The Casual Optimist

Books, Design and Culture

September 11, 2014
by Dan

NYCTA Graphics Standards Manual Reissue


If you’ve been on Twitter for past couple of days you’ll have no doubt noticed that the design community (or the sizeable type-obsessed segment of it) is very excited that designers Jesse Reed and Hamish Smyth, founders of, have started a Kickstarter project to reissue the 1970 NYC Transit Authority Graphics Standards Manual by Unimark’s Massimo Vignelli and Bob Noorda as a full-size, limited edition book:

Every single day, millions of New Yorkers rely on the subway to get around the city, and you can’t use the subway without encountering the signage designed by Unimark. Over the years many changes have taken place (such as the switch from Standard Medium to Helvetica), but it is a testament to the quality of the work that, 44 years later, the signage holds up.

And perhaps on a deeper level, the signage has given the subway a voice. When a lot of people think of New York City, these signs pop into their head. We feel a tremendous responsibility to publish not only an important piece of design history, but an important part of New York City’s history.

Even if you can’t afford the book itself — it starts at $133USD if you live in Canada, more if you are in the EU —  you can back the project for as little as $3, and the project’s video featuring Pentagram‘s Michael Bierut on the graphic standards manual is well worth watching:

You can also see scans from a copy of the manual discovered the basement of design firm Pentagram in 2012 on

September 9, 2014
by Dan

Type Safari with James Victore

While I’m posting typography videos, this is pretty fun too — designer James Victore tours around Brooklyn and Queens (in a jeep!) passing judgement on the local signs and street typography:

And if this is your thing, The Makeshift Society is organizing a series of evening events in Brooklyn about type and type design with a host of great speakers. (I guess we all need to move to Brooklyn!).

(via SwissMiss)

September 9, 2014
by Dan

Dan Rhatigan on type…Type on Dan Rhatigan


This is kind of amazing… Type designer Dan Rhatigan talking about his love of type, and his typographic tattoos:

And if you didn’t catch all that, Dan helpfully posted a list of his tattoos (as August 2014) on his website:

  1. R from unknown wood type
  2. & from Poetica by Robert Slimbach
  3. ü from Meta Bold by Erik Spiekermann
  4. s from Fette Fraktur
  5. K from the old Krispy Kreme logo
  6. g from Baskerville, based on types of John Baskerville
  7. § from Champion Gothic Middleweight by Jonathan Hoefler
  8. 7 from Century Oldstyle Bold by Morris Fuller Benton
  9. y from Cooper Black Italic by Oswald Cooper
  10. W from Whitney Bold by Tobias Frere-Jones
  11. z from Stilla by François Boltana
  12. r from Maple Medium by Eric Olson
  13. 2 from Ingeborg Block by Michael Hochleitner
  14. w from Actium Black Italic by Gerben Dollen
  15. a from Dolly Italic by Underware
  16. e from Sodachrome (Left and Right) by Ian Moore and Dan Rhatigan
  17. Y from Banco by Roger Excoffon
  18. Å from Leyton by Ian Moore
  19. C from De Little 30-Line 196
  20. H from Calypso by Roger Excoffon
  21. é from Gill Sans Ultrabold (Gill Kayo) by Eric Gill
  22. B from Festival Titling by Phillip Boydell
  23. ø from Bell Centennial Bold Listing by Matthew Carter

In another recent video, Dan talks about the design of Monotype’s Ryman Eco, “the world’s most beautiful sustainable font”, which apparently uses 33% less ink than standard fonts:

This promotional video for Ryman Eco is also nicely done:


September 8, 2014
by Dan

Previously Unknown Chapters of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory


Tom Gauld

September 3, 2014
by Dan
1 Comment

Book Covers of Note September 2014

It’s hard to believe it is already September, but here we are… time for another round of book covers!

If you’re new to this feature, each month I collect together new and recent covers that have caught my eye in the previous few weeks. Although the focus is on books released in the current month, the posts also include covers I’ve missed earlier in the year. You can find the previous month’s posts here.

Thanks (as always) to my local bookstores — Type Books on Queen West, Book City on the Danforth, and Indigo Bay & Bloor — for fighting the good fight (and their wonderful displays!).

Abbott Miller: Design and Content; design by Pentagram (Princeton Architectural Press / September 2014)

Polygraphe_Samuel Archibald
Arvida by Samuel Archibald; design by Catherine D’Amours / Pointbarre (Le Quartanier / August 2014)
Polygraphe_Samuel Archibald_mech
(this is an obvious miss from last month’s post about maps. Sorry Catherine!)

The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel; design by Rodrigo Corral Design; photograph Demurez/Glasshouse (Henry Holt / September 2014)

The City Under the Skin by Geoff Nicholson; design by Oliver Munday; photograph by George Baier IV (FSG / June 2014)

(Another one that should have been in the maps post. And yes, that really is someone’s back apparently)

The Establishment by Owen Jones; design by Richard Green (Allen Lane / September 2014)

Forensic Songs by Mike McCormack; design by Jason Booher (SOHO / July 2014)

God Telling a Joke by David Margoshes; design by David Drummond (Oolichan Books / May 2014)

Hack Attack by Nick Davies; design by David Drummond (Faber & Faber / August 2014)

The Histories by Herodotus; design by Coralie Bickford-Smith (Penguin Classics / September 2014)

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison; design by JP King (Penguin / August 2014)

Lippy by Bush Moukarzel; design by Jason Booher (Oberon Books / August 2014)

The Most Dangerous Animal of All by Gary L. Stewart with Susan Mustafa; design by Jarrod Taylor (HarperCollins / June 2014)

