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workshops, Helsinki Lahti 10 2002, 05

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the workshop-themes
01 layered type
02 screentype
03 bible type
04 shop lettering

05 carplate type
06 the fatter the better
07 the publication
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carplate type  basic info : thoughts and ideas : presentation half way : final presentation

First, a story from inside the rock...

Metal on metal
The only plateshop in Finland produces ca. 50 000 licence plates per month. Need of the market shifts, but there is no need to lay off employees even in the most quiet periods: plates are manufactured in the prison of Helsinki, part of the city called Hermanni.
'Metalshop employs 40-50 people, licence plates two dozen and in addition we have men working on traffic signs.' tells Raimo Peltonen, head of the plateshop.
Finnish licence plates are manufactured like this: A roll of aluminium and a roll of reflecting sticker with European union marking are driven together in the beginning of the manufacturing line. The slip then runs to the die-cutting and is sliced into plates (119 by 445 mm) with rounded corners.These pieces are carried to the next room where prisoners set metal-cast letters and numbers by hand into trays and punch-press the plates by machine force; licence plate now has identity, registration number of the finnish automobile registry embossed onto it.
Embossed marks are not visible alone. Punch-pressed plates are put through heatstamping machine similar to large mangler along with roll of black paint which sticks to embossed parts that is, the numbers and the letters. Out comes instant-ready plate, the material and the paint are prefabricated to withstand weather and stress with no additional finishing. It's a fast-paced, noisy process!

The Final Presentation
After the last update, we started to look into the official finnish plate type that has been in use since around 1935, with minor modifications. Several problems with the spacing and the differing optical sizes from letter to letter tell a tale of engineer design; this has been a functional typeface, carved in metal and as such it has served well as long as no-one has put it under the microscope.
Because of the punching techinique letters such as A are problematic: the narrow parts become easily too heavy (see illustration). We decided to use some intense trapping to get rid of this problem.
The letter visibility was one of our main concerns. During the final testing the traps which were implemented keeping the industrial processes in mind proved to improve visibility as the white spaces are consecutively larger than in the finnish type. Our letterblock is not as high as the current, leaving more space over and below and resulting in optimal black/white balance.
Although a limited workshop production, we feel that in Laatta Sans functionality, readability, attention to the processes of manufacturing and playfulness have been balanced out to create our vision of a sensible typeface for specific purpose.

download laatta_sans.pdf

15 comments so far: read comments , please do comment
chester @ Thirstype.com -- Thursday, October 24 2002, 11:31 pm
Like Meta's work for German number plates and Matthew Carter's Bell Centennial typefaces for telephone listings, LAATTA puts functionality over form. And balances the two quite well. The 'cohesiveness' of detail has necessarily been sacrificed in order to increase the differences between similar letters; this detracts from the beauty of the forms, but increases legibility, which is the primary concern. (Sorry beauty, we don;t need you right now.) The only glyph that was better handled in the past is the 5, which is very different from the S. The new 5 and S have similar architecture. The Q is obviously the trickiest of the characters. (I offer no suggestion; only that comment.) The O and the 0 are also a tricky situation. Outside of Scandinavia, it might be best to use a "slashed-0" for zero, but the Ø - O-slash - glyph is prevalent in Scandinavian languages, so would confuse the issue. So. On the whole, a success.

chester again. -- Friday, October 25 2002, 12:02 am
Oops. The German plate type wasn't done by Meta. In fact, it seems that Herr Spiekerman is not a fan of the type. I'm surprised by this, because I would think that any rigor of process and design would meet with his approval. Nevermind. I like it.

