Friday, December 03, 2010

You’ve Read His Work, You Don’t Know Who He Is

He is the most read man in the world... and you probably don’t even know his name. Even so, Matthew Carter has changed the way we look at words. From The Economist:
[Matthew] Carter sits near the pinnacle of an elite profession. No more than several thousand type designers ply the trade worldwide, only a few hundred earn their keep by it, and only several dozens -- most of them dead -- have their names on the lips of discerning aficionados. Then, there is Mr Carter. He has never sought recognition, but it found him, and his underappreciated craft, in part thanks to a "New Yorker" profile in 2005. Now, even schoolchildren (albeit discerning ones) seem to know who he is and what he does. However, the reason is probably not so much the beauty and utility of his faces, both of which are almost universally acknowledged. Rather, it is Georgia and Verdana. Mr Carter conjured up both fonts in the 1990s for Microsoft, which released them with its Internet Explorer in the late 1990s and bundled them into Windows, before disseminating them as a free download.
It is perhaps not surprising that this internationally acknowledged expert in the written word is not yet enamored of the electronic book.
In fact, Mr Carter doesn't own an iPad, Kindle, or other reading device, as he is waiting for them to mature. (He does own an iPhone.) He frets that, as things stand, reading devices and programs homogenise all the tangible aspects of a book, like size or shape, as well as font. They are also poor at hyphenation and justification: breaking words at lexically appropriate locations, and varying the spacing between letters and between words. This may sound recondite but it is a visual imprint of principles established over the entire written history of a language. “Maybe people who grow up reading online, where every book is identical, don’t know what they're missing.”
The Economist says that Carter is now “looking for his next challenge, spurred by the award of the fellowship, not to mention the accompanying cheque for $500,000.”

The Economist piece is extensive and it’s here.


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