Gerard Unger

A re typographers and type designers really black-andwhite thinkers? Are they really so conservative as to think that text in books, periodicals, newspapers and other print, including the text on your laptop, pad or mobile phone, should always be black? There’s plenty of color in the print media, at least in illustrations, and occasionally we come across a color headline. Traditionally, texts in manuscripts were written in black, or nearly black, ink. Gutenberg’s invention did not make it easy, technically, to print a second color. So from 1450 up to now, text has mostly been presented to us in a single color: black. But this is going to change.

‘Color will be the new italic, color will be the new bold’ - thus Mark van Wageningen. It’s easy enough on the web to change colors. Web typography has been influencing print typography for some time now. I long assumed it would be the other way around: typography transposed from print to digital, but more and more we find typographical web-based solutions appearing in print. It’s equally possible that the use of color will move from the Internet into print.

S ometimes I come across a light blue text on the web – it’s not easy on the eyes. Why decide on such a color? At present, using color instead of italic and bold is largely a matter of whim. Using the traditional italic and bold in black text, though, is not an arbitrary choice but one dictated by convention. In the evolution of writing and reading, the current roles of italic (dating from the sixteenth century) and bold (introduced in the nineteenth century) were gradually developed and accepted, as is the case with many other typographical elements. Once red was the second color in typography, it was used for rubricating. Bold has now assumed that role of grabbing our attention. Italic is used for light emphasis, to highlight an exception, for quotes and instructions and a few other purposes besides. When will which colors be established as conventions, and take over these roles of italic and bold? And how about not only a colored italic, but also bold in purple or orange?

Mark may well be proven right one day, but it may take a century or more for colors to become mainstream, and can’t cope on his own. Meanwhile he’s coming up with some extraordinary work involving type and color, it’s thrilling and evocative. Consider it an invitation to work with him in establishing new conventions, so that one day we can justly say: ‘We’ve come through with flying colors’.