Polar Bears




Helvetica: Extra Interview with Erik Spiekermann

Erik Spiekermann-Extra Interview

Though my blog post is a little behind, I wanted to write about the documentary our class watched on Helvetica. Though typeface may seem like a pretty boring subject at first, watching the documentary can really get you interested in the typeface of ads, signs, texts, etc. As Dr. Davis pointed out, watching the film can make you start paying attention to the typefaces around you.

The YouTube video I posted within this post is an extra interview with Erik Spiekermann, who does an interview during the Helvetica film. In the film, he comes off as a typeface designer who really hates how Helvetica has taken over modern typeface. However, this interview shows another side of his opinion on Helvetica; regarding Microsoft (the beginning of the interview is pretty amusing, you get to see the personal side of him, his obsession with typefaces, etc.).

During the second half of the interview, the viewer gets to see the competitive, corporate side of Typeface design—the history of Arial. According to Spiekermann, Arial came out of Microsoft’s desire to avoid paying licensing fees to the owners of Helvetica. Arial was designed by a few typeface designers at Monotype in Britain, at the request of Microsoft. The purpose: create a “Helvetica” typeface slightly different from Helvetica so that Microsoft would not have to pay licensing fees for the typeface. According to Spiekermann, Helvetica is a “perfect” typeface for its purposes, and because Microsoft had Helvetica redesigned, they actually made a perfect typeface worse (if something is perfect, it cannot be made better, only worse). The result: Spiekermann hates Arial because it effectively made Helvetica worse and set a benchmark as a bad design. He goes on to explain, negatively, what kind of company Microsoft is for doing such a thing to Helvetica.

In an economic sense, redesigning Helvetica to cut costs makes sense, but to the typeface world, Microsoft created a bad typeface, setting a benchmark for bad design across the typeface world. Though I am no expert on typefaces by any means, I can only hope that Arial does not continue to be the “benchmark” typeface that Spiekermann claims it to be.

Music Videos as Literature


Since the introduction of electronic literature I began thinking about how we can look at music videos as literature. The video I included was a Basshunter megamix that in Europe is seen as a story. They actually had a competition where people wrote what to do next in the story. If we look at stories as literature then I believe we can look at music videos as a form of literature. Many music videos tell stories that the songs describe. This video my roommate watches a good amount so I began watching it and realized it is a story. Music has always been used to tell stories and combined with technology videos may be used to illustrate the story the music tells. I spent some time looking through YouTube and found a few videos that illustrate the stories really well but I enjoyed this one most of all. I understand that literature is typically seen as books and but books are stories and music and music videos are stories as well. I don’t know that you can distinguish literature as something that is written because art can be literature as well. I believe literature is a story being told.

Video Games in the New York Public Library?

Jane McGonigal is one of the worlds most popular video game designers but her roots did not start sitting in front of a television screen. When she was 21 years old she went to the New York Public Library and educated herself in computer science and physics. She used what she had learned at the library to receive a degree from California in its graduate game design program. However she never forgot her roots at the library where she said “You almost feel like you could think bigger thoughts or dream bigger dreams.”. People think of our generation as overweight kids who would rather sit in front of a television than play outside or read a book, McGonigal is trying to change that image. She has created a smartphone based video game where the users partake in a scavenger hunt at the library and complete different challenges. She has named it “Find the Future”. Players will be able to download the app straight to there phones. After the items are downloaded the users must go to the library in person where they will take pictures of QR codes. These codes will be on 100 of the library’s more recognizable items. Once they find the items they will have to complete different objectives. For example, when a player finds Charles Dickens letter opener they will be asked to write a letter to someone they love. When they find the Declaration of Independence they will be asked write a declaration of their own. If the player complete the challenges they will be able to put all their works into a book that can be bound for a certain price. Once the first 500 users compile their works it will be bound and stored in the library for everyone to see. She hopes that these challenges will help bring history to life and get people to make some history of their own.



I had mentioned this article in class sometime in February and I think it’s worth taking a minute to read (whether on your iPad, or laptop, or, perhaps, if you happened to read it in the actual printed copy of the USA Today?!).

I’ll try to provide a quick synopsis and express a personal assessment of the article’s central theme.

The e-reader revolution and the digitalization of book sales are proving to be detrimental to bookstores’ sales. Many book chains, such as Borders and Books-a-Million, are feeling the pressure and are in a state of transition between closing their physical stores and shifting their catalogue toward a digital market by promoting their specific brand of the e-reader (e.g. Barnes & Noble with the “nook”).

The indications of this economic trend relocate the small bookstore to the role of the “underdog” in this drama. Surely if the heavy-hitters of the publishing industry can’t sell their books in chain stores like Borders, their answer can only be to “go digital,” right? Of course. How do small bookstores compete? Adapt.

