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Dreams of Colophonication

I am a how-to fanatic. Those silly shows on PBS (like chef Rick Bayless’s Mexico: One Plate at a Time and This Old House with “master carpenter” Norm Abram) are heaven for me.

My ever-present desire gets an even more voracious appetite when I’m looking at design pieces. I am delighted when I can find out the who/what/when/where/why/ and how.

Not surprisingly, as such, I’m a huge fan of colophons, which are basically the stuff that details the production… or more elogantly phrased by Antipixel.com’s author, colophons are “these little windows of typographic recognition and biblio-husbandry minutiae… (a) polite nod to the reader’s curiosity.”

Where have you usually found colophons? Do you still see them? Do you ever add them to your projects? I’m finding them more and more integrated into Web sites, which is a blast since I seem to rarely find them as footnotes to printed pieces.

To me, it doesn’t matter if it’s a Web site, a paper sample book from a mill, limited-run letterpressed book, or even a battered old annual report from the ’70s.

I want to be told about fonts, learn the names of papers used, and read about printing processes and inks chosen. Tell me about the foils, the diecuts, the embossing. I live for learning little tidbits, such as if you coded your pages by hand in SimpleText or used an Access database to process and display your content.

So long live the colophon and those who continue the tradition of its use when it compliments a project! Not only do colophons provide helpful insights into how projects are completed, but they personalize the whole she-bang for people like us who can truly appreciate the effort that goes into designing everything from a small town restaurant’s menu to a hand made jewelry’s Web site. And, of course, it doesn’t hurt that colophons, especially when added to the back of a book, are usually mini pieces of art in and of themselves.

Here are some examples that I’ve found worthy of bookmarkng while trolling the Web. Enjoy!




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ARCHIVE ID 1441 FILED UNDER Miscellaneous
PUBLISHED ON May.02.2003 BY joy olivia
Jesse’s comment is:

I use a sort of colophon on my site.

I love it when I come across a book that includes a colophon. I enjoy reading about the process, the history of the type used.

It's good to see the colophon coming back into style.

On May.02.2003 at 09:35 AM
magnus’s comment is:

when i'm doing more underground stuff (obscure cd-sleeves etc) i love to play around and make long colophones. with things like the music i was listening to while designing the piece, how many cups of coffe I was drinking and of course I always credit the fontdesigners). this information i usually print in no more than 2,5-3pt size. it's kind of stupid but it's fun for people that look for that kind of stuff. i always do.

On May.02.2003 at 09:39 AM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

Colophon's are wonderful, I too enjoy reading the technical doings behind books and lately on websites. A little insight into the designers mind.

The only one I've done was for a photography type book during my undergraduate studies.

The left side is a repeat of the text that runs through the book along side the photographs, below it are the roles played in the project, under that is the copyright, and on the right hand side is the traditional colophon complete with hardware, software, type, and printing.

What fun.

On May.02.2003 at 10:20 AM
Su’s comment is:

Regarding web sites: Design notes are nice. I could not possibly care less what software you used to build the thing, and have always been mystified by people's need to talk about it.

In books, a colophon always strikes me as a little extra bit of consideration the publisher put into the project. They have definitely become more succinct, though. I've got some older books that go into a fair amount of detail, giving you a mini-lesson on the fonts, etc. Most recent books just tell you what the fonts were and leave it at that.

I've also noticed a tendency to just slap the font and designer information to the bottom of the copyright page.

On May.02.2003 at 10:25 AM
Kiran Max Weber’s comment is:

>with things like the music i was listening to while designing the piece, how many cups of coffe I was drinking

Soak Wash Rinse Spin: Tolleson Design has one like that. Very entertaining.

On May.02.2003 at 10:26 AM
Damien’s comment is:

I put a colophon in the back of my 'designer's guide to brand strategy' - and enjoyed the opportunity to do so. Wired used to have a dedicated column indicating all that was used to put the magazine together for that issue.

It can be an excuse to add a little more personality to your project if it is needed.

On May.02.2003 at 11:27 AM
Dan’s comment is:

Colophons are most interesting to me when they give a more personal view of a project or its designer. The music, the late hours, the strange research... cool. I really liked the Wired colophon; it was always a pleasant little surprise. It's a reminder that people made this; it wasn't just spit out by a machine.

This brings up a thought I've had lately about the general presentation of design work (mostly back to the design community, but in some part to clients). In many instances, whether it's in a magazine, a book or on a web portfolio, the work stands alone as a single image. How valuable is this? A lot of projects do not allow for the personal voice (or even space) that a colophon sometimes takes, but in the presentation if the work, you have an opportunity explain it. I think that the more information you can give about a project, whether it's personal, or technical, or just an explaination of the concept, the more you do justice to the process and practice of design.

