Concepts : Printing & Typography (and History)

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From - The Past, The Present & The Future

Musings by Genisys Consultant, Nigel

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I think Printing & Typography (and History) are interesting subjects… OK, I'm a sad case.

Printing caused an information explosion, computers have had the same effect - but a thousand times larger… What do you think is the potential effect of the Internet ?

When you consider that every book was handwritten and almost no 'ordinary' person had one, let alone a library before around 1470 {*}.

"To those who have grown up with television, radio, magazines, books, movies, faxes and networked computer communications it is difficult to describe just how much of a revolution printing was." {a brief history of type }

I remember well:- Turning out my first pricelists on a borrowed Gestetner duplicator - literally on the handle, and what a labour it was: My enthusiasm when technology developed Offset-Litho in a 'desk-top' machine I could own - and the effort and time it took to produce artwork. Needing to attend to the real businesses at that time, meant sending the material out for typesetting - which was costing £900 a throw - we didn't do it too frequently.

But bulk letters and promotional literature - in colour at 120 a minute, sure boosted our marketing efforts and its' results.

Business systems:-

I had an associate and friend in the same business - except that his had probably a quarter of the entire countries wholesale turnover - in horticultural sundries, and a couple of colleagues in FWID (Federation of Wholesale & Industrial Distributors) - who had their own computers: Not 'main frames', they were still costing millions, but 'minis' with twenty to thirty terminals… You could start with one of these and a couple of terminals from around £125,000. They would turn out two to three hundred invoices an hour, keep track of the stock, the debtors and creditors… wow! But that was way out of my league, so I kept going to exhibitions & seminars, looking at the state-of-the-art non-computer business machines and systems, none of which really measured up to the needs or expectations..

Then the first micro-computers came on the market, initially in kits around 1973-4, followed by a handful of complete units in '74-5 - I borrowed a couple on the basis that I'd feed back any commercially useful development work, but I had to admit that programming at machine code level using Octal & later Hexadecimal notation was just too time consuming - and harder than setting up the likes of the Olivetti Mercator & NCR32 invoicing machines we had.

The third computer I borrowed came with a programming language and what a difference - now you could type in what you wanted it to do. The language was Altair Disk Basic - which although I didn't know it - or about him at the time, turned out to be Bill Gates' first product.

A mere thousand odd working hours later - and 'Suddenly', we had the most up-to-date wholesale pricing reference material saving the trade hours & hours every week - and the business took off . But reproduction from the early dot-matrix printers wasn't exactly aesthetic, so catalogues which had to look 'professional' still went out to printers and would cost around £15,000. 

In efficiency terms - In the mid seventies inflation got up to 27% ( I believe the official figures differ, but I was there - and had to deal with it.). I had three sales office staff - and three representatives, who all spent more time updating our own copies of the pricelist and answering trade enquiries than actually taking orders. There was a lot of pressure… Not to get the computer operational, but to quit 'playing' with it and get back on the job. ( Albeit I was the MD, my colleagues all felt that I'd wasted £14,000 on a personal toy and was skiving off for much of the three to six months it took to get this imposition on their working lives to do something practical ). The computer replaced the electro-mechanical systems we'd been using (and which shook the office in operation, failing a couple of times a week when the screw-on metal tags fell off the program bars mounted on the massive typewriter style carriage, or flies and other bugs expired amongst the levers).

But, price-list updating was reduced to about half a day a week for one person; anyone - including the drivers and warehouse staff could produce an invoice; the quarterly distribution of up-to-date price lists virtually eliminated incoming price enquiries and shortened the order taking process; there were no directly related job losses, and output soared. Was it worth it ?

- and back to Typography via Word Processing :-

Wordstar was one of the 'killer applications' which launched the micro-computer revolution. Along with 'Visicalc' and running on a 'common operating system' (CP/M), for the first time lots of different systems could run the same packages. Personalised bulk mail; automated credit control letters and all manner of office tasks became practical and affordable - but the output options were limited : Invoices were ok from a 'dot-matrix' all in one size uppercase : A bit later, letters looked quite professional from a 'daisy-wheel' printer - but you couldn't do italics or headings because basically these were just electronic typewriters.

And just by the way - for those looking at current computing costs, my daisy-wheel printer cost £1,800.

'Lasers' took away the character size and shape limitations, but each individual had to be loaded - or already resident. That is, a different one for each size and style - Bold, Italic, underlined etc. and you had to buy them specifically. 

The world changed when Adobe launched 'Postscript'… and scaleable fonts. But it could take up to 20 minutes to produce the first page - what a pain if you got it wrong, so this was only used for 'origination' - after that it was photocopies or back to the printers.

WYSIWYG (What you see is what you get) was just getting off the ground and although often inaccurate - it was great - when compared with not being able to see what you were doing. 

Then Apple & Microsoft spent extreme efforts to bring TrueType to market. Microsoft launched it with Windows 3.1 - and now… with Colour Inkjets - and Colour Lasers, anyone can roll off commercial quality documents.

It just seems a bit of a shame that we all take it so for granted !

To use a type font, that is to be able to edit text and reproduce it - it does have to be installed in the computer. If it's not, then the only way to present it is as a graphic - non editable image, from say, an art package.

A significant point here, is that should you produce something in a standard word processed document which contains any 'additional' fonts, and forward it for others to read… It won't look the same unless they have the same fonts installed - and of course the program itself.

Some word processors - including Microsoft Word '95 and later, allow fonts to be 'embedded', but it's not a default setting. Adobe addressed this and many other hurdles when they produced 'Acrobat', and released the 'Portable Document Format' (PDF). The 'read only' version of Acrobat is available free allowing anyone to view even complex multi-media material just as the author laid it out. 

Acrobat Reader is - or should have been - loaded on all company systems. ( It's also readily available from the Utilities area.)

For those based in the Romford Head Office, there's what I think might be an interesting example of what can be done with a font… The Havering Logo is scaleable, built using font metrics – it’s too complex for a single character, but if you get a copy, try highlighting it and changing the font – something like Arial or Times Roman : It’s ‘abcdefjhijklmno’ and HAS to be embedded as mentioned above – otherwise all the recipient will see – is half an alphabet.

Fonts have become so commonplace and easily copied, that nearly all the originators have gone out of business. It's one of the negative aspects of easy data-transfer that copyrights are run-over roughshod: people do have to make a living, and there's an awful lot of work involved.

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