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A Mystery Font That Took Over New York (nytimes.com)
224 points by asnyder 86 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 66 comments

Almost all the shops in the sign photos are Asian. Because the font simulates brush strokes, it adds an Asian element, since Western writing doesn't use brush strokes.

Brushes may be used in painting letters onto a sign, but only as a tool to fill an area, whereby brush marks are regarded as artifacts to be avoided.

The font doesn't look quirky to someone whose native writing system's canonical form is rooted brush strokes.

Basically this remark in the article nails it:

> This could have to do with what Choc evokes. For some it bears a resemblance to the calligraphic forms of Asian writing systems.

But then:

> However, it’s disputed as to whether Choc was a direct homage to these styles. According to Ms. Chamaret, José Mendoza, Excoffon’s assistant at the time of Choc’s production, said that the letterforms were drawn in outlines. “Never with a brush!” she said.

That hardly counts as an effective dispute. Obviously, the font painstakingly captures the appearance of brush strokes in exactly the same manner that Asian fontographers do in certain fonts. They also don't use brushes, but rather vector graphics: precisely specified outlines or strokes.

Choc is undeniably Asian influenced. Look at the C in Choc; it starts with a little right tick and then reverses. The roman letter C doesn't have anything like that; this is reminiscent of the top stroke in the Japanese こ (ko).

Exactly, it's not very mysterious, it looks like kanji and that's why it's used by Asian restaurants. Case solved.

Unfortunately they can't publish the GP's (convincing) comment in the New York times.

However, I could easily write the sort of twaddle that the NY times seems to consider publishable nowadays.

>Look at the C in Choc; it starts with a little right tick and then reverses. The roman letter C doesn't have anything like that;

An initial swash [or horizontal serif] isn't unheard of for capital C in cursive Roman typefaces/scripts.

Other than that, I think you're spot on.

Agreed, it’s pretty ridiculous to think otherwise.

I know HN is kind of a safe space for engineers to express their (sometimes arrogant or poorly informed) opinions about other people's fields.

But this seems over-the-top. Who are these "ridiculous" people in New York, whose grasp of the situation around why this particular font ever came to be used in NY signage is so laughably feeble and inferior to the commenter's own?

There may be no mystery worth solving, but neither is there a clearly identifiable moment when a shopkeeper selected the font for the first time. In high-profile design, in contrast, historical moments like that are often traceable—they do have an author.

I think these comments' arguing over the "mystery" isn't necessarily the problem...

It's that people can apparently read a lavish, deeply-researched article, yet are incapable of discussing it in terms other than its headline.

So they are somewhat right, obviously. And the article comes to the same conclusion[0].

But those that consider this narrow answer as in any way central to the article suffer from some fundamental misunderstanding of the genre. I can just imagine them complaining about Infinite Jest: First, because they are unlikely to consider it very jesty. And secondly because it isn't actually infinite.

[0]: while even finding a candidate for "a clearly identifiable moment when a shopkeeper selected the font for the first time"–25 years after the fact.

I have nothing against the article, but I don't think you have to be superficial to see a bait and switch. The article trades throughout on the idea that Choc is a cultural touchstone in NYC, but the closest it comes to investigating that is quotes from one shopkeeper. There's a brief with a signmaker who doesn't admit an association with Choc, and then a lot of typographers.

This approach frustrates me in other media - it's especially common in podcasts. Sometimes the author finds something that interests them, but ultimately feels they have to sell the story with a different hook.

I wish authors would instead take it as a challenge to get other people invested in what captivated them. For example, the story could have pretty easily owned the obvious Asian restaurant association up front, but deliberately explored the font origins anyway (and maybe more specifically in that context).

> There's a brief with a signmaker who doesn't admit an association with Choc

Thanks to whom we're duly informed that these Choc signs are not really advertising at all, but mere graffiti.

> “There’s an unmistakable energy in all the designs that [Roger Excoffon] does,” said Tobias Frere-Jones, a Brooklyn-based typeface designer. “They project their personality so clearly. And it’s very obviously not Helvetica or not Times or any other generic thing that might be on the awning next door.” Excoffon’s most popular typeface is probably Mistral, which was modeled after his own handwriting.