On May.02.2003 at 11:41 AM
rebecca’s comment is:

I've also noticed a tendency to just slap the font and designer information to the bottom of the copyright page.

Far worse is the designer who sets his or her name prominently on the copyright page or jacket flap. I've seen some design attributions that rival the author bio or dedication. I definitely want to know who designed the book, but this increasingly popular practice strikes me as crass.

On May.02.2003 at 12:02 PM
rebecca’s comment is:

Uh, the italics were supposed to end after "prominently." I don't feel that strongly about it.

On May.02.2003 at 12:04 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Wayyy back in the old days, before I ever heard of Alexander Lawson or even William Caslon, I used to write fake colophons for my humble little zine, "...and that Fritz Lang." At first they were just stolen from whatever books I found them in, but it got to be really fun to try to just hint at some historical intrigue or oddity. Anyway, here they are. (Sorry for the crappy scanning.)

atFL 2

atFL 3

atFL 4

atFL 5

atFL 6 (Showing a pronounced obsession with Jan Tshichhold's page grids.)

Then, years later, I actually got to write two real notes on the type while I was working at Simon & Schuster. Chris Offutt insisted his book have one--I think he thought it would elevate the literariness of the book, make it seem more like a Knopf title than S&S--and I'd designed the book so I got to write the note. I forget why the Thompson book had one, but this note ties in nicely with old Gonzo, especially the part about muskets. Knopf is the only publisher I know who reliably has a paragraph, though they tend to be the same year after year, so I wonder who they originate with.

Out of the Woods by Chris Offutt

The Rum Diary by Hunter S. Thompson

(I did not design this one and would NEVER use Berthold Walbaum when Monotype Walbaum is so infinitely better.)

On May.02.2003 at 12:24 PM
Sam’s comment is:

>>I could not possibly care less what software you used to build the thing

It's possible, maybe just barely, that someday this information will be of interest to bibliophiles, collectors, and historians. In a way, the software/hardware informtion is like the printing and binding data that is so important to historians and reserachers in all kinds of fields, not to mention an obsession with the biblioholics. It's definitely a different kind of data, since presses were rare and computers are common, but who knows? Someone might eventually find some significance that The Cheese Monkeys was written in Quark 3.31.

But I hasten to add that I don't for a second think anyone is writing down this stuff for posterity's sake. It's really more of that detail-obsessiveness, more likely.

On May.02.2003 at 12:31 PM
joy olivia’s comment is:

But I hasten to add that I don't for a second think anyone is writing down this stuff for posterity's sake.

Perhaps quirky graphic design anthropologists are...
On May.02.2003 at 01:04 PM
Su’s comment is:

Someone might eventually find some significance that The Cheese Monkeys was written in Quark 3.31.

Actually, yes, that could be very useful in the future. I recently had the luck of getting my paws on a copy of Freehand 5 or thereabouts, which makes it possible for PK to open some ancient files of his that were no longer supported by anything. If I'd found it earlier, he wouldn't have had to reconstruct the pieces from the munged layouts that he was able to wrestle out.

However, I was referring to web sites in that particular paragraph. Discounting the bizarre proprietary tags that don't work half the time put out by Office applications, HTML is HTML. The editor is of little consequence; it doesn't work better/easier if you did it in Notepad or Homesite. Anybody who cares about such things can generally tell from the source itself what program put it out(Armin uses Macromedia products).

On May.02.2003 at 01:43 PM
Armin’s comment is:

>Armin uses Macromedia products

Somedy mention my name? Sorry I haven't been more involved in recent discussions. I'm out of town.

Macromedia makes my life very easy and allows me to be obsessive-compulsive about other things, like which non-web-safe color to use on links. I use three different greens on the site to create the exact amount of greenness without it becoming monotonous. I spent at least 12 hours alone on the style sheet for body copy. And don't get me started on the bitmapness... that shit takes hours of obsessive-compulsive behavior to get it right.

I just realized the last paragraph would have been more appropriate for the prior thread. Dang. That's what happens when I can't maniacally check the site every nanosecond.

On May.02.2003 at 02:50 PM
Su’s comment is:


There. That should be better.

On May.02.2003 at 03:11 PM
tarun’s comment is:

I can only dream of colophons everywhere. I always want to know what that font was, perhaps with a little story of why...

