DT&G Magazine Editor's Column
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Nobody chases people out of studios anymore if they can't cut it; the studio is in a little box with a monitor... and anyone can buy one.
      Emerson Schwartzkopf

stupid signsWe read about "fonts" in the pages of the magazines. The marketplace is glutted with fonts, CD catalogs and usergroup libraries all boast "thousands of fonts," and now technology available where one font does all - you don't even have to have fonts! What was once the private domain of the professional is now a household word. I'll never forget seeing the computer salesman selling his first Mac... "...and, you can even use different founts!" He said, while calling fonts, "founts."

With all the attention focused on design, desktop publishing, and printing we overlook one of the most widespread yet basic uses of type and letterforms: signs.

This form of communication predates them all -- from those first scratchings on the cave wall to today's billboard-size photographs and high-speed sign imaging systems. Like the words of the song, "Signs, signs, everywhere signs!"

Signs are one of the most important means of communication in today's society. Can you get to the right gate at the airport without signs? Could you find the item you need at the supermarket without signs?

Steeped in tradition, signmaking has for many years been considered an art and a craft, practiced by a selected few. Those practitioners who do it well are considered true artisans. Today however, signmaking is a rapidly emerging technology with its own rules and its own unique tools -- and the desktop signmaking arena is continuing to broaden into the ranks of the uninitiated.

Ladies and gentlemen: we present Emerson Schwartzkopf


Emerson Schwartzkopf is probably one of the most in-the-know observers of the sign industry in the world today. He often stands up at meetings and introduces himself as a "real live telecommuter, no admission charge for first viewing." First as editor, and now technical editor of Sign Business magazine, he expanded coverage of computers and signmaking, leading up to his popular "Test Drive" review columns of signmaking hardware and software. He telecommutes from his home office in Gunnison, Colo., some 200 miles from Sign Business offices in the Denver area; as part of that, he uses the Internet and his company's BBS (which he oversees) daily.

DT&G   Thank you so much for taking time to chat with DTG readers today. I first discovered your writings in "Sign Business" magazine with the headline "Don't squeeze the Helvetica!" What a great headline!

Emerson:   It's a nice play on words, but it's true. Drive down almost any urban street in the U.S., and you'll see the strange things that hyperadjusted kerning can do.

DT&G   Emerson, we're talking, these days, with an increasing number of desktop publishers, artists, designers and even mainstream computer users with no background in signs, who want to get into desktop signmaking. Is the computer having a big impact on the sign industry as a whole?

Emerson:   That's an understatement. Computers do two things that graphic artists in general can certainly relate to -- the machine allows you to save work and catalog jobs, which is great, but the platforms and software also allow anyone who thinks they'd like to be in graphics to do so. Nobody chases people out of studios anymore if they can't cut it; the studio is in a little cream-colored box with a monitor, and anyone can buy one. It's kind of like the "draw the lumberjack" art-school scenario gone amuck, except there's no school for a lot of these people.

DT&G   You see a lot of signs - aside from Helvetica (or "block letters" to some,) what font(s) do you guesstimate as the most popular among professional sign designers?

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