization of widths and the letters can be placed in groups, like for instance a group with a, c, e, a group ciontaining b, d, g, h, n, o, p, q, v, fi, and one with r, s, t. The results of the measurements (using a digital caliper) show deviations within these groups of approximately 0.2–0.4 mm. These small deviations cannot be felt with one’s fingers, even if the nail is used to check differences in thickness when the letters are lined up. Also the widths of the characters within a group look the same. One can imagine that after casting the first letter of a group, the other letters could be cast using the same settings for the mould’s register. The widths I measured make it plausible that a underlying cadence-unit system was applied to define the relationship (of widths) between the groups of letters.

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3.1.1 Notes on the origin of (e)m- and (e)n-square

Although often used in the typographer’s (digital) practice, the origin of the terms em-square and en-square seem to be quite unclear. I did some research and developed some models, of which I discuss and show a couple here. Because of lack of historical documentation, to a certain extent speculation is in this case unavoidable. After I published some of my ideas on the web, I noticed that these were considered a bit controversial and I received reactions from a couple of prominent experts on type like ‘The em quad is also called a “mutton” and the en quad a “nut” space, but I don’t think you will learn much by taking pictures of sheep and nuts and measuring them […] I don’t think the measurements of Jenson etc. are that relevant either. […]’, and ‘The em quad by the way, […] is simply a ‘square’ space (which is what ‘quadrat’ means), determined by the body of the type that is being cast. The en is half its width. No direct relationship to any letter is intended: the terms are figures of speech.
        Although I can’t exclude that the terms em- and en-square are just not more than ‘figures of speech’, at least from a scientific point of view this subject deserves more research, I reckon. So, ‘measurements of Jenson etc.’ are actually quite relevant in my opinion.

Jenson’s roman type from 1470

The illustration above shows the relation between the height and the width of the capital N from Jenson’s roman type applied in Epistolae ad Brutum from 1470 using a repetition, i.e. fence, of n’s. The counters in the m are in Jenson’s type identical to the one in the n. The height of the N also fits within the stems of the m and subsequently the N fits in a square. The illustration below shows the same relation for Griffo’s capitals from the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499). On top and rotated left is the m, at the bottom a repetition of n’s.

Griffo’s type from 1499

This ‘m-square’ is definitely something else than what is called ‘em-square’ or ‘em’ in contemporary typography. In digital typography, the em-square is a ‘real’ square based on the body size; normally the distance from the top of the ascender to the bottom of the descender. The ‘em’ equals therefore the body or type size. In foundry type casting on the edges of the body was technically complex and hence the distance between the top of the ascenders and the bottom of the descenders was somewhat smaller than the body. In type cast before the eighteenth century, the leading was included in the body, so the ascenders and descenders were surrounded by more space.
        Moxon writes in Mechanick Exercises that ‘By Body is meant, in Letter- Cutters, Founders and Printers Language, the Side of the Space contained between the Top and Bottom Line of a Long Letter’, which is annotated by Davis and Carter as being ‘Not a good definition because letters are often cast on a body larger than it need be. It is the dimension of type determined by the body of the mould in which it was cast’ (Joseph Moxon [Herbert Davis, Harry Carter, ed.], Mechanical Exercises [New York, 1978]).
        In digital type ascenders and descenders can stick outside the body without any (physical) problem. Parts will placed outside the em-square anyway, like for instance the diacritics on capitals. Nevertheless, some designers will basically try to copy the structure of foundry type, just to prevent clipping when no line spacing is applied.

In the times of the hot-metal and photographic composing machines, the em-square was a rectangle that could be square, depending on the design. Vertically the proportions were defined by the body size and in horizontal direction by the width of the widest character, which could be the M or W, which was divided in a certain number of units.

Monotype matrix case

Although the term em-square is often related with the character width of the capital M, which provided the standard for the (division into units of the) em for composing machines, in Monotype fonts the M is not always the widest letter; of a type family for instance the roman capital M could be placed on 15 units and the italic capital M on 18 units, as shown in the schematic representation of a Monotype matrix case above. The capital W seems to have been placed by definition on eighteen units, and obviously that was part of the original idea: ‘[…] it was decided that the lower case i, l, full point, etc., could be commonly allotted a thickness of five units, the figures and average letter-thickness nine units, and the capital W, em dash and em quad eighteen units’ (R.C. Elliot, ‘The “Monotype” from infancy to maturity’ the Monotype Recorder, No. 243 Vol. xxxi [London, 1931]). The W of for instance of Monotype Poliphilus is much wider than the M.
        On the other hand, in The Monotype System, ‘a book for owners and operators of Monotypes’ from 1912 one can read that: ‘The designer of Monotype faces divides the basic character of the font (the cap M) into eighteen equal parts, using one of these parts as his unit of measurement in determining the width of all the other characters in this font’.

Moxon mentions the ‘m Quadrat’: ‘by m thick is meant m Quadrat thick; which is just so thick as the Body is high’ and mentions ‘n Quadrat’ as ‘half as thick as the body is high’. In The history and art of printing from 1771, m and n Quadrats and related variants as ‘Three to an m’ and ‘Five to an m’ are blanks used for indenting and spacing. In An introduction to the study of bibliography from 1814, the function of the m and n Quadrats is described accordingly and furthermore as ‘the square of the letter to whatever fount it belong […] n quadrat, is half that size’.
        If m and n stood and nowadays em and en stand for respectively the full and half size of the body, where does the term come from? As mentioned, in Monotype fonts the M is not always the widest letter, but in Moxon’s engraving in which he ‘exhibited to the World the true Shape of Christoffel Van Dijcks […] Letters’ the width of the capital M equalizes the height of the body. The N, however, has not been drawn of half the width of the M. Moxon notes ‘that some few among the capitals are more than m thick’ and he lists Æ, Œ, Q ‘and most of the Swash Letters’ as examples.

