If the cover of the book version of the 9/11 Commission Report looks familiar to you, there a good reason. The black (okay, dark blue) and red and white color scheme, the centered all-type, all-caps layout, and most of all, the use of Bodoni Book: all of these were used six years ago for the original cover of the book version of The Starr Report.
Two historic documents, each using the same 200-year-old Italian typeface on the cover. Coincidence? I don't think so.
Actually, it probably is a coincidence. But it is interesting to think about.
Giambattista Bodoni, born in 1740 in Saluzzo, Italy, was a Vatican typesetter before being invited by the Duke of Parma in 1766 to become his court printer. Five years later he established his own foundry, and it was there that he created hundreds of fonts, including the family of typefaces that bears his name. Bodoni's monumental Manuale Tipografico, published in 1818 by his widow five years after his death, has been called the greatest type specimen book ever printed.
Does Giambattista Bodoni's pedigree -- typesetter to Dukes and Popes -- somehow invest his eponymous font with some vague sense of institutional authority? I doubt it. Instead, it's this elegant typeface's intrinsic characteristics that make it the perfect vehicle to communicate contemporary gravitas. Serious in a way that a sans serif can never be, yet neither as comfortable as Garamond nor as pompous as Trajan, Bodoni is the typeface of choice of Giorgio Armani and Landor Associates, not to mention defense contractors Lockheed Martin and the designers of the Ground Zero viewing wall.
And when it comes to layout, nothing signals momentous import like using all type. Think of George Lois's famous Vietnam-era Esquire cover with a black background and stark white typography: "Oh my God -- we hit a little girl." ("This sentence leaped out at me from [reporter John] Sack's description of a search-and-destroy mission," says Lois. "The words are a GI's horrified reaction as he comes on the body of a dead Vietnamese child.") And the typeface? Of course: Bodoni.
Almost 25 years ago, I moved to New York and started by first real job, working for the brilliant Italian designers Massimo and Lella Vignelli. Massimo has always loved using Bodoni, and I think one of the reasons I was hired was because, like Giambattista, I hailed from Parma. Except my hometown was Parma, Ohio, a downmarket Cleveland suburb without a decent Italian restaurant.
Today, Parma, Ohio, is perhaps most famous for being the heart of the congressional district represented by our country's most outspoken antiwar politician, Dennis Kucinich. Coincidence?
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