Both this passage and Exofon's fonts remind me of Henry van der Horst, a Dutch graphic designer who basically has a monopoly on Dutch market signs. His work has become so ubiquitous that a market stall without it feels less "authentic", so there is a lot of demand for his work.

It's crazy: everyone here knows his handwriting, without knowing it was one man doing all of those signs for decades, and when I say "all those signs" I mean that at a national level (altough the Netherlands is small of course). He's like a weird kind of anonymous household name ("anonyfamous?"). Well, until a newspaper wrote an article about him down a few years ago, that is.

[0] http://www.willemverweijen.nl/henry-van-de-horst/

[1] https://www.volkskrant.nl/mensen/-op-de-markt-doet-niemand-a...

Funny! Reminds me of the old Honest Ed's signage here in Toronto (since shut down).



Gorgeous, the connection is pretty clear, yeah! Makes me wonder if the handwritten signs from the last century couldn't be considered one of those kind of undocumented, almost subconscious arts "traditions". Kind of like how all kebab places seem to follow the exact same horrible aesthetic without it being a coordinated effort.

Oh there is plenty of documentation on these sorts of things, in the form of tradecraft manuals. The first example that comes to mind is the Speedball lettering manuals (https://www.printmag.com/design-inspiration/the-speedball-te...) but there’s other ones out there that have gone through many printings.

Very cool, thanks for the link and the terms I should search for online if I want to learn more!

Oh I’m sure you’re into something. I wouldn’t be surprised if it has a name already, but my design knowledge isn’t that extensive.

Or maybe it just gets lumped under “folk art”.

Those "Honest Ed" signs are beautiful, and remind me of the hand-painted signs I'd still see in Brooklyn in the late 60s and early 70s (probably nearing the end of the era for hand-painted signs)

Oh that place was the thing of a bygone era, undoubtedly.

Some of those signs are probably from back then, but they retained the style right up until they closed in 2016.

The place was a godsend when I was younger—you could get hygiene products and some food items for dirt cheap.

And the sight from the street was even more wild than those hand-painted signs:


Wow! The Mohel and Rabbi who performed Honest Ed's bris was Al Jolson's father: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Mirvish

Interesting how different countries have different styles. In Sweden, before printing took over, supermarkets would have posters outside with the specials in a style similar to "IKEA Script" https://statics.fontke.com/image/image/314190/360x270.png

I've noticed that Germany has an unusually high amount of smooth rounded fonts (my friends don't see it and call me crazy). But I just searched for it, and guess what: it's all because of Volkswagen!


“There’s an unmistakable energy in all the designs that [Roger Excoffon] does”

This type of analysis bugs me. Yes, with hindsight you can say it has "energy". Give this font in a controlled experiment with many "energetic" fonts to choose from and you'd not say the same thing. There is probably a word for this type of bias - perhaps confirmation bias?

There is nothing more to read into this. When a font gets popular in local design circles, restaurants end up tangled in the whatever font trend it happens to be because the designers that they hire are from the same circle of influence.

I took unmistakable as meaning that you can recognize an Excoffon font. Which I don't find so strange a claim - they're not exactly minimalist sans fonts, so a lot of personal character will sneak in, consciously or not.

"anonyfamous" is an awesome word / concept. Looks like a couple of folks are using it as a handle, but I say you go get a book deal now. I'd buy a coffee table book with a dozen examples unmasking anonyfamous folks!

Not my kind of work, but I agree that would make for a great coffee table book!

Thank you for this. I never made the connection for market signs. Amazing.

I like his number handstyles, they look cool! But the letters themselves aren't that recognizable except the "S" (has a graffiti vibe), the rest are just basic marker tags/block letters. I guess that those numbers always appear with those letters in combination (supermarket price tags), and that this is what's associated with authenticity regarding his works.


> Just shot up into the top 5 of my personal most offensive while being most useless list.

You could maybe do with experiencing more adversity in life

Or not. Why begrudge another’s bliss?

You could have clicked through the modal. In incognito mode if cookies bother you that much. Get over yourself.

You spent more time writing this comment than you would've clicking the "Accept" button.

