Typograffy Underground

A Brief History of the Typographic Form

The written form, as our primary method of communication, is one that has developed over the course of our own evolution. Initially as symbolic representations, later as more complicated ideograms, and finally as the phoenenetic equivalent called the alphabet, type is the root of our ability to create, document, and share ideas.

sumerian tablet hate and friendship

Early Stages

The debut of written language comes in the middle of the 4th millenium BCE by the Sumerians who used pictograms as an agricultual recording technique. Pictograms - symbols of objects or concepts, were basically abstractions of the objects or concepts that they represented.

Similarly, pictograms could be used to represent other concepts such as emotions. The crossed lines representing hatred and the parallel lines presenting harmony or friendship. These ancient emoticons are surely epochal in the progression of our writting form, but there are obvious limitations in their ability to represent more complex concepts and ideas.

Around 3000 BCE, writing forms took more of a linear appearance created by a wedge tipped utensil called a stylus. The wedge tip made it difficult to draw curves in the clay, resulting in a very line intensive form reffered to as Cuneiform Writing , which derives from the Latin cuneus, meaning "wedge".


The next big step occurs 2000 BCE. At this stage, pictograms begin to represent more than objects and simple concepts, but sound as well. By the graces of the tongue, Phoentic writing liberated us from the limitations of pictograms by widening the range of communicative modes. The combination of pictograms such as "bee" and "leaf" would together, represent "belief". We still see some phonographs in contemporary writing, such as $ for dollar, % for a percentage, and ? delineating a question.

Generally credited with creating the first true alphabet to represent a set of spoken sounds, the Phoenician merchants used it primarily as a standard asea and thus spread it to many other regions including Rome and Greece. The Greek adaptation of the phoenetic system gave way to the art of handwriting, where style would eventually find its home. The Romans displayed a system for the styles which they used in their script. Rigid and formal scripting were used for official documentation. Quicker informal scripting was used for writing letters or listing. The Romans also developed the casing variations in script and later on, punctation marks.

Jump ahead 1,000 years of development and you have the book industry. Flourishing under the new reverence for the art of writing, Manuscript preparation was a profitable and regarded craft of the time. Books are highly valuable and with value comes industry.

metal tiles

Movable Type

The earliest systems for printing were developed in China around 1040 AD during the Song Dynasty. The Goryeo Dynasty of Korea, made it metal and moveable in 1230 AD because metal > ceramic or wood. Rudimentary in form, these moveable printing systems accomplished the job with thousands of individual tablets making printing an enormous task.

Then, there was Gutenberg.


Gutenberg, AKA Johannes Gutenbergheimer, invented the printing press in 1450. He not only invented it, but independently developed his moveable printing press in Europe. Words such as matrix type casting, hand mould, and antimony are synonymous with Gutenberg. He really changed the game of type setting and moveable printing. His innovations would give birth to the world of typography and the fonts that come with it. Enough said.