Robin Kinross is proprietor of Hyphen Press. After graduating (1975) and postgraduating (1979) from the Department of Typography & Graphic Communication at the University of Reading, he began to do ‘editorial typography’ (editing and design in one process) as well as write about typography. In 1980, while still living in Reading, he re-edited and re-published Norman Potter’s What is a designer as the first book under the imprint of Hyphen Press. In 1982 he moved to London, did behind-the-scenes work for Pluto Press’s political atlases and began to write journalism, especially for the magazine Blueprint in its golden period of the late 1980s. When his book Modern typography came out in 1992, this signalled the start of Hyphen Press as the full-time occupation that it is now. Impatient with authors slow to complete promised works, he resorted to publishing his own words again in the book Unjustified texts (2002). Other books to which he has contributed include Otto Neurath’s Gesammelte bildpädagogische Schriften (1991) and Jan Tschichold’s The new typography (1995).
Books by Robin Kinross
A book of writings from twenty-five years of engagement on the peripheries of both journalism and academic life, and drawn largely from small-circulation and now hard-to-access publications. Persistent themes include: editorial typography, the emergence of graphic design in Britain, emigré designers, Dutch typography, the work of critical modernist designers
A brisk tour through the history of Western typography, from the time (c.1700 in France and England) when it can be said to have become ‘modern’. A spotlight is directed at different cultures in different times, to trace the developments and shifts in modern typography. Attention is given to ideas, to social context, and to technics, thus stepping over the limited and tired tropes of stylistic analysis. This is a reprint of the second edition, which has some variations in the pictures as well as corrections and updatings in the text.
The transformer: principles of making Isotype charts
Marie Neurath and Robin Kinross
The visual work of Otto Neurath and his associates, now commonly known as Isotype, has been much discussed in recent years. This short book explains its essential principles: the work of ‘transforming’, or putting information into visual form. This deeper level of their work – which is applicable in all areas of design – is routinely neglected in the assumption that Isotype is just a matter of symbols and pictograms. At the core of the book is a previously unpublished essay by Marie Neurath, the principle Isotype transformer, which she wrote in the last year of her life. This is supplemented by Robin Kinross with commentary on illustrated examples of Isotype and other supporting short essays.
God’s amateur: the writing of E.C. Large
Stuart Bailey & Robin Kinross
A book of and about E.C. Large, which contains a selection of his shorter writings – travel essays, reportage, reveries, reviews, critiques, autobiographical pieces – and which reveals the extent of his achievement. These show a notably exact writer, with sane no-nonsense views, and yet with great imagination. Some unpublished texts are shown in facsimile. Also here is a bibliography of his published writings (both ‘literary’ and scientific), and an essay by Stuart Bailey, which sees his work with present-day eyes.
Jost Hochuli & Robin Kinross
A vastly experienced Swiss book-designer explains his trade with plentiful illustrations of designed books. Two complementary components are added: an essay by Hochuli on some dogmas of typography, and arguing for an attitude of critical openness of mind; and reproduction of books designed by Hochuli himself, with analytical captions by Kinross. (The book is being left out of print, for reasons given here.)
Journal articles by Robin Kinross
Robin Kinross | 2013.04.05
| history, Martens, Typography papers
This review of the book Wim Crouwel: mode en module, by Frederike Huygen and Hugues Boekrad, was written for and published in an issue Typography papers, now out of print. The Crouwel book, as it was often referred to, was issued only in a Dutch edition, which sold out quickly. Since then, Wim Crouwel’s renown has only increased. Most recently his work has been celebrated in a major exhibition (at the Design Museum, London, 2011, and on show from this month at The Lighthouse, Glasgow); in The Hague he has been awarded the Gerrit Noordzij Prize (2009, with an exhibition following in 2012). Wim Crouwel: mode en module is now something of a fabled work, with large prices asked for second-hand copies. Given the continuing absence of an English-language edition of the book – which would surely be a tough translation, editorial, and production job, as well as an expensive one – this review may be worth resurrecting, as a marker of a moment in the discussion of graphic design. This version of my text is essentially as published in Typography papers, with a few updating remarks added in the notes.