On May.02.2003 at 04:27 PM
Joseph J. Finn’s comment is:

I love that Knopf still puts colophons in their books; besides them, I don;t see them that reliably, though they are a welcome addition.

On May.03.2003 at 09:51 AM
Kevin Lo’s comment is:

As I was frantically trying to finish my thesis project for school, my prof insisted that I include a colophon without properly explaining to me what it actually was (yes I am admitting my own embarassing ignorance). As I didn't really have time to find out what it was supposed to be(again, I now admit my laziness) I simply took it to be a sort of acknowledgements section. I thanked my girlfriend and my mom, the photgrapher and my cat etc... and didn't even really think of the type(blasphemy, I know). I have sinced include the typefaces used and the name of the designers, but have not included additional information, out of both laziness and consistency with the rest of the "colophon".

Out of curiosity, do most writers/designers write their own colophons or appropriate a type designer's bibliographic info from somewhere else, like a colophonopoedia?

On May.03.2003 at 12:33 PM
plain*clothes’s comment is:

Kevin asked...

...do most writers/designers write their own colophons...

I can't speak for anyone else, but I do. it would make sense for a designer/typographer to write their own since it is about that person's process.

On May.03.2003 at 01:14 PM
pnk’s comment is:

There is a funny colophon parody in the Michael Moore book Stupid White Men. I haven't read the book yet, but a copy was just loaned to me. First thing I do is look for a colophon...

On May.05.2003 at 10:38 AM
Stuart’s comment is:

I have a hazy memory of a Colophonesque note in one of the Asterix & Obelisk or was it Tintin titles from my youth that listed the quantity of ink, paper and time consumed in that particular titles creation.

More recently I've noticed a Colophon in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon (used Walbaum and said why), and I'm sure there was one at the back of the first edition of Stop Stealing Sheep and Find Out How Type Works by Adobe Press.

On May.05.2003 at 11:01 PM
Stuart’s comment is:


Checked a copy of Stop Stealing Sheep & find out how type works and um� there's no Colophon. Feeling rather sheepish.

On May.06.2003 at 06:24 AM
chris’s comment is:

I have one.

One of my favorite things ever, those handy little bits of goodness at the end.

On May.06.2003 at 02:19 PM
jonsel’s comment is:

and um� there's no Colophon.

Sure is. It's all right there on page 173, including a little picture of an english sheep dog and what looks like a plastic sheep. I'd post a scan but I don't have anywhere to host it.

On May.06.2003 at 05:12 PM
Sam’s comment is:

Best colophon (broadly speaking) in recent memory: McSweeney's #5 (the first hardcover issue), which included discussion on the change from 10.5/13.2 Garamond 3 to 11.2/13.8 type:

"But now we have, after much soul-searching, decided to up these numbers, out of fear that we might have, in the past, put off a reader or two, who might have found the previous scheme daunting or annoying or simply less good than it might have otherwise been."

On May.06.2003 at 05:45 PM
joy olivia’s comment is:

It's not a full-blown colophon or anything, but I must admit that I was mildly stoked when reading through the liner notes for Radiohead's latest when I saw a mention that the designer used Mrs. Eaves throughout (duh). There was even a notice that the font was available through the �migré font foundry.

On Jul.07.2003 at 08:57 AM
joy olivia’s comment is:

Another happy find! At the end of Julie Otsuka's moving first novel When the Emperor Was Divine you'll find a simple colophon. It reads:

A Note on the Type

This book was set in a typeface called Cochin, named for Charles Nicolas Cochin the younger, an eighteenth century French engraver. Unlike many of his contemporaries, Cochin was as much an engraver as a designer, and was deeply interested in the technique of the art. Mr. Henry Johnson first arranged for the cutting of the Cochin type in America, to be used in Harper's Bazaar.

The Cochin type is a commendable effort to reproduce the work of the French copperplate engravers of the eighteenth century. Cochin is a versatile face and looks well on any kind of paper. The italic is delightful.

Composed by Creative Graphics, Allentown, Pennsylvania

Printed and bound by R.R. Donnelley & Sons, Crawfordsville, Indiana

Designed by Iris Weinstein

On Jul.14.2003 at 07:43 AM
joy olivia’s comment is:

Author Gunnar Swanson dropped me a line to share that his 2+ page colophon in Graphic Design & Reading "is probably nowhere near a record for completeness but it is pretty darn competitive. The text is at

gunnarswanson.com/GDandR/GDandR_colophon.html and the facing photo is at http://www.gunnarswanson.com/illustrationPages/Benton.html if you're interested."

On Dec.17.2003 at 07:53 AM