This story features a unique adaptation of a small, privately-owned bookstore in Rhinebeck, New York. Their marketing strategy is aimed towards promoting the communal experience of the bookstore in a literary market of increasingly individualized and gradually more remote experiences found online and on e-readers. Suzanna Hermans suggests that her store places inherent value on the inimitable air of a locally owned and operated bookstore.

By expanding the “Children’s Books” section of her store, and promoting the appearances of touring authors and poets, Oblong Books has become an enjoyable place to buy books. Their public platform emphasizes their highly-specialized staff, and privileges the tailor-made customer assistance, which simply can’t be reproduced in an under-staffed, over-stocked book chain. Oblong employees even go as far as to assist their patrons with purchasing electronic texts for their e-readers through a partnership the store has with Google eBooks.

Oblong Books is an outlier in the undeniable digital trend of literature sales that has closed more than 1,000 small bookstores since 2000 – a number which is only going to increase with the declining prices of eReaders, and ever-increasing accessibility to eBooks.

Is it improbable to consider that eventually “books” as we know them today will eventually serve an arbitrary function as a niche collector’s item? Hopefully that’s not the case; however, as suggested in the Minzesheimer article, these eCasualties point toward an irreversible effect in the perceptions of readership and authorship in the twenty-first century.

A quick look into fonts

* When I linked the file from Microsoft Word, the different fonts would not transfer.  Sorry.

For my blog post, I decided to take a closer look at fonts and typefaces and see what other people thought about them and where they would be most appropriate.  For fun, see what each font makes you think and where each would be most appropriate.

What do you think of this typeface?  Calibri

Bland. Unemotional. Can be seen in a textbook or office report.

What do you think of this typeface? Bodoni MT

Professional. Educated. Can be seen being used in a survey or other professional handout.

What do you think of this typeface?  Impact

Grabs attention. Stunning. In-your-face. Aggressive. Can be seen being used in an ad or website.

What do you think of this typeface?  Baskerville Old Face

Timeless. Classic.  Can be seen in a novel or short story with dialog.

What do you think of this typeface? Harlow Solid Italic

Energy. Nightlife. Best used in street lights, signs, or in a poem.

What do you think of this typeface?  Lucida Handwriting

Comforting. Best used for an Elementary level handout or report.

What do you think of this typeface?  Curlz MT

Feminine. Most appropriate for an invitation to a girl’s party.

As you can see, and as you probably already know, all typefaces are different.  Not all are meant to represent the same situation.  Certain fonts, like Baskerville Old Face, are better used for more of a an old, yet still very respectable, piece of work, while fonts like Lucida handwriting are better suited for non-professional , elementary documents- notice how the font is size 12, but is much larger than Baskerville Old Face in size 12 font.  I had not really thought about the use/ impact of typefaces until recently, but it’s quite interesting how little notice is given to one of our most popular avenues of communication.

At the core of my English Capstone Project this semester is how storytelling provides a unique understanding of the natural world. This is because storytelling allows the author (storyteller) to adjust the overall message and emphasize certain aspects of a narrative depending on the audience at hand. Despite stories often being fictional, because they are adaptive and also allow the reader to enter into the narrative (story) they often provide the audience (reader) with an understanding more true than otherwise possible. However, modern print tradition largely replaced this collaboration between author and reader with the more static author-consumer relationship we have come to know today.  

In her article “Hypertext and the Role of Readers” Nancy Patterson suggests that hypertext has revived the “active” role of the reader and restores the dynamic relationship of the reader and writer: “Certainly a hypertext reader is more than just a consumer of the text. The hypertext reader seems more akin to the ancient audience of the storyteller–a collaborator. The hypertext reader is a deliberate force within the text itself, not divorced from the text, but a partner with both the author and the text”. Because hypertext allows the reader to navigate a text in his or her own manner and derive meaning from any part of the text, it allows the reader more freedom to develop his or her own interpretation of a text. Thus, a hypertext narrative supports Barthes notion of a text as “not a line of words releasing a single ‘theological’ meaning (the message of the Author-God), but a multi-dimensional space in which a variety of writings, non of them original, blend and clash” (116). Nevertheless, that is not to say that there are not those who feel that a hypertext reading not only devalues the role of the author, but also fundamentally changes the way we read in general.

In her article, Patterson uses Sven Birkerts and his article, The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in the Electronic Age to provide an opposing view. Birkerts feels that the reader needs the author to organize a narrative and to place a hierarchy of importance in a text, “delivering a mighty blow to the long-static writer-reader relationship. It changes the entire system of power upon which the literary experience has been predicated; it rewrites the contract from start to finish”. While Birkerts undoubtedly is correct in so much that hypertext dramatically changes the reading experience, is the change in the reader-writer relationship found in a hypertext reading necessarily a bad thing?

