is a blog about design, technology and culture written by Khoi Vinh, and has been more or less continuously published since December 2000 in New York City. Khoi is currently Principal Designer at Adobe, Design Chair at Wildcard and co-founder of Kidpost. Previously, Khoi was co-founder and CEO of Mixel (acquired by Etsy, Inc.), Design Director of The New York Times Online, and co-founder of the design studio Behavior, LLC. He is the author of “Ordering Disorder: Grid Principles for Web Design,” and was named one of Fast Company’s “fifty most influential designers in America.” Khoi lives in Crown Heights, Brooklyn with his wife and three children. Refer to the advertising and sponsorship page for inquiries.+
In keeping with the newspaper industry’s fashion for value-add subscription offerings (which I wrote about last month), The Times of London commissioned this short film based on their nearly ubiquitous typeface Times New Roman. It’s part of a video series that’s among the exclusive benefits offered to the paper’s subscribers, though apparently they’ve made it available publicly.
It’s curious to me that a general interest newspaper feels that its signature typeface resonates with readers enough to create this video, but I can’t complain about the contribution to design awareness that the production of such a film makes. What I can argue with, though, is the limitless population of white people interviewed in typography-centric works like this one and Gary Hustwit’s famous, full-length and otherwise entertaining “Helvetica: A Documentary Film.”
These projects are generally historical and those histories almost exclusively involve white people, it’s true, but it’s still unsettling to me to see our industry consistently portrayed so homogeneously—and when you put things into moving pictures, such things become more striking than ever. I’m not saying that people of other races should be inserted into these films in order to portray false histories, or merely for political correcteness. Rather, I’m saying that there are a multitude of racial dimensions that these movies are conveniently ignoring: how these fonts inspired or were inspired by type designers working in non-Roman character sets; how these fonts were embraced, supported, even corrupted by people of other cultures; how non-white designers use these fonts today.
Picking on this particular video is a bit unfair because, like I said, in its own way it does do a service. We all want to see more movies like this about design. We also all want more visibility for more designers in the public eye. And we all want to see design become a bigger part of our popular culture. I just think that we underestimate how much of this notion of design that we’re rooting for is not representative of all the people involved in it.+