One of 25 installments in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite (and least favorite) typefaces.
DATA 70 | BOB NEWMAN | 1970
Typefaces’ style lends a subtext to this most literal form of text, and the swelling boxy curves and slim verticals of Data 70 were meant to make you think of a physicality contained in the oncoming ephemerality of computer culture. They derived from the dashes and squares of punchcard-reading machinery, and thus gave a material distinction to the letter-formation that still relied on solid processes, even though the brawny mechanisms involved were the thing we had previously feared would replace what we humans had to offer. The industrial revolution might have made our muscles redundant, and the thinking machine might do the same for our minds — so it was reassuring to imagine that even a robot-brain overlord would at least need someone living to attend it.
Hence the streamlined tabs of Data 70, like chic, TV-screen-cornered descendants of the blobs of ink and quill. The stepped contours of its letters were slightly more aerodynamic heirs to the stiff human figures of archetypal Egyptian hieroglyphics. In this way the font peopled its sentences and humanized its templates. It was also declaratively unnecessary; the implicit adornment of its off-center spaces and popped-out flares was surplus to the kinds of functional fonts by which machines, both literal and social, have communicated with themselves — military stenciling, austere teletype readouts. Ornament suggests choice, and leisure, and spare time for unscheduled dreaming; the pleasing present we still wanted to live in. Data 70, after all, overtook the now, not the next — it was ubiquitous in the 1970s as a signifier for what was modern. But even then we knew the real future wasn’t likely to look that way.
The font’s embellishments proceeded directly from the flourishes of 1960s psychedelic lettering, that progression a contract with the idea of an unbroken succession of period-defining aesthetics, Data 70 being a graffiti-tag of the utopian outer-spaciness that complemented drug-culture’s arcadian inward psychological journeys. (True to the hippie ethic it also of course apparently popularized, repurposed and beautified the MICR — Magnetic Ink Character Recognition — typeface seen on bank checks from the 1950s to this day; a functional 14-character Newspeak to Data 70’s flowing sci-fi soliloquies.)
Futura, a font that is suddenly everywhere you look in the 2010s, is future-y; a reboot of stylish but antiseptic deco-era systems of expression, with its fulsome but unwavering curves and akimbo angles — assured, machined, but the kind of thing you imagine labeling the future, not composing it (as the trippy sculpted shapes of Data 70 seem to do). And OCR A Standard is more than just a standard; it’s pervasive, and sometimes in the sinister connotations of that term — martial, functional, it’s the visual language of every drone and surveillance-camera spy-drama, seen mostly through veils of computer screens, the readout in some cyborg’s eye, the warning-sign on an era of dangerous activity and immaterial messages you can’t prove you saw.
The future, by definition, is something we’re not ready for, and this gets truer the more our technology lets it speed up to meet us. Data 70 was the fanciful logo of a tomorrow that would always feel far off, and that we were happy to wait for.
2014: KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (typefaces): Matthew Battles on ALDINE ITALIC | Adam McGovern on DATA 70 | Sherri Wasserman on TORONTO SUBWAY | Sarah Werner on JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | Douglas Wolk on TODD KLONE | Mark Kingwell on GILL SANS | Joe Alterio on AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | Suzanne Fischer on CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | Gary Panter on SHE’S NOT THERE | Deb Chachra on FAUX DEVANAGARI | Peggy Nelson on FUTURA | Tom Nealon on JENSON’S ROMAN | Rob Walker on SAVANNAH SIGN | Tony Leone on TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | Chika Azuma on KUMON WORKSHEET | Chris Spurgeon on ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | Amanda French on DIPLOMA REGULAR | Steve Price on SCREAM QUEEN | Alissa Walker on CHICAGO | Helene Silverman on CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | Tim Spencer on SHATTER | Jessamyn West on COMIC SANS | Whitney Trettien on WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | Cintra Wilson on HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | Jacob Covey on GOTHAM.