(I’m not endorsing the content of this book at all, but the red acetate cover does need to be seen in person to be fully appreciated)

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty; design by David High / High Design (W. W. Norton / September 2014)

The Transcriptionist by Amy Rowland; design by Keith Hayes (Algonquin Books / May 2014)

Wolf in White Van by John Darnielle; design by Timothy Goodman (FSG / September 2014)

Wittgenstein Jr by Lars Iyers; design by Christopher Brian King (Melville House / September 2014)

You by Zoran Drvenkar; design by Kelly Blair (Knopf / August 2014)

September 2, 2014
by Dan
1 Comment

The Art of Comics: Chris Ware


Cartoonist Chris Ware is interviewed by Canadian journalist Jeet Heer in the latest issue of The Paris Review as part of the magazine’s ongoing ‘The Art of Comics’ series. You can read a short excerpt online:

It was the Peanuts collections in my grandfather’s basement office that really stayed with me through childhood and into college. Charlie Brown, Linus, Snoopy, and Lucy all felt like real people to me… I’ve said it many times before, but Charles Schulz is the only writer I’ve continually been reading since I was a kid. And I know I’m not alone. He touched millions of people and introduced empathy to comics, an important step in their transition from a mass medium to an artistic and literary one.

September 2, 2014
by Dan

BUONA LA PRIMA! An Exhibition of the Best Italian Book Design


Italian design journalist Stefano Salis has kindly let me know about BUONA LA PRIMA!, an exhibition he has curated for the Artelibro Festival in Bologna later this month. For the exhibition, a committee of 15 professionals in the field of editorial graphics has selected the best Italian books covers published published in the past year. All 45 finalists (three for each judge) can be viewed on the Artelibro website, and visitors can vote for their favourite.


In addition to the prize assigned by popular vote, the jury of experts will also award a ‘Critics Prize’ to the best cover, in conjunction with the votes expressed by Ricardo Franco Levi, President of Artelibro, Romano Montroni, President of the Italian Center for the Book, and Giovanni Gregoletto, bibliophile and owner of Cantine Gregoletto that sponsor the exhibition.

The two winners will be announced on Sunday, September 21 at 12:30, with a toast at Palazzo Re Enzo.
BUONA LA PRIMA! opens Friday, September 12th at 6pm, in the Biblioteca d’Arte e di Storia di San Giorgio in Poggiale.

August 29, 2014
by Dan
1 Comment

Vol 459 Series Design by David Drummond


These stylish covers were designed by Canadian designer David Drummond for a series of new novels from Montreal-based publisher VLB éditeur. In the series, four different authors imagine the same plane journey on flight 459 from Paris. Planes on covers has spot UV:

9782896494866 9782896494880 9782896494903

August 28, 2014
by Dan

Only Lovers Left Alive


I finally saw Only Lovers Left Alive this weekend (it can’t come as any surprise that I don’t get out much!), and I just came across this recent interview with director Jim Jarmusch about the film on IndieWire:

I’ve probably stolen from all kinds of places, but not really consciously. There’s nothing in this film that I can consciously say that I was making a direct reference to a film, but just the things they mention and talk about in the film as inspirations for the characters are then inspirations for the film itself… The beauty of ideas is that they are like waves in the ocean and they connect with things that came before them, and I think it is very important to embrace things that interest you and influence you, and incorporate them into what you do, as all artists have always done. The ones that say they don’t, are lying. Or are afraid that their work won’t be seen as being original, somehow.

The film, which is very much about art and authorship, does feel pasted together with bits of Jarmusch’s influences and interests. I’m sure many people will find Only Lovers Left Alive frustrating (its snub of Chechov’s gun in particular), but it is beautiful to just watch it slowly unfold.

(And, if you are curious, the font used in the posters picture above is apparently FF Brokenscript designed by Just van Rossum)

August 22, 2014
by Dan

Luke Pearson’s Hildafolk


We’re big fans of Luke Pearson and his ‘Hildafolk’ graphic novels in our house. In this video for publisher Nobrow Press he talks about drawing the books, and the most recent volume in the series, Hilda and the Black Hound:


August 20, 2014
by Dan

It Kills Everything It Touches


At the LA Review of Books, Daniel Mark Janes discusses last month’s curious conference at Birkbeck College (University of London) about the author Geoff Dyer:

Anyone who has written about Geoff Dyer will have been tempted to emulate his style, particularly his tendency to digress: “I planned to write about Geoff Dyer but instead I got distracted/stoned/fell asleep.” (Of those who resist this urge, most feel obliged to describe this temptation.) However, the point of works like ‘Out of Sheer Rage’ and ‘Zona’ is not just that Dyer chronicles his experiences; it is that, for all of the tangents, we still at the end find ourselves closer to Lawrence, closer to Tarkovsky. Personal reminiscence alone did not necessarily make us closer to Dyer — but it was still welcome in shaping the tone. Amid the ’ism’s and ’otic’s of traditional academic papers, humanity can often be lacking — yet Dyer’s work is all flesh and bone, united by a persona that is profoundly, playfully human.

And on a related note, Philip Maughan also spoke to Dyer about the conference for the New Statesman:

“I’m one of the people who seem to have licensed the ‘I’m meant to write about this book but I’m just going to write how I got stoned instead’ essay – but it only works for certain subjects. It has to lead you into a deeper appreciation of the subject than could have been attained in a more direct way. It’s like those legal highs,” he said. “Some of them can get you pretty messed up. Really they ought to be proscribed.”

August 20, 2014
by Dan

Peter Mendelsund on WNYC

Author and book cover designer Peter Mendelsund talks about his new books, What We See When We Read and Cover, on today’s Leonard Lopate Show on WNYC:

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