Heller on “Acceptance Letters” in the NYT

Written by Michael Moore on August 31, 2004

Sunday’s New York Times carries a short piece by Steven Heller on digital type design [requires free registration].


  1. It’s a pretty elementary article. Nothing too specific or deep about it. But I am pleased to see he’s introducing the general public to this fact:

    Some of the less sophisticated types can be downloaded free from the Internet, but the better ones, in various sizes with complementary decorative rules, borders and dingbats, are licensed and cost between $100 and $300.

  2. quis says:

    BugMeNot is useful if you don’t want to have to register for sites like the NYT. Quite an interesting little slideshow all the same.

  3. A much more substantial piece by Heller (on lettering) is at Icograda.

  4. I found the article ludicrous (the NYT one). He talks about how the digitization of type created this opportunities for amateurs to design type, then the slide show is Licko and Hoefler. Let’s see some amateurs if you’re going to talk about amateurs. The one exception I’d say is Plazm, who were recently raked over the coals here for their less-than-polished Victory font they designed for Nike. They are a lot closer to being amateur than P22 or House. I’ll have to check out the Icograda article.

  5. John Downer says:


    One good way to mislead readers is to let them see what Mr. Heller has to say about hand lettering, a subject which he does *not* understand intimately.

    Please beware that Mr. Heller is out of his depth!

    I’ve long been critical of his “know all” attitude, with respect to subjects he thinks he is qualified to sermonize about. Hand lettering, the history of show card writing, and American sign painting are but 3 of the subject areas he has tried to address in his many articles; often ignorantly & shallowly.

    His comments are, I’m sorry to say, unreliable at best. His pure sloppiness is evident to any scholar who knows what’s what. Let me point out a typical instance: bungled transcription. The poster shown at the top of the _Icograda_ page is attributed to one of the two persons named on the poster — or is it? (Please note that artists do not commonly misspell their names. Heller does this for them.)

    The caption for the poster reads Gary Pantner [sic] but this is clearly not what the lettering on the poster says. One r only. Can/does Mr. Heller read?

    Another example of Heller’s handiwork: incorrect terminology. A show card (not Sho-Card) is a sign that is written with the tip of the brush…hence, the term, show card writing. Show cards were not, and are not, “drawn.” They’re written with fluidity and facility, much as a signature is written with ease by person who has practiced it again & again. This point seems to get lost on commentators like Mr. Heller, who has evidently not spent nearly as much time in sign shops or show card studios as he thinks one might need to deem himself an expert.

    Lastly, I’d like to point out that the reasons for show cards being preferred over photostats in the “old days” of hand lettering had little to do with the fact that stats were sometimes too costly, or took too long to shoot & process. In truth, the primary reason show cards were better than stats for most nonreproduction purposes, (e.g., sales/display use), is that show cards are normally produced in COLOR.

    John Downer, able-bodied practitioner of the trades

    hand letterer – show card writer – sign painter, &c.

  6. Harry says:

    You must be a talented sign painter to be able to produce great work with that huge chip weighing down your shoulder.

  7. John Downer says:

    Ah, shucks. That’s nothing. I do it for practice. Get a bench press and try it.

    John Downer

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