Typography’s Alphabet Man!


I’m giving a talk next week at the Revolve conference in Charleston, SC, and they just published this fun profile piece to promote it a bit:

Dan Rhatigan describes himself as a middle-aged nerd who really likes type; so much so, that he’s used his arms as a canvas to showcase the more than 30 letterforms that mean something to him.  If you happen to see him wearing short sleeves, you’ll react in one of two ways. One, you’ll immediately try to figure out what message the letters and numbers convey, then become confused because there appears to be no rhyme or reason to the tattoos. On the other hand, if you’re into typography, you’ll immediately get it and want to start a conversation.

Professionally, Dan brings to the table over 25 years of extensive experience in various industries as a typesetter, graphic designer, and typeface designer. He has spent time curating exhibits, speaking internationally, and teaching graphic design, typography, typeface design, and branding at Pratt Institute, The City College of New York, University of Reading, and ArtEZ Institute of the Arts.  He holds a BFA in graphic design from Boston University, and an MA in typeface design from the University of Reading in the UK.

While studying in the UK, Dan got involved in a joint project between Monotype and the University of Reading, researching and designing non-Latin typefaces. This project facilitated his entrance to the type-design world on a full-time basis; and later Dan worked at Monotype as their Type Director, with responsibility for their New York and London offices. Today, Dan lives in New York where he works with Adobe Typekit as the Senior Manager of Adobe Type, and serves on the board of the Society of Publication Designers, and is the Director-At-Large on the Board of Directors of The Type Directors Club.

As a child, Dan dreamed of drawing comic books, and kept busy drawing the covers with big splashy logos. In elementary school, Dan together with a friend drew comic books and sold them at their lemonade stand.  But, it was in his teen years while working with Letraset and a headline-setting machine for his high school newspaper that Dan realized he could manipulate the personality of the story he was headlining by changing the style of letters. This was when he first grasped that he could have a profession in type.

Dan began self-publishing Pink Mince  (a queer British zine) in 2006. This began as a side project to help him acclimatize to living in England, and relieve day-to-day stress.  Although published sporadically, Dan is really proud of the zine’s thirteen issues; the Minis and the related Tumblr moodboard. Today, Pink Mince has become a labor of love, and a ‘catch all bucket’ for the creative things Dan would like to do.  In fact, if money were no issue, he would parlay Pink Mince into a full magazine, because ‘it isn’t just a gay zine, it is a showcase for contemporary typeface design and vintage lettering that features pictures of dudes.’

Dan is the youngest of six children born to an Irish Catholic family in Staten Island, New York. He admits to being bookish and introverted (read awkward and shy), which seems contradictory to the nickname he picked up in his youth – Sparky, that has become an extension of who he is – Ultrasparky. When he’s not working or spending quality time with his partner, Dan enjoys hanging out with friends; indulges an indiscriminate sweet tooth; listens to an eclectic mix of music, and is an accomplished photographer.

In the final analysis, Dan Rhatigan has a healthy respect for the history of typography, is knowledgeable, articulate and displays immense curiosity in his craft.  Although he has collaborated on, and has his name attached to various innovative font families, it remains his dream to conceive, nurture and present to the world a typeface family all his own. … Stay tuned!

By Claudia L. Phillips

TYPO Labs: Variable Fonts Progress Report

Fastest upload ever! I just gave this talk earlier today at TYPO Labs in Berlin. I’ve barely slept for the last two days, so I’m surprised that I sound so lucid.

Since last September’s announcement of the new OpenType 1.8 spec, variable fonts have been moving from concepts and demos into practical solutions. This overview will summarize the progress made so far on new fonts, the environments that can support them, and what some designers have already learned to do with them.

Update: And here’s a nice montage of scenes and impressions from the event:

Variable Fonts in Print

Just a quick interview feature in Print about some upcoming things in the type world:

Variable Fonts with Dan Rhatigan

By: Callie Budrick | April 1, 2017

If you’re working in the typography world, you may have heard the whisperings of collaboration between some of the biggest names in technology. Adobe, Apple, Google and Microsoft have been working together (with the help of independent type foundries and designers) to create something that’s going to change the way we see type — literally. They’re called variable fonts, and Dan Rhatigan took the time to tell us everything we needed to know about them.