Hypertext is just another example of how technology is changing the relationship between the reader and writer. Just as scribes were known to alter texts before publication in the pre-print era, and storytellers altered their stories to better fit their audience, technology has been molding and shaping the role of the reader and writer for hundreds of years. Is the role of the author to create an all-knowing narrative to be passed down to their consumers? Or is the author—as Patterson would say—a choreographer guiding the reader in an interpretative dance? Browse over the article and tell me what you think…



Getting Reacquainted with the Book

The more we use e-readers, the easier it becomes to defamiliarize the book. Here are three videos that play on that strangeness.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhcPX1wVp38[/youtube]This second one has become a Youtube classic, with a host of imitations.

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pQHX-SjgQvQ[/youtube]This last one is a promo for a book by Lane Smith, who has collaborated with Jon Sciezka on a host of books, including my favorite homage to Tristram Shandy, The Stinky Cheese Man.


What makes up an author’s “work”?

Saw an interesting article (haven’t read it yet) about a recent edition of Elizabeth Bishop’s collected work released to celebrate the centenary of her birth. The author of the article takes issue with the way we’re using all of an author’s letters and various correspondance to augment her “real” work (poems and essays). I think we discussed this in class about a month ago, so I thought I’d add it here.


The Creation of the Author Persona

Wordsworth's Grave (photo by Nigel Wilson)

Grave of William Wordsworth (photo by Nigel Wilson)

The Author is alive and well, I don’t care what Barthes has to say. The truth about the Author is that he is as much a character within the text as anything else. We have seen consistently in our class how an author’s use of a pseudonym or how alterations in point of view affect the way the voice of the author is communicated. In participating in the long tradition of writing creative fiction doesn’t the author become, in a sense, part of the fiction? In attributing a poem to William Shakespeare doesn’t the poem change significantly? If not in literal meaning, in literary weight? What if I published a poem under the name W. Shakespere? What I am trying to make sense of, and what I want this blog to assert, is whether the author, in writing something fictional, should commit fully to the fictional world and separate the actual physical author with the fictional Author that Barthes has fondly pronounced dead.

What has changed in modern society is that the authors have become physical manifestations of the character that they want to attribute to their work. In a society that is becoming more and more dependent on Wikipedia pages and Facebook profiles, who is to say that what is online isn’t a perfect reflection of the person who posted it? People can control what pictures are posted; what is said about people; other people can tag people in different pictures – people can basically create exactly how other people see or know about them. Is this fiction? Yes. As soon as a person decides to participate in such a society a character is immediately born. And if that character happens to be an alcoholic genius who wears horn-rimmed glasses and has a feather in his hat and happens to write, to write very well, doesn’t this character become the Author? In even entering the literary world we are participating in fiction. In publishing fiction the Author is writing for a reader, for some sort of audience, and if the Author knows how his name will affect the reader – or maybe play a part in the meaning of the text – then wouldn’t the Author attempt in some way to influence the reader? The picture at the back of the novel with a figure looking into the distance off some cliff in contemplation – is that not part of the fiction? If the pretext of a novel can influence how the novel is perceived; if the font can alter the perception of a text; if the cover of a novel can affect the novel; then why shouldn’t the Author’s persona affect the work?

The problem today is that we live in a time of mass communication. Writers now want to have their cake and eat it too, and in order to make a living off writing an author needs to build that very name, that character, that Author to attribute to their work in order to begin developing an audience. And to have the audience is everything. Once the audience has been obtained and the Author is on the iPad and the Kindle, then the Author is able to be fully dissected by the mass media. References to the Authors persona manage to take on meanings that were otherwise unintended in the passage. Maybe I should have clarified what I meant when I said the Author is alive and well – I don’t want to go head to head with Barthes – I need to clarify my definition of the Author: The Author is the persona that is attached to the work through society; it is a fictional creation that manifests itself in the very participation of that text within society. So, in a sense, yes, the author is dead, but what has been created is the Author Persona. Barthes wanted to remove the author entirely from the text, in order to read the text critically unbiased. What I suggest is that the author use the Author Persona to his artistic advantage. The truth is that it shouldn’t matter who the author of a text is, unless it in some way affects the way the text is being read. The reader shouldn’t be influenced by anything that isn’t controlled by the author. In the creation of an Author Persona authors are able to more fully limit the meanings that can be gathered unintentionally, the authors are then able to direct the way the fiction should be read.

So that’s what I think about the Author.

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