By Simon Johnston – September 14, 2016
By Simon Johnston
September 14, 2016

Fixed-width or monospace fonts are a curiously overlooked subject in standard typographic texts, and are often perceived as the clumsy mechanical cousins of humanistic proportional typefaces. For example, the subject does not even rate a mention in the indexes of Bringhurst, Lupton, or Kinross. Yet no other typographic forms better or more obviously represent the convergence of visible language and technology. From the earliest typewriters, to telegraphic systems, dot matrix printers, seven-segment displays, and fixed-width characters for coding purposes, the functional letterforms created for these communication systems are always a response to particular technological parameters.

monospace monospace

I recently challenged one of my Type 3 classes to research, design and install a small display and catalogue on the subject of monospace fonts, with advice and critique coming from our first typographer-in-residence Laurenz Brunner. Working in teams, each allocated a predetermined research chapter, the students developed a pragmatic, modular system based on standard 8.5 x 11 sheets which could be displayed on walls, but also double as pages of the catalogue. A utilitarian grid of black electrical tape provided a graphic framework for the pages in the narrow corridor display space.

monospace monospace

Thanks to students Angela Baek, Ashley Jo, Benin Marshall, Chanjoo Yoon, Debbie Pan, Derrick Chang, Jack Burnside, Jihyun Kim, Karen Wang, Laura Proenza, Lina Yu, Suyu Ren, Tiffany Ho, Youra Oh, and Zinc Wang, and TA Nohemy Ramos. Thanks also to Laurenz for the lively discussions, curatorial collaboration, and project critique.

watch the monospace catalogue video