Hrant H Papazian -- Friday, October 25 2002, 02:13 am
I love it (but I have a weakness for shoving Beauty in the closet - she's such a primadonna, the #$&@*!). And don't think your divergent forms aren't harmonious - to me they actually satisfy a higher harmony than mere superficial form; there is a huge valley between looking at shapes and reading. And the "Q" is super: a friend you will never understand completely, but you trust him anyway. My only complaint is that the trapping seems inconsistent. hhp

matthé -- Friday, October 25 2002, 10:37 am
Carplatetype doesn't need to be legible: let cops figure out who they just flashed for speeding! - Always start from a consumer's point of view

Sami -- Friday, October 25 2002, 11:42 am
Ah, every citizen is a consumer: the carplate is just like the bar code pasted in a banana. Everyone needs this information; while the dad is driving to a summer cottage the children in a back seat entertain themselves by catching different register plates...

Christian @ Orange Italic -- Friday, October 25 2002, 01:32 pm
i'm with chester on the 5/S issue - one of the most useful ways to proof a typeface with a final purpose like this is to take it into photoshop and blur the hell out of it. i think you'll find that 2 and Z might need to get a bit more difference between them as well. i don't know what the best solution is for O and 0. some american license plates make letters and numbers a different height (presumably to get around this), but i think you can do it with less. very nice solution on the E & F and P & R to make it impossible to turn one into the other. i like the confident way you've put the inktraps in, but i would suggest pointing the ones on the NMW more into the corner and not into the vertical strokes - you need to carve weight out there, but you need to make sure you're carving it out where it needs it most. very nice work.

Kvantti -- Friday, October 25 2002, 01:59 pm
Thank you for all the feedback! We will be working on this for some time still, putting punctuation marks etc in and filing some characters. We'll probably also be sending this to the finnish automobile registry, let's see what they'll have to say about it :)

hugo@visionandfactory.com -- Friday, October 25 2002, 04:23 pm
I like the research of this workshop and the story how these Finnish carplates are manufactured. The way you all tried to actualize these plates is quite clever. Here in Belgium people are driving around in "Mistral' typefaced carplates. Or even worse. So why not try the 'Trixie' from Erik and Just? Sorry, I very much apprciate the work you all did but maybe it is a little bit cool for me. Best regards. Hugo Puttaert http://www.visionandfactory.com

Jean F Porchez -- Sunday, October 27 2002, 08:49 pm
I’m with Matthé comment on this. For long time, I think its the last subject to work on. Don’t help the police please. Thanks. :-)

jacques le bailly -- Tuesday, October 29 2002, 11:47 am
I am not with matthé, jean, functional can (and should) look good. Even if this means being readable at 210 Km/h! Compared to other known carplate fonts, this one is a very good combination between looks and functionality. i like it. Reacted way too late... http://www.baronvonfonthausen.de/

Bas -- Tuesday, October 29 2002, 01:37 pm
Don't worry Jacques, you didn't comment too late. Students will come back to this place, also after the presentation. So please, keep on commenting.

Eero -- Wednesday, October 30 2002, 10:46 am
I just want to comment on the 5 vs. S and O vs. 0 problem, since no one has yet pointed this out: the carplates in Finland always have the letters on the left and numbers on the right side. So at least in Finland these won't be a source of confusion. Of course the optimal carplate type will work also in the situation where numbers and letters are mixed. Hiomista riittää.

Sami -- Friday, November 1 2002, 11:41 am
Hi Markus, Eero and Antti. Is there any reactions from the Finnish Automobile Registry? Do you still have some power left for this project? Check the top corners of the 'M', looks quite unbalanced... and how are the a and o umlauts (ä and ö), and a with the ring? These small details will make the type even more convincing for this F.A.R authoroty! Let's make an update for your project with ten new pictures and text about the reaction of F.A.R. Deadline next week Friday, 8th November?

Sami -- Monday, March 17 2003, 05:37 pm
Laatta Sans has joined 'Kirjoituksen lumo' exhibition, which takes place in the University of Helsinki's library during 18.3. - 31.5.2003. So see the latest stage of Laatta Sans at: http://www.lib.helsinki.fi/ajankohtaista/nayttelyt/Kirjoituksen_lumo/Carplate.htm or go to see it in exhibition!

Jimi -- Friday, March 28 2003, 03:30 pm

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