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Commentary

New Old Type for New Houston Chronicle

Typographica on July 15, 2004

It may seem like we mention Christian Schwartz every other week, but that’s only because he makes news that often. (Also, he has a nice soul patch.) This time, the big news is a newspaper. The revised Houston Chronicle marks a milestone in newspaper design as it’s probably the first modern paper to use a venetian oldstyle for body copy. The typeface was designed by Schwartz under the direction of the omnipresent publication designer Roger Black. Mr. Schwartz was kind enough to provide us with a PDF [124K] detailing the paper’s new typography.


Along with Schwartz and Black, masthead man Jim Parkinson had a hand in the Chronicle‘s new logo, which is based on something they used in the first half of the 1900s. The star, taken from a monument to Sam Houston, suits Texas to a tee. Unfortunately the resident staff got too excited about it and wear out the symbol by plugging it into every section title. I’m told there’s even a “Star” section in which there is no name at the head of the page, just the yellow five-pointer. Crazy Texans.

Today’s front page, sporting the complete redesign, looks very nice. Cheers go to Susan Barber (Chronicle AD) and Dan Cunningham (Sports Editor) who headed up the redesign team. Also to Theo Fels of Danilo Black, who spent many weeks in Houston to finish everything up.

Other groups talking about the new Chronicle include Newsdesigner.com (who also show a front page before/after), Hypulp, and VisualEditors.com (registration required, but worth it), where a Chronicle designer defends the big fat star, saying “let’s be glad we didn’t put a tumbleweed rolling through the flag”.

11 Comments

  1. I confess to having a soft spot for faces like this, even though they’re not especially popular today. It will be interesting to see what the reaction is. It would also be good to see an actual printed copy of the paper before and after.

  2. Marc Oxborrow says:

    Obviously, Roger Black has a soft spot for Venetians, too. I think he commissioned Jim Parkinson to create the neo-Venetian logotype for Rolling Stone. Wasn’t Goudy’s Californian the first Font Bureau face, digitized for his redesign of New West magazine? And he used another Venetian (Village) in his ’90s redesign of Esquire.

  3. Hrant says:

    I don’t like faux-Venetians, but: anything that can rock the boat of news typography is good; smaller sizes change all the rules. I think it ended up as a “happy mistake” because people underestimate the need for formal divergence in a text face – like look at the serif variance and the “missing” ball on the “a”. As for the twin italics, they rock rock rock.

    BTW, I’ve stored a “before” PDF of the paper, in case anybody’s interested.

    Oh, and I don’t git what’s wrong with some good stiff tumbleweed now’n’agin.

    hhp

  4. Dyana says:

    Wow, that’s some awesome kerning.

  5. Roger Black says:

    Great to see Christian getting well-deserved credit for this effort. We set out to make a headline font based on the ATF Jenson used for newspaper display a century ago. It was Christian who insisted on trying the style for text. I didn’t believe it would work — too gnarly. But after tuning, the Houston Venetian beat out the Chronicle’s old Corona, as well as my bet, Ionic No. 5 and several other stalking horses.

    The success (which can only be measured over time, of course) is a result of the careful adjustments — of the gyphs, the widths, and the composition settings — after seeing typical pages printed on the actual presses. All newspapers should go through this effort, but they seldom do.

    As for the style, as far as I am concerned Jenson is type, just like what they cook in Italy is food. No place-name qualifier needed.

    “Venetian” should refer to the Jenson revivals of the 19th century, beginning with the Golden Type. The best of these, I think, was Nebiolo Jenson, which was the model for Jim Parkinson’s Rolling Stone font.

    In Houston we used English Monotype’s Italian Old Style as the starting point. We quickly got rid of the diamond dots on the “i”s. But the hard part was the stress angle of the face — and such matters as the “e” crossbar. The solutions are Christian’s. He worked out the design (in three sizes) very deliberately, but the result seems fresh and intuitive.

    The New York Times has been kicking Middleton’s Bookman out of their paper. Now we have a replacement. A century later, “Houston” may be an even better newspaper type.

  6. nick shinn says:

    >“Venetian” should refer to the Jenson revivals of the 19th century, beginning with the Golden Type.

    That’s somewhat revisionist, Roger. Surely it should refer to the first great era of humanist type in Venice in the late 15th Century? But I take your point — there were a great many revivals in the Venetian style from Morris’ caricature through Benton’s and Rogers’ more faithful interpretations to Goudy’s flights of fancy. Going beyond revival, Goudy’s faces such as Kennerley and Italian Old Style (and, as mentioned, Californian) channel the Venetian spirit to create new works in the old genre.

    It seems to me that there are two quite distinct facets of this broad Venetianism — those faces like Cloister and Centaur which are quite literal revivals of old Nic’s masterpiece, and those such as the Golden Type, Italian Old Style, Hightower, Goodchild, and now Houston, which are “neo-“.

    Interesting that Christian’s Houston is a revival of a revival, each taking letterform liberties with its model. I would be interested in hearing further as to why the angled stroke of the crossbar on the “e” was abandoned — to me this is the defining character of the Jenson/Venetian style (along with the “extra” serifs on the M). It’s a feature I kept in Goodchild — incidentally a news text Jenson revival that I designed and released in 2002.

    I note that a serif has also been added to the tail of Houston’s “y”.

    I can understand that the angled “e” crossbar may be problematic; I’ve received complaints from publishers about it, and also the “missing” serif on the tail of Goodchild’s “y”! However, I wonder if these features are really an impediment to readers, or just features that publishers notice when they inspect the font at large size. I am inclined to suspect that the Venetian “e” is not really a problem (after all, Berkeley is well used in newspapers, especially of the community variety), but that without a serif on the tail of the “y”, it is too easily entangled with the ascenders of letters on the line beneath.

    Very nice typeface — a deft treatment of massive Morrisonian features, which have previously only been tamed by rounding them off (eg Veronese, and that Letraset face). I particularly like the abrupt serifs on the Bold caps such as A, V, etc., and the alternate “italics” — a splendid way to extend hierarchy within the strict look of a periodical.

  7. Hrant says:

    > It was Christian who insisted
    > on trying the style for text.

    Good for him!
    So do you think this will now encourage a certain “intelligent playfulness” in news font design?

    hhp

  8. nick shinn says:

    And props to Danilo Black for putting Mr Schwartz on the “front page” of their web site.

  9. Hrant says:

    Cool.

    BTW, did the LA Times re-redesign, or is it a gradual process? Because they did do a redesign recently, and back then it was a FB-only thing, I think.

    hhp

  10. Hrant says:

    I’ve finally started reading John Berry’s “Contemporary Newspaper Design” (a multiply signed copy I bought at the TypeCon auction), and my question is fully answered in Roger Black’s piece, “Gradual Big Bang at the Los Angeles Times”.

    The strong interplay of politics and design in that still-evolving effort is fascinating, and attests to the fact that we never really work in a vacuum (as might seem from our insular discussions on board such as this). The book also has many other fine contributions – I think it’s required reading for anybody into news type.

    hhp

  11. Al says:

    The best thing I can say about the Houston Chronicle is good riddance to its demise and oncoming fall. It was part of the “old guard” the ran the City of Houston and ran it into the ground. Bye-Bye to the Chronicle and the local Houston tv news stations.

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Typographica is a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design. Edited by Stephen Coles and designed by Chris Hamamoto. Founded in 2002 by Joshua Lurie-Terrell. Relaunched in 2009 by Coles and Hamamoto.

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