Bell Centennial Book Spread

Process Documentation

Elizabeth Wang

Before doing anything with the layout, I had to figure out which font I wanted to use for the body text (Adobe Caslon Pro is what I ended up using).

From the research that I did, I wanted the imagery that I decided to use to emphasize the unique feature of of the type—the ink pools that makes up Bell Centennial’s strange look. The typeface was also created for at&t’s address books so I tried to find photos that represented these ideas.

I eventually ran into an issue that involved my body text being pretty large. It was hard to separate each section in a way that would not cut into other sections. I also had the challenge of dealing with separating the introduction paragraph from the rest of the body text.

Eventually I found an image that relayed the idea of mass produced printing pretty well (and it also helped to add a spot color). From there all I had to do was to experiment with different placements.

Final Iteration:

Body Text Made for Spread:

In honor of AT&T’s 100th anniversary, the company commissioned for a new typeface that would be used for their telephone directories. The solution was the typeface Bell Centennial, which solved multiple problems relating to the existing phonebook typeface Bell Gothic.

Bell Gothic presented quite a few problems. While the two-weighted typeface worked fine when the directories were composed in hot metal and printed on a letterpress, it was unusable under the new limitations of the new printing technologies of its time. The new printing presses broke apart and thinned out the letterforms, while sometimes completely vanishing at intersections of the strokes. To overcompensate for this, people tried to over-ink the printing plates — in order to thicken the strokes. This created a legibility issue because the letterforms were already condensed and the over-inking caused all the strokes and letters to run into one another. From this, Bell Centennial was designed to work under these specific circumstances.

Designed by British type designer Matthew Carter, Bell Centennial is a family of four weights (two more weights than Bell Gothic, creating more depth and hierarchy) that include weights for: bold listing, name & number, sub-caption, and address. The typeface itself is a condensed sans-serif that is legible in small sizes, allowing for clear information structures in a small amount of space.

Because the overall design was meant specifically for AT&T’s phone book, many restrictions were placed on the typeface. Interestingly, because of its specific purpose, the forms themselves are very unique. Above all else, Bell Centennial had to be very functional at the small size of 6 points. Carter focused on the counter space “by using square cut terminals on letters with curved strokes” and designed each character by the pixel on grid paper. According to Carter, the presence or absence of a single pixel greatly affects the perception of the shape and angle of the overall character. He focused on increasing the white space by not using horizontal terminals, instead straightening and shortenings curves in characters with curved characteristics. And to handle the issue of characters bleeding together, the letters were given larger letterspacing. However, the most unique aspect of Bell Centennial’s design is how it solves the issue with ink. The phonebooks themselves are printed at very high speeds and on low-quality paper — resulting in the ink spreading on the paper. The letterforms already being so small, any sort of ink spreading could ruin a spread. To compensate for this, Carter created “ink traps” in the corners of the letters, thus preventing any ink spreading. The final design of Bell Centennial ended up resolving all the printing issues that the old typeface Bell Gothic presented, while also reducing call information and saving space due to its significantly higher legibility — saving AT&T millions of dollars every year.

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