Robin Kinross | 2012.11.20
| obituaries, politics
Robin Fior died on 29 September, in hospital at Mafra, outside Lisbon. This is not an obituary (his friend Richard Hollis has written a good one), but merely a set of memories of someone I knew, off and on, over twenty or so years. He was part of a certain network of designers in Britain, whose work has provided a main impetus for Hyphen Press.
Robin Kinross | 2012.04.26
| Kinross, legibility, politics
This is the cover of the pamphlet Fellow readers: notes on multiplied language, which Hyphen Press put out in 1994. The piece was prompted by the debates over typography that had been published in the pages of Emigre and Eye magazines, and elsewhere. A participant in this discussion, I saw the chance to make a more extended contribution when my book Modern typography was coming up for a reprint. This was in 1994, just as the wind was beginning to go out of this little Anglo-American storm. I gave the publication the format of Modern typography (in its first edition of 1992), using the same typeface, and page construction, and wrote to fill 32 pages – which would be just enough to give it a spine with the author and title on it. The margins carried quite a few notes: I was conscious that Modern typography’s margins had been underused. I imagined that the printers might make the book and the pamphlet in the same production process, which they almost did. Fellow readers seemed to serve its purpose. Though slender, as a free-standing publication it made more of a mark than any magazine article could.
Robin Kinross | 2011.10.26
| Hyphen news, aesthetics
Peter Campbell died yesterday at his home, after being diagnosed last year with cancer. He was a special man, both in his nature and in the combination of his talents. We were very glad to publish his writings, and to add him to the list of Hyphen authors, who seem often to be people whom the world finds it hard to pin down. We expect fuller accounts of him will be published, but meanwhile we can give here the ‘afterword’ to At …, a collection of his reviews from the London Review of Books. (This also allows us to correct the description of the context of the start of the London Review of Books, which was badly muddled in the book’s text.)
Robin Kinross | 2011.04.11
| obituaries, Typography papers
An obituary of Paul Stiff was published in The Guardian on 7 April – see here. What follows below is an extended and re-edited version of that text.
Robin Kinross | 2011.01.27
| music, Potter
When we were planning to publish music CDs, I tried to keep in mind that (since all the decisions were in our hands) it was a chance to think freshly and not – or not necessarily – use the reigning model of a plastic jewel case with printed ‘inlay’ sheet and booklet. I thought it would be good to try to do without plastic. It might cost a bit more money, but at least we could make a nice thing: more friendly than the jewel-case model, and perhaps more economic-elegant in its materials. This seemed important in the light of the burning question of ‘why make CDs anyway, why not just issue sound files for downloading?’ If you offer a pleasant and desirable thing, with material qualities that can never be downloaded, then it can be worth the effort and the cost of still publishing physical objects. The same set of thoughts applies, of course, to printed books and e-books.
Robin Kinross | 2010.11.09
Teus de Jong died last week in hospital in Groningen, after a succession of serious illnesses. He was the typesetter of a number of our books, especially the paperbacks designed by Françoise Berserik. I knew him mainly through emails; but I also came to know him in the silent way in which one feels the presence of a compositor who gives order to words that one has edited or perhaps even written. One becomes aware of choices made, decisions taken – of a person behind the construction of the lines of text.
Robin Kinross | 2010.08.23
| book trade
Some previous posts here have offered indirect criticisms of the shop Amazon. Now here is a direct assault on the behemoth, made by a publisher with much mainstream experience, just starting out on a new venture that will work outside the existing book trade and sell direct to customers.
Robin Kinross | 2010.08.09
| music, book production
It’s been suggested elsewhere in these web-pages that we can judge the quality of a book by looking at its production as an object for carrying meaning. The space between the lines will tell us something about the quality of thought in the editorial-design processes, and so – because editor and writer might work hand-in-hand – in the writing too; and the glue on the spine will tell us something about the thinking in the publishing house. The recent book of conversations between Lee Konitz and Andy Hamilton may test this thesis to near-destruction.