Ironically, come over to Japan and you will hardly see a single sign typeset in Choc, or any of the popular wonton fonts[1], anywhere. This is despite the fact Latin text is very commonly used in JP storefronts as decorative elements. The collective impressions around those fonts represent a westerner's orientalist stereotype of the East, not of the actual East. To an Asian native, it comes off as cheesy as hell.

I usually find most complaints of cultural appropriation frivolous; go ahead and dress up as ninjas or wear kimonos all you like, we don't care! But this in particular keeps bugging me somewhat, as hardly anyone - even the writer of this article - seems to care about that angle much. Even in the logo for Disney's Big Hero 6[2], which I assume was supposed to be Disney's love letter to JP pop culture, wonton font influences die hard. (At least they de-wontonned the logo for the Japanese release, retitled as "Baymax."[3])

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wonton_font

[2] https://vgboxart.com/resources/logo/8390_big-hero-6-prev.png

[3] http://www.lightweight.tokyo/3ds/baymax_hero/images/catch/lo...

Of course the lettering in Japan is not set in faux-asian typesetting since you already have real-asian typesetting everywhere else. Latin typesetting is mostly added to add a sense of occident stereotypes (to the point where the latin writing makes little to no sense, similarly how Superdry's Japanese slogan makes no sense to Japanese speakers), writing it in a brush stroke would defeat the purpose of such styling.

This is also why you don't see fake-cyrillic writing in any country using cyrillic because it is just odd and meaningless to readers to these scripts.

Interestingly, this hiring ad from the JS console :-)

main.js:14 0000000 000 0000000 111111111 11111111100 000 111111111 00000 111111111111111111 00000 000000 000 1111111111111111111111111100000 000 000 1111 1111111111111111100 000 000 11 0 1111111100 000 000 1 00 1 000 000 00 00 1 000 000 000 00000 1 000 00000 0000 00000000 1 00000 11111 000 00 000000 000 11111 00000 0000 000000 00000 00000 000 10000 000000 000 0000 000 00000 000000 1 000 000 000000 10000 1 0 000 000 1000000 00 1 00 000 000 1111111 1 0000 000 000 1111111100 000000 000 0000 111111111111111110000000 0000 111111111 111111111111100000 111111111 0000000 00000000 0000000

NYTimes.com: All the code that's fit to printf() We're hiring: developers.nytimes.com/careers

update: Those 0s and 1s formed an ascii-art style nytimes logo. The format is messed up.

This font is also known as Staccato 555.

It was ripped off by Bitstream and included in the Bitstream TrueType Font Pack for Microsoft Windows 3.1

For some information about these fonts see https://groups.google.com/forum/#!topic/comp.fonts/y3BOdTKSg...

> This font is also known as Staccato 555.

It’s mentioned in the article that it was packaged as part of CorelDraw under this name.

After watching "Stranger Things" with my son, we play now Spot-The-Benguiat-Font everywhere.

There's a font I'm curious about, I wonder if anyone here knows it. I seem to see all round Czech Republic, I don't know the name, but you can see it in the sign for this place (the pic outside - "BUN CA HAI PHONG"): https://www.tripadvisor.cz/Restaurant_Review-g274714-d116867...

It's used a lot in Vietnamese restaurants but also appears in random businesses (garages, hairdressers). I also saw it a lot when I visited Vietnam - I'd guess it's from there.

Banco? By the same designer and mentioned in the article. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Banco_(typeface)

I remember seeing Banco everywhere on storefronts in France when I was there on holiday as a kid in the 80s. I immediately recognized it because it's also the font of the Thrasher magazine logo. Back then, I found it hilarious that every third boulangerie and charcuterie had that "Thrasher" font. I've never seen it on a German shop sign, though.

In case anyone wants to see the font in question and/or purchase and download a copy: https://www.fonts.com/font/itc/choc

Paul Boegemann was trained as one such sign painter — he is the proprietor of Paul Signs Inc., in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn — and has been in business for over 35 years.

“I learned how to hand letter signs and trucks,” Mr. Boegemann said. “We started with a simple pencil and paper. We designed what we wanted and used the styles we wanted and knew how to apply...”

Asked if he’s ever made a sign in Choc, Mr. Boegemann said: “This style is a ‘Bastard’ letter style.”

