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Otl Aicher's and Gudrun Zapf von Hesse's secret love child

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I think that John Hudson's latest post nailed it: the problem isn't just that the c and e look odd, but that they look odd in the company of the other letters. That is really not good. You can do almost anything with a letter, but it has to work with the other letters in the design. That's probably as near to a 'law' as you get in type design.

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Discussions of "c" versus "e" versus "o" are a side-show.
Rotis is relevant not really as a collection of letters, but
as a design philosophy (or rather, the beginnings of
one). When John feels compelled to compare it against
the work of Bloemsma, that's already saying a lot.


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I wasn't comparing, I was contrasting: Bloemsma's work is serious, thorough and challenging; Rotis is half-baked, lazy and superficial. Was I compelled to make such a contrast? More importantly, was I compelled by Rotis? -- no, I was responding to James' comments, which I thought gave Rotis far more credit than it is due. Seriously, take out those two dramatic lowercase letters that don't fit with the others, and what is left? Some very arbitrarily proportioned but conservative shapes. Rotis is a bit like listening to a very tentative musical composition in which a couple of 'daring' dischordant harmonies are thrown in to make it seem avant garde.

I doubt if I have anything more to add to this thread, and I don't enjoy criticising typefaces, especially when the designer isn't alive to respond.

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I just pulled the ('88 edition, obviously) book from out of the office library – it's excellent. Both in research and writing.
I've just read van Krimpens On Designing and Devising Type, and man, the guy cannot finish a sentence. It just goes on and on and... So it's refreshing to read Aichers prose. Well illustrated and a nice layout. But the only thing that disturbs the discriminating eye is, well, the type. I'm sorry.

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I think John's observations are limited by what he sees as the only functional and artistic process to design an alphabet. Evert Bloemsma and Otl Aicher (besides living in entirely different places and times) worked with letters in different means. It's clear Bloemsma strived to refresh and perfection arrangements of forms, while Otl was working on a visual level with cultural and ideologic elements. Since the latter are not planned in John's approach (but they are present, since they are unavoidable), he sees Rotis only on a functional/formal level, while the life of a typeface can by no means be measured by that alone.
I don't know what Bloemsma could have designed, if he witnessed nazism (Aicher was 17 when he got involved in the White Rose movement) and lived in Germany during World War Two.

Nick's observations about the [c] and [e] are important, but I never noticed them, since I was always fascinated by Rotis as a whole. It shows it sometimes doesn't work so well, but I don't have to set books with it, maybe catalogues or some magazine.

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OK, I think you should forget Bloemsma, his oeuvre isn't part of John's point anyway, far as I understand it.
Whatever engagement Aicher had against the Nazis has absolutely no value in determining if Rotis is good or bad (it's bad, by the way).
If you want to discover genius at work, I suggest You rather take a look at Aichers visual identity work for the 1972 Olympics in Munich. It's superb graphic design.

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@Fredo: I did not speak of "engagement", I was talking about historical context.
I consider a work by that angle as well, it makes no sense to consider just "functionality" if you forget all the rest…

I still have not found a convincing argument about Rotis being "badly designed", as I look at it I still think it's very good, (and innovative), until someone shows me some other author did a similar thing a years before Aicher.

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Since the latter are not planned in John’s approach (but they are present, since they are unavoidable), he sees Rotis only on a functional/formal level, while the life of a typeface can by no means be measured by that alone.

The life of a typeface, no, but then lots of not very good typefaces have been very popular indeed, including typefaces that functionally are very much worse than Rotis. The life of a typeface -- how it is used, the place it comes to have in design or cultural history -- is often a reflection of 'cultural and ideologic elements' that are external to the design. The life of Helvetica is an obvious example.

The historical context of a thing is often interesting, and can sometimes suggest criteria for judging that thing which might not otherwise have been considered. But when the thing in question is a typeface there are prerequisite criteria.

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Ninfa? Oh. Yeah. :-)

I like the hybrid effect: a lot of bulges and a lot of flats too. And I like seeing the trapping (although I wonder why the caps don't have any). The only thing that bothers me is the ungainly vertical serifs, like in the "T" (and the "Z"/"z") especially in the Bold. Oh, and I like the fact that it doesn't have italics.

Some smaller crits:
The "M" is out of balance; the "t" is out of character; the florin should slant; the daggers are ugly; and the eszet could without the stub.


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I could never understand all this criticism towards Rotis. Though it's not my favorite typeface ever, there is not much I dislike in it. The unusual e and c give a nice twist of personality to a somewhat conservative design, thus making it very useful for specific works where seriousness and readability must go together well with uniqueness (bank identity, corporate communication). The sans serif - serif variations are among the best I've seen (and also among the very first ones). And saying that it's easy to read e instead of c is irrelevant - you really must have a serious problem to make this kind of mistake when reading a text.

I'm glad I dedicated a chapter of my book to Rotis. It deserves it.


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