Robin Kinross | 2010.07.07
| book trade, Isotype
Some years ago – I recall events and publications in the early 1990s – there was some noise about the ‘designer as author’: graphic designers would have a hand in writing (or maybe ‘authoring’) the texts that they also designed, and designers could even be considered as authors. It follows from the technology: the text gets shaped by designers, and the last touch before publication may now be in a designer’s hands. And there is the fact that content is always embodied in its form, and so to make form is also to shape content. But it does not follow that the designer needs to become an author. I don’t believe we should give up on the ideal of the designer working hand-in-hand with an author: listening, thinking, suggesting possibilities, making changes to first proposals, and often following an author’s wishes. There are clear advantages in a separation of the two roles: designers see things that authors can’t, and vice versa. (Against all this, the arrival of another new technic – screen displays of content – may take this process in another direction: away from the hands of any designer and into the domain of the ‘browser’ and its settings, and of the particular screen that is used.)
Robin Kinross | 2010.07.01
| Wild, Hyphen news, architecture, Potter, Froshaug
Idea magazine is pleasantly print-fixed: none of the words it publishes are put online, so anyone wanting a taste of it simply has to go out and find a copy. The current issue, no. 341, has an article that refers to Hyphen Press and its efforts. This essay, ‘Subterranean modernism’ by Randy Nakamura and Ian Lynam, is perhaps the first published piece by unconnected observers to address ideas that we’ve been busy with for now 30 years. This is very pleasing.
Robin Kinross | 2009.09.29
| best books, book production, editing
Last Thursday the London publisher Libris brought out Erdmut Wizisla’s Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht: the story of a friendship. This is an English-language edition of the book published originally by Suhrkamp. Behind that edition was a first embodiment, as its author’s doctoral thesis. The translation from thesis to book is a difficult one, and a process that is rarely resolved well. The transmutation of such a complex book from one language into another is also a difficult business. Some of the issues raised by these endeavours have been brought up, also in connection with Walter Benjamin’s writings, in two previous posts here, in August and December of last year.
Robin Kinross | 2009.09.15
| obituaries, Froshaug, editing, music
The typographer Alexander Verberne died on 27 May 2009. After a stroke in 1997, which was followed by further strokes, he had been seriously impaired and was living in a care-home in The Hague. He was born on 18 August 1924 in Den Helder.
Robin Kinross | 2009.03.25
| Smeijers, type design
This new typeface designed by Fred Smeijers has just been released by OurType. As its name promises, it is an echt-German production: recalling the early-nineteenth-century Grotesk letter.
Jane Howard & Robin Kinross | 2009.02.21
| Froshaug, Kinross, Hyphen news
A recent tidying of the office turned up an offprint from the journal Matrix (no. 21, 2001), which published two pieces written on the occasion of the publication of our book Anthony Froshaug. Looking at them again, they seem worth reviving – to explain something of the process by which that book was made (just as this piece explains how another of our books came into the world).
Robin Kinross | 2008.12.13
| editing, book trade
Further to this discussion of the Benjamin archive book, published in English by Verso, some invaluable notes on the history of the publication of Walter Benjamin’s writings can be found here, as a prelude to the publication next year of Erdmut Wizisla’s Walter Benjamin and Bertolt Brecht: the story of a friendship, 1924–1940. Let the Verso editorial staff read these notes, and learn.
Nicolette Moonen and Robin Kinross | 2008.10.26
| music, Potter, Hyphen news
Robin Kinross | 2008.08.22
| book production, best books, editing
Now that every word that Walter Benjamin published in his lifetime has been collected and republished, and now that his many unfinished words have been similarly collected and printed, and now that to this set of ‘collected writings’ we can add letters and diaries that he cannot have thought of publishing, there only remains to be transcribed and multiplied the scraps, cards, sheets, that fill up the rest of his archive.
