#btconf Düsseldorf, Germany 13 - 14 May 2024

Ferdinand Ulrich

Ferdinand Ulrich is a typographer and a type history researcher living and working in Berlin. He designs publications on architecture, art and design, and spends much time writing about type for book projects, magazines and type foundries. Aside from several letter-related interests, his main research focus lies in the transitional periods of changing type design technologies and tools in the twentieth century, particularly during the early digital period (pre PostScript) — his dissertation on the subject earned him a PhD from the University of Reading in 2023. For several years Ferdinand taught graphic design, typography and some type design at Burg Halle and at UdK Berlin; he is currently a visiting lecturer in Salzburg, where he enjoys the hospitality, landscape and Schnitzel.

Digital Type, Pre-PostScript

In a common narrative of the canonical history of type manufacturing and typography, 500 years of printing from movable metal type end with the rise of commercial photocomposition in the 1950s and from there leap forward to digital PostScript fonts on the Macintosh in 1984. This narrative overlooks two decades of highly significant investigation and discourse in early digital type design technologies. Based on PhD research at the University of Reading, this talk explores that period of transition and rapid change, reviewing so-called ‘digital type design systems’ that could encode letterforms using numerical description, and explores the environment of an emerging community that first discovered and negotiated the challenging issues of digital type.