2013: HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (old-school hip hop tracks): Luc Sante on “Spoonin’ Rap” | Dallas Penn on “Rapper’s Delight” | Werner Von Wallenrod on “Rappin’ Blow” | DJ Frane on “The Incredible Fulk” | Paul Devlin on “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | Phil Dyess-Nugent on “That’s the Joint” | Adam McGovern on “Freedom” | David Abrams on “Rapture” | Andrew Hultkrans on “The New Rap Language” | Tim Carmody on “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | Drew Huge on “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | Oliver Wang on “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | Douglas Wolk on “Making Cash Money” | Adrienne Crew on “The Message” | Dart Adams on “Pak Jam” | Alex Belth on “Buffalo Gals” | Joshua Glenn on “Ya Mama” | Phil Freeman on “No Sell Out” | Nate Patrin on “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | Brian Berger on “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | Cosmo Baker on “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | Colleen Werthmann on “Rockit” | Roy Christopher on “The Coldest Rap” | Dan Reines on “The Dream Team is in the House” | Franklin Bruno on The Lockers.
2012: KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Captain Kirk scenes): Dafna Pleban: Justice or vengeance? | Mark Kingwell : Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | Nick Abadzis: “KHAAAAAN!” | Stephen Burt: “No kill I” | Greg Rowland: Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Zack Handlen: Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| Peggy Nelson: The joke is on Kirk | Kevin Church: Kirk vs. Decker | Enrique Ramirez: Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Adam McGovern: Captain Camelot | Flourish Klink: Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | David Smay: Federation exceptionalism | Amanda LaPergola: Wizard fight | Steve Schneider: A million things you can’t have | Joshua Glenn: Debating in a vacuum | Kelly Jean Fitzsimmons: Klingon diplomacy | Trav S.D.: “We… the PEOPLE” | Matthew Battles: Brinksmanship on the brink | Annie Nocenti: Captain Smirk | Ian W. Hill: Sisko meets Kirk | Gabby Nicasio: Noninterference policy | Peter Bebergal: Kirk’s countdown | Matt Glaser: Kirk’s ghost | Joe Alterio: Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | Annalee Newitz: How Spock wins
2011: KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (Jack Kirby panels): Douglas Rushkoff on THE ETERNALS | John Hilgart on BLACK MAGIC | Gary Panter on DEMON | Dan Nadel on OMAC | Deb Chachra on CAPTAIN AMERICA | Mark Frauenfelder on KAMANDI | Jason Grote on MACHINE MAN | Ben Greenman on SANDMAN | Annie Nocenti on THE X-MEN | Greg Rowland on THE FANTASTIC FOUR | Joshua Glenn on TALES TO ASTONISH | Lynn Peril on YOUNG LOVE | Jim Shepard on STRANGE TALES | David Smay on MISTER MIRACLE | Joe Alterio on BLACK PANTHER | Sean Howe on THOR | Mark Newgarden on JIMMY OLSEN | Dean Haspiel on DEVIL DINOSAUR | Matthew Specktor on THE AVENGERS | Terese Svoboda on TALES OF SUSPENSE | Matthew Wells on THE NEW GODS | Toni Schlesinger on REAL CLUE | Josh Kramer on THE FOREVER PEOPLE | Glen David Gold on JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | Douglas Wolk on 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY | MORE EXEGETICAL COMMENTARIES: Joshua Glenn on Kirby’s Radium Age Sci-Fi Influences | Chris Lanier on Kirby vs. Kubrick | Scott Edelman recalls when the FF walked among us | Adam McGovern is haunted by a panel from THE NEW GODS | Matt Seneca studies the sensuality of Kirby’s women | Btoom! Rob Steibel settles the Jack Kirby vs. Stan Lee question | Galactus Lives! Rob Steibel analyzes a single Kirby panel in six posts | Danny Fingeroth figgers out The Thing | Adam McGovern on four decades (so far) of Kirby’s “Fourth World” mythos | Jack Kirby: Anti-Fascist Pipe Smoker