Robin Kinross | 2008.05.12
| Isotype, Kinross
The recent flourish of interest in the visual work of Otto Neurath – let’s call it Isotype – may be seen as a second wave, coming after a first period of discovery, which included exhibitions of the work in Reading (1975) and Vienna (1982), and an exhibition of the work of the Neurath group’s main artist, Gerd Arntz, in The Hague (1976). From this writer’s point of view, this phase of research culminated in a collection of all Neurath’s writings on the matter (1991). Significant contributions of the second wave include the book Bildersprache by Frank Hartmann and Erwin K. Bauer (2002), an exhibition shown in Brno, Prague, Vienna and finally at the Triennale in Milan (2002–3), and now (2008) the book Otto Neurath: the language of the global polis by Nader Vossoughian, with an associated exhibition and events at the Stroom gallery in The Hague. This book and exhibition have indeed been part of a veritable stream of happenings in the Netherlands, which includes a website of Gerd Arntz’s graphic work and a book Lovely language. Hyphen Press is due to contribute to this second wave later this year, with a book titled The transformer. By way of a warm-up for that book, and some clearing of the ground, here are a few thoughts prompted by the most recent publications.
Robin Kinross | 2007.12.10
| architecture, music, history, modernism, lettering on buildings, Gray
In summer of this year the Royal Festival Hall, on the South Bank of London’s river, was reopened after a major, two-year refurbishment. The auditorium itself was remade and restored, and the rest of the building was significantly remade/restored too. The spirit and the materials of the original building were respected, at the same time changes needed for the place’s new uses were made. The architects leading the work were Allies & Morrison, among the most convincing and least pretentious of the UK firms practising ‘modern architecture’.
Robin Kinross | 2007.11.01
| book production, book trade, Tschichold
As any long-term reader and watcher of Penguin Books knows, the company has always cultivated its own history, seizing the chance of an anniversary to make an exhibition or put out a book celebrating its own story. And, as with any history, a full account – one that takes in the downsides and the incoherencies and failures – is always more interesting, as well as truer, than a story that looks just at the high sunlit pastures. This more rounded account will also be more complimentary than the bland self-celebration: one sees the great achievements in the context of difficulties overcome.
Robin Kinross | 2007.08.20
The latest New Left Review leads with a dazzling article by Régis Debray, lamenting the end of print, and of socialism: the one death implies and necessitates the other. Debray discerns three stages of communication history: the logosphere (from the invention of writing to the coming of the printing press; the graphosphere (from 1448 to around 1968); and the videosphere, the realm of the image – which we now inhabit.
Robin Kinross | 2007.08.09
| book trade
Two demon constituents of capsule English-language biographies (for book-flaps, catalogues, CVs, and so on) are ‘currently’ and ‘based in’. ‘Cormac Wrathbone is a freelance writer and critic, currently based in London.’ What’s wrong here? It’s not just the tiredness of the phrasing.
Robin Kinross | 2007.07.30
| book trade
This and this, and this and this, show why it is safer to look at the website of the publisher of a book, rather than at one of the websites of the internet shop Amazon. Very small publishers, especially, tend to change the details of their books (number of pages, cover design, price) even weeks before publication, and they also tend not to have enough time to inform the big selling beast that these things have been changed since the book was first announced. For more on Amazon, and why it should be regarded with some doubt, see here. (Update, September 2007. By this time Amazon had found the final cover images of these books, and improved its description of them. So now we have to explain that the first and third links here were to provisional images and advance details. The mystery of the line ‘Buy this book by Nicolete giovanni M Gray today!’ remains. These words really did appear on the Amazon website, as if it is robots who write the script.)
Robin Kinross | 2007.06.27
| book production, best books
This year’s catalogues for the best-designed/-produced books have been appearing. The Swiss catalogue for books issued in 2006 is just published. The German catalogue for the same period came out some weeks ago. The British publication, also carrying the designation ‘2006’, was produced towards the end of last year. The Dutch best-books catalogue is on its way, and will cover books published in 2006. With the exception of the British publication, these catalogues describe and discuss books that are put on exhibition in their own countries, and which are also, in the autumn, added to a showing at the Frankfurt Book Fair of all the world’s best-books of that preceding year. A proper survey of the best-books exhibitions would take in all the countries represented at Frankfurt, including (as I recall) Finland, Denmark, the Czech Republic, the United States, Spain. These remarks are addressed to the countries with which I am most familiar.
