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I love typography. A LOT. I always have. As strange as it sounds, it’s always been an important part of me, even as a kid. I was the kid drawing logos at age six. There will be more about my type obsession later…

Anyway, a while back, I fed my type obsession and ventured over to McMenamins Kennedy School Theater to attend the Portland premier of Linotype: The Film. It was a fascinating and entertaining documentary about typography and the history of the Linotype machine, invented by Otto Mergenthaler in 1886. For those of you who are thinking “I’ve heard of that word, but I have no idea what the heck it is,” read on.

A Linotype machine

The Linotype machine, referred to as “the 8th wonder of the world,” replaced handset type, a process in which individual metal letters are patiently set by hand, one-by-one, to create a line of text. The Linotype machine automatically set “lines of type” as quickly as the operator typed them into the machine. This allowed more type to be set faster, which made it cheaper, which in turn brought down the cost of producing printed material. This little-known piece of machinery, along with letterpress printing, helped to bring printed materials quickly and inexpensively into the hands of the masses, which in turn, increased literacy rates worldwide. This is a huge win for the importance of typography. As a designer, my perspective might be a bit skewed, but I think Otto and the Linotype machine both deserve more applause than they get

A line of type

Otto Mergenthaler

So, thank you Otto Mergenthaler.

The Linotype is an early part of design and typographic history. And the type used in the Linotype was often designed for specific uses, to make sure it communicated clearly.

Today as designers, we still make font choices that communicate our message most effectively; typography is a big part of all communication materials. Good typography usually goes unnoticed by most (unless you are a typophile, like me), but bad typography can kill a message. Simply stated, if you can’t absorb the message, the communication has failed, and this can be due to poor typography—hard-to- read fonts, bad hierarchy of fonts and font sizes, type that is too lightweight to read.

So if you’ve never noticed the typography choices from HB Design, we’ll take that as a compliment.