When the Typography of the Future Was the Typography of the Past

There’s a brand new blog by app designer Dave Addey called Typeset in the Future which has been making the rounds. The first post is about 2001: A Space Odyssey, and it’s got a stunning level of detail about the little touches in the movie’s typefaces (with more and more information flowing in through the comments).

It looks like Stanley Kubrick took typographic obsession to a new level with the movie: the opening title is in Gill Sans with the capital Os replacing the zeroes in “2001,” the title card for Part 3 (“Jupiter Mission”) is Futura with modified a capital N and an M borrowed from Gill Sans, and the USS Discovery has equipment featuring a mix of Univers, Futura, Eurostile, and Manifold. It’s a beautiful mix of sans serif classics.

The movie has the same attention to detail when it comes to logos: Addy points out Pan Am, IBM, Hilton, Howard Johnson’s, Bell, RCA Whirlpool, and the BBC. If you haven’t clicked through to look at the post by now, you really should.

What struck me though, was how little of the typography in Kubrick’s future was actually new (or created with that future in mind). Yes, Eurostile was a relatively recent font (1962), but its predecessor Microgramma and Univers were both from the 50s, and Futura and Gill Sans, despite a cutting edge look, were from the 1920s. Everything, including the Manifold typeface stolen from the IBM Selectric for HAL’s telemetry displays, is designed for print.

In reality, spaceflight turned out to be a lot more of a kludge. Grittier too, like Aliens: which is, incidentally, the third movie Addey promises to write about (second is Moon, which is also a great film). I can’t wait.

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