Robin Kinross | 2007.05.15
| Spiekermann, Renner
There has been much discussion in recent years about the typeface Helvetica, prompted by the book made by Lars Mueller and now a film by Gary Hustwit. In this connection, Erik Spiekermann has been active. Much of Erik’s work has been a wonderful effort in surpassing the unthinking, formulaic and bureaucratic approach that often entails the use of Helvetica. In 1991 Erik brought out his typeface Meta. With the great success of Meta, it came to be some sort of alternative to Helvetica: more subtle and humane than the essentially regularized-industrial forms of Helvetica. The tag ‘the Helvetica of the 1990s’ has become attached to Meta, and has sometimes been attributed to Robin Kinross.
Robin Kinross | 2007.05.02
| book production
This is an introductory survey of a vexed issue of book-production: binding techniques. The intention of the piece is general enlightenment, and to support a process that is threatened with extinction, and to give information about a coming technique.
Robin Kinross | 2007.04.25
| book reviews, detail in typography
This review has just appeared in the new number (no. 11) of Text, within an issue on the theme of ‘Edition & Typographie’.
Robin Kinross | 2007.04.17
| Burnhill, obituaries, Froshaug
Peter was there in Stafford as a constant point of reference for me for about thirty years. I remember making what seemed like a pilgrimage from Reading to Stafford, in 1977, to meet him for the first time, and the others around him in the group that made and ran the typography course at the College of Art and Design. Before this, as an undergraduate in the early 1970s, I knew about him as a co-writer of a fundamental article in the journal Visible Language (‘Experiments with unjustified text’), as a presence in the thinking behind our course at Reading, and as one of the people on the network that I had begun to discover – of designers such as Anthony Froshaug, Norman Potter, Ernest Hoch. They were intellectual and practical father figures, who were all apparently ageless in their immediate democratic engagement with anyone: serious (and often very funny), dissenting and leftist, disseminating.
Robin Kinross | 2007.01.20
| blog-world, book trade
When it launched its website in July 1995, the internet seller Amazon seemed a wondrous thing. Here was a bookstore stocked with almost every title, and one that would reach parts of the country (the United States of America) that were far from any bricks-and-mortar shop. It was indeed based in Seattle, and its employees, one imagined, were mainly grunge-kids in baggy jeans and t-shirts, fetching and packing the books for minimum wages. The company seemed endearing to those of us who like brave new ventures.
Robin Kinross | 2006.11.28
| book reviews, architecture
In a bravura act of publishing, Taschen Verlag has put out an extended selection, in facsimile, of the magazine Domus. This short review of the venture appears in the November issue of Architecture Today.
Robin Kinross | 2006.09.26
An article by Juliet Fleming on ‘How to look at a printed flower’ Word & Image, vol. 22, no. 2, 2006) throws surprising light on a usually unregarded element of the typographic armoury. Fleming works her way from early appearances of flowers in English printing (Henry Denham in the 1560s), via the aesthetic theory of Immanuel Kant (‘flowers are free natural beauties’) and the printed floral wallpaper that was contemporary with Kant, via ‘arabesques’ and the pattern-making of Islamic art, to the suggestion that these flowers and arabesques achieved their effects just through this exoticism that ‘allowed them to appear to presuppose no concept, with a technology that transformed copying into standardised reproduction, and thus took it out of the force field of imitation’.
Robin Kinross and Linda Eerme | 2002.05.22
| architecture, book trade
Architectural and design publishing has seen remarkable changes in recent years. How does this sector of publishing work now? How did it come to have this structure? What part does the design of these books play? This article tackles these questions and suggests some answers. After a wide-ranging survey, we profile a number of publishers that help to make up the liveliest sector of the present scene. This text was published, with many illustrations of the books discussed, in Domus, no. 847, April 2002
Petra Cerne Oven and Robin Kinross | 2000.08.21
| Kinross, Hochuli, Froshaug, Isotype, Martens, Spiekermann, Kinneir, Tschichold, interviews
This interview was recorded in London on 28 May 1999, and published in Slovenian translation in the cultural magazine Emzin (vol. 9, nos. 1–2). In making this transcription, we have made some clarifications and expansions of what was said.
Robin Kinross | 1998.07.22
This article was written in October 1996 for the ‘Typelab Krant’. This was a laser-printed and stapled publication circulated at the ATypI meeting in The Hague in that year: it was published in the issue of 25 October 1996. We resurrect the piece now, because it gives some picture of the way in which Hyphen Press books come into existence.