The question remains that if the sizes of m Quadrat, m-square and em-square are based on the width of the capital M, why are they not labelled ‘M Quadrat’ or ‘M-square’ or ‘EM-square’ by Moxon and the other forenamed authors? Could it be possible that the terms ‘m’ or ‘em’ have a different historical background?
        The term ‘m Quadrat’ is definitely older than its use in Mechanick Exercises. A hypothesis: let’s assume for a moment that the origin of the (e)m-square lays in the lower case m. The relation with the n-square seems to make much more sense then, because the width of the capital N is never half the width of the M. The proportions of the m seem to have been the measure of all –or at least a many– things in Renaissance type, like my measurements seem to prove.

The golden ratio captured in Jenson’s roman type

The golden ratio captured in Jenson’s roman type

If a square is based on the outside stems of the m of Adobe Jenson and this ‘m-square’ is used to calculate a golden section rectangle (1:1.618), and the height of this rectangle is used for creating a new square, than the ascenders and descenders of (Adobe) Jenson’s type seem to fit perfectly into the latter, as shown above. This square is an extension of the ‘m-square’: an ‘extended-m’ or em-square, although it is perhaps more likely that ‘em’ originates from the rotated m, which reads like an E, in combination with the normally positioned m. If subsequently a square based on the x-height is made and extended to a golden section rectangle, than the proportions of the descenders can be determined.

The golden ratio captured in Gutenberg’s textura type

The golden ratio captured in Gutenberg’s textura type

Gutenberg’s textura type from his 42-line Bible (see image above) shows the same relation between the ‘m-square’ and the length of the ascenders and descenders as can be found in Jenson’s type. The length of the descenders can in this case be captured using a root 2 rectangle.

A translation of the (e)m-square into units

Of course, the 1:1 appliance of such geometrical systems on punches is technically impossible. I reckon that there were no miniature compasses and rulers available in the Renaissance that made this possible. I think it is not unlikely though that the punch cutters calculated the proportions at a large size, and subsequently scaled down the outcomes to the size of the punches. The proportions could have well been translated into units, like shown in the image above.

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2.2 Notes on the mythical ‘eye’

Having learned and memorised the true proportions of roman letter as taught in the manuals of Moille, Pacioli and others, the goldsmiths, punch-cutters and printers relied on their eyes and not upon their measuring tools.’, according to Stanley Morison in Fra Luca de Pacioli of Borgo S. Sepolcro (1933).

Really? Did the Italian and French Renaissance goldsmiths and engravers purely rely on their eyes when they cut the first roman types, as Morison suggested, or did they actually use different, standardized, systematized, and unitized methods, perhaps inspired by the manuals of Moille, Pacioli and others? Morison’s statement seems to mystify the qualities of punch cutters such as Nicolas Jenson, Francesco Griffo, Claude Garamont, and Robert Granjon. Allen Hutt describes thes qualities in Fournier, the compleat typographer (London, 1972) as ‘[…] some indefinable talent in the best punch-cutters and type designers who aimed and continue to aim at optical harmony.’ But if this talent can be distinguished, then it should be possible to define it also, I reckon.

Although Morison’s statement on the punch cutters and their eyes seems to be nothing more than an assumption, it is actually generally embraced by the type world. Type historians connect the attempts to reconstruct the Roman imperial capitals by Renaissance artists and scholars like Feliciano, Pacioli, and, of course, Albrecht Dürer, with the Romain du Roi, but the appliance of geometric systems in the work of the Renaissance punch cutters seems to be completely out of order.

Is it possible that the early punch cutters, who were engravers or gold smiths from origin, i.e. craftsmen, only used their eyes in a profession that requires standardization? Why would they for instance have ignored conventions like the golden section that seem to have been applied everywhere else in the Renaissance world of arts? Was it because of technical limitations, or did Jenson, Griffo, Garamont, Granjon, and consorts have such trained eyes that they applied ‘divine’ proportions on the fly?

Every collection of graphemes representing an alphabet has its own rules, defined by their specific harmonics, patterns, and dynamics. The shapes of the graphemes can be the result of either a long or a short evolution; their domination can be the result of a fixation at a certain moment in history. When the graphemes are commonly accepted they define the rules for the conditioning of their users, i.e. readers, and their producers, i.e. type designers.
One wonders whether Fournier was aware of the fact that what the eye sees is merely the result of conditioning when he commented in his Manuel Typographique from 1764–1766 on the attempts of Jaugeon and co. to standardize the design of the Romain du Roi: ‘These gentlemen would have been well advised to a single rule which they established, which is chiefly to be guided by the eye, the supreme judge […].

Conditioning is based on conventions and conditioning preserves conventions. Thus the snake bites its own tail; to able to use one’s ‘eye’ like Fournier advocated, one has to be educated to look at type in the same way. What is considered to be harmonic, rhythmic, and æsthetic in type is merely the result of conditioning, i.e. cultural habituation. Familiarity is an important factor for the preservation of conventions; the appreciation of certain structures in for instance fine arts, architecture, typography, or music partly depends on this.

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