Why are tech companies making custom typefaces?

The words ‘unique typeface’ written in a series of similar typefaces

During my research process, I noted down the keywords used to describe some of the typefaces. As I read through the list, the same words kept coming up over and over: friendly, modern, clean, simple, human. It’s like everyone wants something that they can use to define their brand, yet they really just want a slightly different version of what everyone has.

Source: Why are tech companies making custom typefaces?

Tracing history with whale earwax

As whales go through their annual cycles of summer binge-eating and winter migrations, the wax in their ears changes from light to dark. These changes manifest as alternating bands, which you can see if you slice through the plugs. Much as with tree rings, you can count the bands to estimate a whale’s age. And you can also analyze them to measure the substances that were coursing through the whale’s body when each band was formed. A whale’s earwax, then, is a chronological chemical biography.

Stephen Trumble and Sascha Usenko from Baylor University have worked out how to read those biographies. And they’ve shown that whale earwax not only reveals the lives of their owners, but the history of the oceans. Hunting, abnormal temperatures, pollutants—it’s all there. If all of humanity’s archives were to disappear, Trumble and Usenko could still reconstruct a pretty decent record of whaling intensity by measuring the stress hormones in the earwax of a few dozen whales.

Source: The Astonishing History Locked in Whale Earwax – The Atlantic

Reclusive islanders kill anyone who tries to come ashore

In the years since India won independence from the British, groups of anthropologists have tried to study them.

But no one has managed to get through. Several times, Mr. Pandit said, the Sentinelese have turned their backs on anthropologists and squatted down, as if they were defecating.

In 2006, two Indian fishermen who accidentally washed up on their shores were killed. When a military chopper flew low over the island, some men fired arrows at it. These days, the Indian authorities aren’t taking any chances. The Navy enforces a 3-mile buffer zone around North Sentinel. But police suspect Mr. Chau went at night with the intention of circumventing the authorities.

It is unknown what the Sentinelese call each other, or whether any other group in the world understands their language. When an expedition brought members of another indigenous tribe to North Sentinel, thinking they might share linguistic similarities, neither side understood one another.

Source: Islanders Who Killed American Have a History of Guarding Their Isolation

A group of Indonesians have evolved to have bigger spleens

The Bajau are a group of people who have lived  on an Indonesian island for centuries. Traditionally they spend a lot of of time diving in the ocean for food.

When humans enter the water, the spleen contracts. This releases more red blood cells which in turn has the effect of helping us hold our breath for longer.

How are these two things linked? The Bajau have developed spleens up to 50% bigger than normal, and can hold their breath for a very long time while diving. This isn’t quite evolution, as the article states, but it’s pretty remarkable nonetheless.

Source: A group of Indonesians have evolved to have bigger spleens — Quartz

Impressed with BuzzFeed and their style guide’s insistence on removing spaces and hyphens. This from a recent update. How long until we get to ‘crosspost’?

A tale of three seafood sandwiches

This is an article about making seafood sandwiches for friends in New England. My main(e?) takeaway isn’t the methods or recipes, though—it’s the frankly bizarre dance of imports and exports that sends locally sourced fish around the world and back again before it reaches consumers:

Next up will be a squid sloppy joe. Squid is another extremely common animal we find off New England’s shores, but it is rarely available fresh in our fish markets. Like herring, it is often used as bait. What we do eat directly comes to us through a truly bizarre transport system that makes my Tennessee-waylaid FedEx delivery seem downright direct. New England squid is typically caught off Massachusetts and Rhode Island, frozen whole, shipped to China, defrosted, cleaned and ringed, refrozen, and sent back to us as a twice-frozen product.

Source: A Tale of Three Seafood Sandwiches | Hakai Magazine

Sainsbury’s packaging archive

When I was growing up, my family shopped at Sainsbury’s. I later worked there for a few years when studying for my A Levels and between university semesters. The brand is fairly well ingrained in me, so I have just spent rather too long browsing the packaging section of the Sainsbury’s archive:

Packaging from Sainsbury’s cheese and onion crisps, 1970s-1980s
Packaging from Sainsbury’s cheese and onion crisps, 1970s-1980s
Packaging from Sainsbury’s table salt, c. 1978
Packaging from Sainsbury’s table salt, c. 1978
Packaging from Sainsbury’s spaghetti rings and pork sausages, 1998
Packaging from Sainsbury’s spaghetti rings and pork sausages, 1998

I started working there in 1998 which—coincidentally, I hope—seems to be the point where the strong, simple and consistent brand identity visible in the first two images started to erode, replaced by more individualistic oddities like the bottom image.

The entire site is very interesting, occupying a position somewhere between corporate story-telling and social history. See also The typography of John Lewis.

Why brands are friendly on social media

Ian Bogost discusses the style, tone and “methods of engagement” used by #brands to surprise and befriend you, the potentially influential follower.

This resonated strongly with me—I’ve worked in several offices where people really wanted the social channels to talk in Innocent-ese or jump on the back of whatever the John Lewis ad was that year or surprise followers with “random acts of kindness” (which of course were neither random nor kind).

It’s a bit gross, horribly transparent once you start to notice it, and of course it works. So it will continue forever.

Social media has made it easier than ever for companies to connect with people. These new, personal bonds between companies and customers feel uncanny—the brands are not real human friends, exactly, but neither are they faceless corporations anymore. Isn’t that the point, though? Branding’s purpose is to get under your skin, to make you remember an otherwise forgettable company or product. When the surprise wanes, that feels a lot less delightful.

Source: Why Brands Are Friendly on Social Media – The Atlantic