Variable fonts are a way of taking many, many, many styles within a typeface family — from very lightweight to very bold weight, from wide to skinny — and packaging them all up into one small file,” he explains. You’re not just saving space, you’re also getting access to all of the possible weights and sizes on the spectrum of a font. That includes more than the names you would choose from a font menu like bold or light. But how does it work?

Basically, “it’s a more complicated and sophisticated version of a font file. But it’s still just a font file and will behave on any operating system that can support it,” says Rhatigan. Variable fonts are based in formulas like any other font file. “In terms of how it knows what it can do, that’s where the applications will come in and be able to register, ‘oh, these are all possibilities within one file,’ rather than having to specify a different file to get a different style.”

Example of how Variable Fonts, a developing font technology, can work. Source: Erik van Blokland

He explained it to me like this: the same mechanism that allows a webpage to read flow when you zoom in and out in a browser window can manipulate a font’s style when it gets built into the CSS. So if you take a phone or tablet, and you turn it from vertical to horizontal, “the same device detection that allows it to register that the device orientation is changing could allow the font file to switch to, say, a more condensed style for the vertical orientation, or a more expanded style for the horizontal.”

Variable fonts are still in the early days of conception, but that isn’t stopping people from experimenting and pushing the boundaries here and now. David Jonathan Ross from DJR Foundry and the Dutch type foundry Underware have both been testing experiments. The Big Four have also been getting input on the technical side from designers and typographers around the world. Erik van Blokland from LettError has contributed a lot of the math that has made dynamic fonts more flexible. Friends from Monotype who helped develop TrueType GX in the 90s and Dalton Maag from Typekit have also been have helping make variable fonts the best they can be. “It’s encouraging to me that people aren’t holding their cards close to themselves, and that they’re trying to engage in a dialog as we all come to understand what will be possible and what we can make possible for people who use these fonts.”

The header of LettError’s website, demonstrating dynamic fonts.

A few days before chatting with Dan Rhatigan, I had a conversation with Paula Scher. She made the comment about how she prefers when design leads the software, rather than the software leading the design. Is it possible that variable fonts could be a shortcoming by giving designers too many options to work with? “Variable fonts will be a very flexible tool. My hope is that…it will encourage designers to think very deeply about what they can do with that. I would hate to see people saying things like, ‘Oh, I can have any weight,’ and then begin using weights that don’t make sense just because [they’re available],” he says.

As for other possible drawbacks, “[it’s] an added responsibility for type designers,” says Rhatigan. Variable fonts will require type designers to be more methodical, since every possible weight will be available to developers. “You can’t make a weight and then clean it up.”

“Variable fonts are not the solution for all kinds of fonts. Not everyone will have to make [or use them]. They’re a good solution for packaging up large font families that would otherwise come with a lot of different styles within them.”

SVA Type Lab

For the last few Summers I have been one of the instructors for the SVA Type Lab, a 4-week course in typeface design here in New York. This year, we’ve been trying to promote the course with some cute short videos:

Valenstein & Fatt

While I was in London recently, I helped my pals at Grey London with a film about why they’re taking on the names of their original founders, Valenstein & Fatt, to talk about diversity in the industry.

I was originally asked to talk about the typeface they chose to recapture the spirit of Grey, circa 1917, but as it turned out I was much more passionate about how hard it has always been for immigrants and other marginalized groups to assimilate into American culture, despite the myth of the Great American Melting Pot.

Valenstein & Fatt from Valenstein & Fatt on Vimeo.

(I begged them to re-kern that logotype, though.)

Update: A second video, with my take on Valenstein & Gray’s choice of Century Schoolbook for their re-imagined brand:

Valenstein & Fatt: The Logo from Valenstein & Fatt on Vimeo.

Continue reading “Valenstein & Fatt”

The Blank-ish Page

This talk took place on Saturday, June 18, 2016 in The Great Hall at The Cooper Union as part of Typographics.

Typographics 2016: The Blank-ish Page from Type@Cooper.

My summary from the program:

It can be difficult to explore possibilities of typography when designers—and especially clients—assume certain things are given, when these variables are not hard limits, just conventions. I want to look at the background of certain defaults of our software, to get people to consider them in some context and think about them more critically.