The Typographic Scale

A list of numbers that make it easier to set type. But why these numbers? What relationships do they hold with one another? Is there some mythical secret held by the casters of the fonts of old? Why is it that when you combine 8, 10, 14 and 36 points of height something beautiful happens? In an effort to better understand this list of numbers I did that which excites any warm-blooded designer – I played with typography.

In its infancy, typesetting was much less an avenue for creative expression than it is today. That isn’t to say there was no beauty in the work done, it was more a case of limitations of technology. Which is an odd thing to say, as it was because of this technology that the rules could exist in such a defined manner. The typesetting was deliberately strict because it was now possible for it to be so. When our letters went from being written by scribes to being moved by the typesetter, the creativity in the hand-crafting turned into an element to be held by a different group of hands.

The Typographic Scale

With this new ability to set size, spacing and layout in stone (or
metal), it is no surprise that some habits became ruling and some rules
became habit.

While we are now able to set our text size at whatever we please, in the time of the true font (metal type in one face at one size of one weight), a number of predefined sizes were the norm.

The Art of the Title

The first few minutes of a film will often either leave the audience full of excitement and eager to see how the story of the movie will play out, wondering what hints they were shown in the opening credits to what they’re about to watch. Sometimes these opening moments are grander than the film that follows them. Sometimes you talk to your friends about the notebooks instead of the head in the box, or the silhouetted men running around more than the prodigy delinquent. Ian & Alex of The Art of the Title Sequence are two curators of a collection of title sequences best described as fine art.

With the amount of media we are shown every day, to be willing to sit down for two hours and say to the film makers “alright then, you have 120 minutes of my life” is no small feat. Not to mention that we have conditioned ourselves into jumping from topic to topic, idea to idea, advertisement to advertisement, resulting in diminished attention spans.

So when that 120 minutes starts up, the first three or four might be some of the most important. If the opening credits to a film bore us, we would be forgiven for feeling the whole film will be boring. If they’re exciting and manage to push our cart to the top of an emotional roller-coaster, then there we’ll be, sitting at the edge of our seats, strapped in, waiting to be thrown around.

Ian Albinson and Alex Ulloa are two who enjoy that roller-coaster and have the discussions about the notebooks. The two behind the immensely addictive site The Art of the Title Sequence have a passion for those opening moments and regularly show some of the best to have been created.

They were kind enough to give me a few moments of their time and provide one of those interviews you wish never really ended.

What is it that good title sequences share?

A: They are original in a way that is either daring and challenging, or clever and wonderful. They are always thoughtful; even those with raging adrenaline and nervy force have a thoughtfulness to them.

I: Almost all tell a story, however straightforward or abstract they may be.

The now legendary opening sequence to Se7en.

It seems like title sequences are to Se7en as branding is to the FedEx logo (and it’s white-space arrow) – why do you think the opening credits to Se7en serve as a suitable gateway drug to explaining the world of title sequences, as the FedEx logo does to explaining branding?

A: Because they were both lucky and smart. Have you seen Man on Wire (note this: much of life relates back to Man on Wire)? When the physicality of Philippe Petit stretches and lays amongst the clouds in actual manifestation of a man realizing-and-soaking-in-and-being-playful-with His Dream we understand—once we’re over the drunken thrill of this incredible moment—that this man was smart, but he was also lucky enough to have existed at a moment in history where twin monuments were being built. So goes the opening title sequence for Se7en (the film itself being the rare example of every collaborative element, which is to say the whole of it, was executed to perfection), this new standard in title sequences equalled the film and the film delivered the brilliant tonal darkness promised in the sequence. That sequence and the classic example you provided in the FedEx logo have a depth and thoughtfulness to the ‘communicative attributes‘ within. Thank you for the question; because of it I revisited a posting I hadn’t thought of in years.

This new standard in title sequences equalled the film