Type for the Times

ARRIVING at The New York Times Magazine, I had a chance to try some ideas that occurred to me as a reader. Everyone in town saw it every week, and as the rotogravure color section of the Times, they considered it the visual highlight of the Sunday paper.

Looking back nearly 50 years later, it looks crude. The color was good, but the resolution, low. Black-and-white pictures often seemed dark and blurry (a result, I discovered, of bad “color conversions” in the paper’s darkroom). The type, by today’s standards was sloppy. There was a lot of Futura bold condensed, which I thought was out of character for the Times.

My boss, Lou Silverstein, the great art director who transformed the paper in 1970s, had distilled the “headline schedule,” emphasizing Bookman, maintaining the use of Cheltenham Bold Italic, and even retaining the quirky Latin Extra Condensed for the one-column news heads, starting the lede story on the front page. To this mix he added Franklin Gothic, which he had been using as the Time promotion art director (a title he still had in 1982).

“Why don’t the use these fonts in the magazine?” I had wondered as an outsider. Inside, the answer was, “To distinguish the magazine from the newspaper.” This was a bad idea. With the print word becoming increasingly cluttered, the identity of the Times should be reinforced by its magazine. And, stuffed as it was with ads from the Seventh Avenue fashion brands, the editorial section needed to hold onto the voice of the newspaper.

A cover with Cheltenham, instead of the Futura bold condensed, the magazine’s display type in the previous design.

Right away, I started experimenting. In the summer of 1982, the magazine editor, Ed Klein, put a story by Louise Bernikow on the cover: Alone: Yearning for Companionship in America.” How do you illustrate this without making it depressing. The photo desk brought in an evocative set of documentary pictures, but none that would make a good cover.

I had come across Max Ginsburg, who today is nearly 90 years old and still painting, and I thought, what about a realistic painting on the cover? I had seen his amazing paintings which recalled the Ash Can style of New York realism and got Max to come in. “I am thinking ‘solitude,’ not ‘loneliness.’” Max said, “I get it.” He came back with a sketch of beach scene, with a distant single figure. A wonderful painting, and I could see the single-word title floating in the sky.

When the cover appeared, a lot of people maid remarks like, “Gee, I hope I can find a beach that empty this summer.” Perhaps it was too positive a spin on the idea, but I loved that way it signaled a new direction for the magazine, reinforcing its New York-ness, and tying the

And the single-word headline was set in Cheltenham Bold on the Autologic machines in the composing room, then blown up in the engraving department, and cleaned up by hand. You can see the over-tight kerning, which was the style at the time. We could touch body type in the magazine by some kind of union dispensation. I say we; I couldn’t, as a manager. But union members could, The pages were actually pasted up right in art department on the 8th floor.

The subhead must have been set outside, perhaps at IGI, my recent home base. I tried to set the decks in Cheltenham bold, but they looked squat, and so I stayed with Bookman, the deck style I inherited. Only later did I realized had been condensed horribly.

With the single photos on a page surrounded by text, I thought that the story looked like the Times. Of course, today the award-winning design of the magazine is much richer, slicker, sharper than anything we could do 50 years ago. But it does not look like the Times.

And that integration was something I wanted to do, even though I still liked the idea of choosing a font that matched each feature story—something Rolling Stone had been doing for a while before I got there. Since the 60s, many art directors thought that feature magazines should be typographically eclectic. Sam Antupit, for the great issues of Esquire used a variety of classic foundry typefaces for featureheadlines. And the subheads were always the same 14-point Italic.

Most of Lou’s designers at the Times were a little jealous that the magazine could be eclectic, typographically. And they thought the magazine should be a relief from the news sections. I remember Lou asking what I thought the magazine represented, and I said it was a bonus for the reader getting through the rest of the giant Sunday paper. And he said, “No, no, no. You can’t say ‘bonus’—that means more. You have to make the magazine a kind of digestive—so that the rest of experience is easier and more fun.”

