Kate Vasey Article By Kate

Working With Type In The '70s


When thinking of the 70s, we think back to the decade that brought you iconic movie quotes such as “We’re going to need a bigger boat”, “I’m going to make him an offer he can’t refuse” and “Remember. The force will be with you always” from the now considered cult classics Jaws, The Godfather and Star Wars, as well as many other classics we all know and love. Evenings would be spent catching up on the latest episodes of Happy Days, Kojak, Starsky And Hutch and Top Of The Pops and playing with toys such as the Etch-A-Sketch, Hungry Hungry Hippos, Rubik’s cubes, riding around on skateboards and looking after pet rocks.

Society saw a continuation of marginalised people fighting for equality, Margaret Thatcher voted as the first female British Prime Minister, the economic recession, the oil crisis and three day working week in 1973 and the golden age of capitalism in post-World War II.

The fashion of the decade was much more experimental than it had been in previous decades with people dressing more anti-conformist and with heavy influences by the films and music of that era. The ever evolving trends both in fashion and music began with the continuation from the ‘60s hippie movement along with disco, funk, soul and reggae, before evolving towards the likes of androgynous glam rock, heavy metal and punk which emerged later in the decade. The most notable in the music scene at the time was the introduction of synthesisers and harmonisers to songs which led into the electronic and pop which would later become a big part of the following decade.

Among all the experimentation in the fashion and music world there were also developments in technology too. A key stand out of this decade was the introduction of video games onto the scene with the first generation of consoles and arcade game such as Pong, Space Invaders and Asteroids. With the Atari 2600 console being the most memorable. Other developments of this era also brought us colour televisions and most importantly, computers with Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne forming Apple Computer Inc in 1976 which would still be going strong 42 years later.

The first ever Apple computer, 1976 (Source)

And speaking of technology, what were those in the font industry using during this time? As we know these days it plays an important role to font design. But back then computers were only just coming onto the scene and the internet was still a couple of decades in the making. Nowadays, technology is far more advanced than it would have been in the ‘70s. So what did they use instead? And even more so, what was it like working in the font industry in the ‘70s? What did they use? And how does the industry compare to the way it is now? I spoke with our font developer Malcolm, to reveal all.

Were there any fonts that were influenced by the culture at the time?

I think type styles of the early 1970 were trying to catch-up with the 1960’s “hippie culture” to a certain degree. Later in the decade when new and original designs became more prolific these were used to set the style for the culture at that time.

What were the trending style of fonts of that time?

Text fonts were very much of the same styles that had been used since hot metal technology. Headline fonts however were getting pretty outlandish in their styles. Basic sans-serif style was popular (nothing changes there then!) and so too was slab serif or egyptienne, but the variations of weights, stresses and styles were boundless (see supplied images).

Vineta typeface by Ernst Volker, 1973 (Source) ,The original Microsoft logo 1975 by Bill Gates (Source)

How did you go about finding fonts and using them?

People who used fonts in the 70’s did so in a completely different way to how they are used today. Designers, typographers and layout artists would have specimen books supplied to them by their preferred typesetting studios. The designer would “spec” a layout defining the fonts required and supply the spec (by courier usually) with the “copy” text to the typesetting studio who would then interpret the spec, set the copy and paste-up the page and courier it back to the designer. This inevitably was never right the first time so the designer would mark the page with corrections and back it went to the typesetter.

What were the marketing options for fonts?

Mostly technology and industry exhibitions. Drupa in Düsseldorf was always the big prepress and publishing exhibition. There was also direct marketing but not as assertive as it is today.

Who were the main suppliers of fonts?

Text setting fonts came from the big typesetting machine makers, Monotype, Linotype, Berthold. Headline fonts came from many sources in filmstrips.

What challenges were you faced with as a font provider?

Mostly cost. In the early 1970’s fonts were often perceived as an add-on service to the sales of new typesetting machines or as expensive extras for existing users. However, during the late 60’s and early 70’s, as some headline type composing machines standardised on the one-inch film strip as a medium for carrying fonts, typeface design started to begin to grow. It was this standardisation that started to bring down costs and allow lettering artists and designers, who were not specifically employed by typesetting machine makers, to design new typefaces or variations of existing typefaces.

What was the technology at the time?

The technology of the 1970’s very much divided the discipline of typesetting into two parts, text setting and headline setting. Many typesetting machines from Monotype, Linotype or others were just not very cost efficient for headline use. Fonts came in a variety of film mediums, square, circular, drums and some were experimenting with letters displayed on CRT screens. The common element was that the images were exposed to film or photo paper. Most studios would have headline setting machines from manufactures like VGC (Visual Graphics Corporation) that were much more flexible and cheaper to run than text setting machines. At this time, it was very rare to output a complete page on a typesetting machine. Blocks of text or “galleys” would be output and paste-up artists would mount the galleys on galley film to make a “spread” or page.

What programming technology did you use at the time?

There was very little programming being done in the industry at this time. The digital age had only just begun and although many machine makers were developing digital solutions, there was nothing available at the time.

What was the process for creating typefaces?

Draw a letter on cartridge paper, then have a negative image traced in the form of a “rubylith” film tracing, then scale down on a big camera to a working master positive. Finally make the finished machine film as a negative or positive.

What were the 5 most popular fonts of the decade?

Although electronic camera setters were making an impact in areas such as advertising, the main bulk of typesetting was still done on proprietary systems from manufactures like Monotype, Linotype and Berthold, so typefaces such as Garamond, Baskerville and Bembo were still popular for text setting. For display work, newer fresher typefaces like Helvetica (Mergenthaler 1959) and Univers (Deberny & Peignot 1957) had gained much popularity for the wide ranges of weights and widths that were becoming available.

Garamond (Source), Baskerville (Source), Bembo (Source), Helvetica (Source) & Univers typefaces (Souce).

Do you think the different fashion styles and music genres were reflected in the fonts of that decade?

Yes. Typeface design as a marketing tool was becoming more sophisticated in 1970’s, not just with new designs but with the way typography was being used. Fashion retailers were enforcing brand identity with iconic type use and this was reflected in the way brands used advertising. There was also a lot of cross-over into the marketing of music with the design of record sleeves and the typography used on them.

Did the ever changing fashion and music of the 70s influence the font industry in any way?

The effect on the main font industry of that time was limited as this were still in the hands of typesetting machine makers, however display lettering used in advertising production was embracing new styles of type design constantly.

With technology slowly starting to emerge, did that have much impact on the font industry?

That decade was very much taken up with moving existing typeface designs into the new photo-typesetting technologies, and later to the first digital typesetters. Some new designs were making it into the newer photo-typesetters, notably designs from International Typeface Corporation. Most new designs were coming to use through the design studios who produced the artwork for advertising agencies and publishing houses who had the resources to cut new filmstrips of produce new film disks.

How does the process of creating fonts in the 70s compare to how they are created now?

Massive difference. Everything then started with a pencil on paper, now many type designers do not ever use a pencil for design, it’s often direct to computer.

As someone whose role is to work closely with type designers, I find it incredibly interesting to learn and discover more about the font industry by delving into the past, so I have enjoyed researching the 1970s, how fonts link to society and pop culture at the time, learning about the past and how it compares to modern day. I hope you have enjoyed discovering along with me and thank you to Malcolm for educating me about the font world through interviewing him. I’ve learned a great deal, I hope you have too. Feel free to get in touch at kate@thenorthernblock.co.uk with any details you remember of this decade or any other decade for that matter! I’d love to know more. I’m looking forward to uncovering more decades of the font industry in the near future. Next stop, the 80s!

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