Books On Books Collection – Wim Crouwel

New Alphabet: an introduction for a programmed typography (1967)

New Alphabet: an introduction for a programmed typography (1967)
Wim Crouwel
Booklet, 250 x 250 mm, 20 pages. Acquired from 27 April 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

This publication by the Dutch graphic designer and series editor, Pieter Brattinga, in his Kwadraatblad/Quadrat-prints series inaugurated a subset of responses from Gerard Unger, Timothy Epps and Christopher Evans, and Anthon Beeke.

Shocked by the very low resolution output of electronic type-setting machines and sparked by the challenge to define a type that, more than traditional types, would be suited for the speed of machine output (particularly composing systems with CRT — cathode-ray tubes) and still be readable by humans, Crouwel came up with the New Alphabet.

On the left, Crouwel’s introduction in New Alphabet; on the right, in Univers.

A double-page spread (not shown) explains the variables and rules for coding and resizing the letters. Clearly, from the side-by-side view of Crouwel’s introduction (above), humans would need to learn some new conventions (e.g., majuscules are designated by bars over miniscules) for the font to be readable. Some letters, such as “a” (below), would require recognition of an utterly different shape. Despite — or because of — that, the font appealed to album and magazine cover designers in the digital ’80s.

Disturbed by letting machines take precedence over the human eye, Gerard Unger, one of Crouwel’s colleagues, submitted a “counter proposal” — tellingly in handwriting. Juxtaposition of their lowercase “a’s” with Geofroy Tory’s majestic majuscules offers a counter-counter historic perspective on the art of the alphabet.

Clockwise: Tory, Crouwel and Unger.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

Wim Crouwel“, Iconofgraphics. n.d. Accessed 10 May 2021.

Timothy Epps and Christopher Evans“, Books On Books Collection, 26 April 2021.

Raffaella della Olga“, Books On Books Collection, 8 December 2020.

Gerard Unger“, Books On Books Collection, 12 May 2021.

Owens, Sarah. 2006. “Electrifying the Alphabet“, Eye, No. 62, Vol. 16. Accessed 25 April 2021.

Place, Michael and Nicola. “Striking The Eye: An Interview With Wim Crouwel“, Creative Review, 29 June 2007/20 September 2019. Accessed 10 May 2021.

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