I like this guy :-D

AFAIK the term is how brushed typeface are called in the industry.

Oops... they either let Kumo II slip in or intended it to be there as an example of Mistral, the other font from the designer of Choc, and forgot to point that out.

The "Japanese Cusine" below the shop name is the specimen, not the shop name itself.

Aha... thanks!

Hey, it's better than Papyrus.

I remember how incredible it was to have so many different fonts in Windows 3.1, Staccato was one of the favorites in my family

Oh no... now I will not be able to unsee.

Hint: its not about Helvetica.

What about Matura

An off-brand Comic Sans, then.

Looks like Comic Sans to me :-)

Obviously you're not a golfer.. I mean typographer :P

I can see why it might remind an untrained eye of Comic Sans, but I strongly disagree. Then again, I have an arts degree, so let's chalk that up to déformation professionnelle.

The funny thing about Comic Sans is that you can see that it is from the nineties computer era. Although I don't know if it was first created on paper and then transferred, or created directly on a computer, its curves feel both too mathematically "perfect", and at the same time ruined by human intervention. This is probably best highlighted by fonts that attempt to "fix" Comic Sans, like Comic Neue[0]. It's a bit like how tweening in computer animation can feel off when it uses naive linear interpolation, because it breaks our intuitions of normal physics (or is maybe that's just me).

Choc on the other hand is very clearly (to me) a font that was created before the digital era. The brushstrokes feel natural in a way that we could not create from within a computer medium until recently (thinking in the order of decades). And yet, its feels more consistent with itself than the comic sans letters do. Furthermore, if you view it in the context of designs from the fifties it just "fits", you can see that it was a products of its time (same with Comic Sans and Microsoft Bob being visibly a nineties product, actually - and that is not me throwing shade on either of them).

[0] http://comicneue.com/

Is there a book/resource you would recommend to someone who is interested in learning more about typography, and how/why the field has evolved the way it has? (Honest question.)

I'd love to help, but typography wasn't my direction. It's just that any training in the visual arts bleeds into other visual arts. Apologies, I should have been more clear about that in the previous comment.

Sure other people here do know more on the subject though, let's hope they'll see your question and give some suggestions.

How is it that in 2018 with all the decentralised technologies that have been created we don’t have a simple way to mirror nytimes articles... perhaps on some kind of “permanent web”?

Because people reading an elaborate, richly designed, deeply researched, and entertainingly written article about a font will really be grasping for straws trying to defend their unwillingness to pay?

It's original reporting, so the usual copout of calling it worthless as soon as it appears in more than one publication doesn't work.

It's a metered paywall, so their insistence that they only read a single article from the NYT, like, once per year is provably wrong.

The topic is rather whimsical, and unlikely to be of much consequence for anybody's life. That makes any sort of appeal to a "right to be informed" or sumsuch rather flimsy.

Because nytimes doesn't want to be mirrored. A mirror would be a kind of arms race between nytimes and the mirror.

We don’t have a legal way.


We have a technical method to do so, but the site has not been created, that I know of. For example:

* A domain name like ipfs://nytimesmirror.com that mirrors nytimes articles (at the same relative URLs) * Some kind of crowdsourced process for content curation.

I'm aware that it's not legal, but I wouldn't be against it. Content piracy has been a catalyst for change. I simultaneously would be willing to pay nytimes for access to their content but I'm not willing to sign up to a $15 / month subscription. So if their content was widely pirated using delivery method like IPFS they might be incentivized to problem solve that for me.

> Content piracy has been a catalyst for change.

Yet paying for content has been a catalyst for...content.

> they might be incentivized to problem solve that for me.

What is that even supposed to mean?

Use of an IPFS DNSlink TXT record would make it not decentralized.

The article misses the obvious: the font resembles Asian brush strokes, and will be especially used for signage on Asian restaurants which are disproportionately represented in the examples.

Literally from the article:

"This could have to do with what Choc evokes. For some it bears a resemblance to the calligraphic forms of Asian writing systems.

However, it’s disputed as to whether Choc was a direct homage to these styles...There’s no denying that Choc has become a typographical shorthand for Asian-themed restaurants."

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