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Old 11-17-2006, 09:54 AM   #1
iamback
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Originally Posted by roaryg View Post
And I never imagined I would spend time actually debating it, such a horrid font.
So what is it that makes ArialNarrow so horrid?

   
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Old 11-17-2006, 10:23 AM   #2
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So what is it that makes ArialNarrow so horrid?
It's not Helvetica Narrow, I think they mean! But all 'narrow' fonts depart from the optimum shape (at least from what the designer thinks is the optimum), otherwise there wouldn't be a 'narrow'.

   
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Old 11-17-2006, 01:04 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by iamback View Post
So what is it that makes ArialNarrow so horrid?
Mainly, because it was not designed to be a condensed (or other sort of narrow) type.

The reason lies in history: When released by Microsoft, Arial was a knockoff of the set of Helvetica fonts in the early LaserWriter PostScript printers.

The original Helvetica came only in regular widths. Users could have a “condensed” version by selecting a menu item called Helvetica Narrow, but that was not a set of font outlines. Instead it invoked a PostScript routine that reduced the width of the regular characters by 20 percent. Later Adobe/Apple created a set of fonts that mimicked that process, and that is what Monotype/Microsoft copied when it released Arial.

What’s wrong with this? Computers make lousy type designers. The result is a “meatloaf-on-a-toothpick” effect. You can see the difference by comparing Helvetica or Arial Narrow with Helvetica Condensed, which is designed to set more narrowly.

In the attachment: See how the curves are pinched looking in the two lower examples (Helvetica Regular condensed mechanically by 20 percent and Arial Narrow, designed to match).
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Old 11-17-2006, 02:15 PM   #4
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KT:

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What’s wrong with this? Computers make lousy type designers.
I can quite believe that, but I am not convinced that either Helvetica or Arial could be profitably made narrower. If you want a font that doesn't set as wide as Helvetica (or Arial), why not choose a different font?

The designers of Arial Narrow are given as Nicholas and Saunders, incidentally.

   
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Old 11-17-2006, 02:58 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by ktinkel View Post
What’s wrong with this? Computers make lousy type designers. The result is a “meatloaf-on-a-toothpick” effect. You can see the difference by comparing Helvetica or Arial Narrow with Helvetica Condensed, which is designed to set more narrowly.

In the attachment: See how the curves are pinched looking in the two lower examples (Helvetica Regular condensed mechanically by 20 percent and Arial Narrow, designed to match).
I don't understand your "meatloaf-on-a-toothpick", what you mean to describe with that. Or with "pinched" curves. A matter of vocabulary, I guess. <shrug/>

What I am seeing is that the curves of Arial Narrow are rounder than those of Helvetica Condensed, and that in the latter there is more space between the individual letters (helped by the more "flattened" ovals). I am sure that would make the latter better legible at smaller point sizes (but I actually prefer the shape of the Arial and 20% sqished Helvetica with the somewhat rounder ovals - as long as the size is large enough so legibility is not a challenge).

What I cannot see however is how Helvetical condensed compares to Arial Narrow with the same text - do they set at equal width?

And also: Simply squishing at 20% is not very sophisticated (though what I'm seeing is really two different typefaces with different usage conditions) but that doesn't imply that computers are bad at creating a narrower typeface from a regular one - at most it means that it was given a a stupid algorithm to use and should have been using one that more closely mimicked what a human would do going from one to the other. Like squishing the ovals a bit extra and generally providing extra white space for legibility (rather than condensing that along with the glyphs) - in fact the Helvetica Condensed looks like it was squished a bit more but then given a bit more space between the letters so the resulting width would be 20% less (or so). Making the horizontals equally a bit narrower (like your capital T illustrates) so they match the verticals could also be part of the algorithm. Applying such rules is not beyond a computer. It's not the computer that is the bad designer - it was the human that came up with such an overly-simplistic algorithm.

   
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Old 11-17-2006, 03:24 PM   #6
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KT:

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You can see the difference by comparing Helvetica or Arial Narrow with Helvetica Condensed
I've now looked at samples of Helvetica Narrow and Helvetica Neue Condensed at the Linotype site; I don't see any difference between the two, probably because I lack your expert eye. But it appears that there was never a Helvetica 'Condensed'.

I still think that if you constructed samples of Helvetica Narrow, Arial Narrow, and Helvetica Neue Condensed without any of the obvious give-away letters, you would have extreme difficulty in deciding that one was uglier than the other.

By the way: is squishing any different from squashing?

   
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Old 11-18-2006, 01:20 AM   #7
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By the way: is squishing any different from squashing?
Squishing is horizontal, squashing vertical. Clearly the 20% squishing needs to be supplemented by 20% squashing of the horizontals.

   
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Old 11-18-2006, 01:26 AM   #8
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Originally Posted by Michael Rowley View Post
I've now looked at samples of Helvetica Narrow and Helvetica Neue Condensed at the Linotype site; I don't see any difference between the two, probably because I lack your expert eye. But it appears that there was never a Helvetica 'Condensed'.
I've tried that but could not find the samples - can you give URLs for the two?

   
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Old 11-18-2006, 05:46 AM   #9
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Originally Posted by Michael Rowley View Post
I can quite believe that, but I am not convinced that either Helvetica or Arial could be profitably made narrower. If you want a font that doesn't set as wide as Helvetica (or Arial), why not choose a different font?
That was not the question. However, there are condensed (and compressed) versions of Helvetica, and some of them are quite useful.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Rowley
The designers of Arial Narrow are given as Nicholas and Saunders, incidentally.
That would be Robin Nicholas and Patricia Saunders, from Monotype.

   
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Old 11-18-2006, 06:03 AM   #10
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Originally Posted by iamback View Post
"meatloaf-on-a-toothpick"
The disproportionate thickness of the crossbar on the “narrow” versions.

Quote:
Originally Posted by iamback
I actually prefer the shape of the Arial and 20% sqished Helvetica with the somewhat rounder ovals
Well, all I can say is de gustibus non est disputandem! I find it hard to understand how anyone could prefer the s, the e, or the bowl of d in the narrow versions to the ones in the designed condensed Helvetica, however. But my reference point is Helvetica itself, not an anonymous set of type characters.

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Originally Posted by iamback
What I cannot see however is how Helvetica condensed compares to Arial Narrow with the same text - do they set at equal width?
Nope. I was contrasting mechanically narrowed type with designed condensed type.

Quote:
Originally Posted by iamback
Simply squishing at 20% is not very sophisticated (though what I'm seeing is really two different typefaces with different usage conditions) but that doesn't imply that computers are bad at creating a narrower typeface from a regular one.
Of course. But it was in fact the way it was done in this case, and that bit of history is why Arial Narrow today looks the way it does.

Most commercial fonts today make use of computer interpolation from weight to weight at some stage of production — this is a completely different thing from what was done with these narrow forms, however.

   
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