At the TYPO Berlin 'Sustain' conference last month I was asked to talk about sustainable design, and somehow managed to include the ecofont into my presentation, showing it to a room full of typography experts when I clearly wasn't one. After my speech, type designer Gerard Unger approached me to tell me that “the ecofont is not eco at all; it doesn't work!”. He explained that the holes in the letters clog up with ink and that of course graphic designers did not fall in love with the look of the perforated font (hence the nickname cheesefont). Then I found Jürgen Siebert's article on Fontblog, where he calls the ecofont a “Schnapsidee” (meaning a “crazy/silly idea” in German).
There are many fonts available that can save space. Many newspaper type faces have been designed with exactly that purpose. Sanserifs can save even more space, but then the issue of legibility begins to play up. Do not let any experts on the web fool you when they claim that sanserifs are as legible as seriffed fonts. In long texts the serifs win, also on iPads and similar screens. The problem is that scientifically this is difficult to prove, because the research methods aren’t refined enough yet.
I realise there is a whole world out there were sustainable design thinking can still make a big difference. And yet, some solutions have been around for a long time and we don't even realise (or at least I didn't). Gerard Unger's font Gulliver (top image) has been around since 1993 and according to the designer, was “the world's most economical printing type” when it came out. Today it goes without saying that economical equals ecological when saving on resources. Most of the dutch type creator's designs have been made with condensation in mind. Gulliver can in 10 point be condensed to 95% or even 90% of their original width. It is a typeface that appears to be larger than it is, and that is narrow without looking narrow. The designer explains:
When USA-Today, the American newspaper, had to change to a mere slender page format, they lost almost a whole column of text per page. With Gulliver, and with carefully adjusting the letterforms, they have been able to bring more text to the narrower pages, with bigger looking letters than they had on their former pages. And the Oxford University Press brought out the Oxford Shorter English Dictionary (two hefty volumes) using Swift and Argo. Swift was condensed too, with the result that the new edition contains 10% more text, but counts 50 pages less.
For newspapers and large books this means tones of paper saved. Gulliver makes it possible to save 8-10% on overall production costs, as demonstrated at a medium-sized university in Holland. Here they used around 50 million DIN A4 sheets per year. To start with, using Gulliver, they saved 25,000 kg of paper. Then, by combining Gulliver with careful typography many of the university's publications could be cut to half their size. And the documents were still easy to read. This is what I like: eco-friendliness without sacrificing the design. I hope typography designers out there can come up with more solutions to save paper and ink. And then there's the digital side of things...