Matthew Carter’s career coincided with dramatic technological developments in typeface design brought about by the spread of computers as universal design and production tools. Carter began when typefaces were families of lead blocks, one for each character or punctuation mark, and a series of blocks for each style and for each point size, and then moved seamlessly to the digital realm when commissioned by the telecom company AT&T. On the company’s hundredth anniversary, Carter created Bell Centennial, a typeface designed to solve a technical and aesthetic problem introduced by changing technology. Bell Gothic, the company’s existing typeface, had been designed for use on a linotype printing press, and its letterforms became eroded when run through the new offset presses, especially when used in lighter weights. Printers attempted to correct the problem by adding more ink, overcoating the type and making the letters harder to read. Using CRT composition, Carter increased the widths of the letters to prevent the separation of strokes (where the leg of an h meets its stem, for example) or the crowding of letters at small sizes. Carter also compensated for the thin ink and cheap newsprint used for phonebooks by creating “ink traps” where the strokes of the letters come together; they fill in with ink, creating a well-formed (not over-inked) letter.
Gallery label from Standard Deviations, 2011.