I thought this could be done within the big library that he had developed. I was happy to use the Karnak, Bob Middleton’s slab that I had always thought was the best 20th century Egyptian. And I put Franklin to use immediately. Chelt and Bookman were more trouble, since the families were small. And I was indifferent to the text type, Intertype’s Imperial, which I figured was invisible to the reader.

The display fonts were all based on the Ludlow versions. Lou had carefully gotten Autologic to digitize these for the fast new APS 5 typesetters. They did not use outline fonts, but bitmaps, which scaled down well enough. But not up. Fortunately, Ladislas Mandel directed the work, and the fonts had several size masters so they looked pretty good. Mandel, who had worked with Adrian Frutiger at Deberny & Peignot and later at Lumitype, the first successful phototypesetter in the West, had become a consultant, and supervised the design of Autologic’s library, including adaptations of existing fonts for customers. And the Times was an important one.

There was only one weight of Bookman at the Times, and just the Roman and Bold for Cheltenham. I liked the Bookman best. I thought Chelt looked liturgical, kind of Presbyterian. Later I learned that it was actually more Episcopalian, since it was designed by Bertram Goodhue, the architect, who had designed type for the famous Episcopal Altar Book. Cheltenham was commissioned by the Cheltenham Press in New York in 1890s, and was released by both ATF and Mergenthaler Linotype in 1903. Morris Fuller Benton added weights and widths, and special effects. The first big type family was created. Today, type foundries find that big families sell better, and Cheltenham became one of the most popular American typefaces, through the 1920s.

The first six pages, with a set of photographs curated by the magazine’s photo editor. Note, the pullquotes were in Bookmen, condensed on the Autologic typesetter, a style when I got to the magazine. The balance of “Alone” jumped to the back of the book, a practice I could not stop.

The basic “old style” and bold are both wide and the low-contrast, which helps legibility. The “secret” of the design is tall ascenders—but short descenders. So, Goodhue felt that he was retaining the feeling of Old Style , but lines of type can fit more tightly. Increasing the relative size of the core (the “x-height”) of a letter indeed makes it seem larger compared to a regular design, and printers have used fonts with high x-heights for small sizes for hundreds of year. But this secret, gives Cheltenham a top-heavy look, for me was too fussy for regular use—and certainly not for news.

To me, Bookman seemed both more classical and more neutral. Lou was using it on the front page to signal feature and first-person stories—both good news and bad news.  Researching the font, I learned that it was first cut in the 1850s to be a bold accompaniment to Old Style from the Scottish foundry, Miller & Richard’s. It was called Old Style Antique” when antique meant a heavier drawing with slab or bracket slab serif. In another post I’ll show Jim Parkinson’s revival of the Old Style—which we used in only one story.

But I went on to work on the rest of the newspaper, becoming Lou’s “senior art director,” and then the chief when he had “mandatory” retirement at age 65. (Seems so young to quit work!) And I only stayed until 1985, so the Bookman project never happened. Instead, they shifted over time to Cheltenham.

When the Times went to digital typesetting, the first fonts were just auto-traced outlines from the bitmap fonts—provided, I believe, by Autologic. But as Tom Bodkin took over the typography of the paper, he brought in Matthew Carter to redraw the Chelts, and later the Franklin and the Karnak. The weird Italian Elongated was made somehow into a Cheltenham. And the regular weight was toned down a little—to be more like Bookiman, I assumed.

Tom introduced the all-Chelt-all-the-time concept in the new International Edition, which replaced the International New York Times in 2016. The gothic logo was not the only unwieldy part of the first effort. (The truly sad part was that the company had replaced the International Herald Tribune, which was a loved both by expats and by tourists.)

The international Times suddenly looked great—and still like the Times. This became the basis for the consolidation of Cheltenham at the regular paper.

Tom has been the chief art director for 30 years, with a number of titles. Like Lou, he is the head of all the art departments—corporate and promotion, as well as editorial. And he’s championed the transition of the design to the digital side. There is no more successful example of type branding for multi-platform content. And it’s all about Cheltenham.

I guess if I wanted them to use Bookman instead, I should have stayed longer than four years!
First post of a new series: Thoughts and recollections that may become part of Lay It Out, a memoir-in progress

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