In August 1983, Scientific American magazine published the article "Digital Typography" by Charles Bigelow and Donald Day, with letterform illustrations by Kris Holmes.
The article outlined the background and evolution of analog handwriting and typography and discussed the technology, problems, and promises of digital typography, from the perspective of 1983. Its most important question was this:
"The transition to digital typography therefore presents a subtle question with far-reaching implications: How is it possible to take the fullest advantage of digital technology and still ensure that digital letterforms retain the quality of the traditional letters, whose beauty and legibility have contributed profoundly to literacy in our culture."
Over the next 32 years, that question has been answered in many different ways by industrious designers and revivers of type and by inventive font technologists. Yet, although computers are thousands of times faster today than in 1983, reading speeds are about the same as they were three decades ago. There is still much more to be done to make typography accessible around the world. Seeing all these versions of our article in different languages led Bigelow & Holmes to design some of the earliest multinational and multi-scriptal fonts: Lucida Sans Unicode in 1993 (http://bit.ly/1TmSB6F), Lucida Console in 1994, and Lucida Grande in 2000.
"Digital Typography" was published at the same time as the first international seminar on digital type, "The Computer and the Hand in Type Design", which Charles Bigelow organized at Stanford University in August 1983. That Stanford conference, organized for ATypI, was the forerunner of many such conferences in later years.
The article was translated for French, German, Italian, Spanish, Russian, Japanese, and Chinese editions of Scientific American, most of which appeared in October, 1983. These are among the earliest international articles about digital typography for general readers.
As a visual aid to the history of digital type, we show the opening page in several languages and its accompanying illustration. To read the full article, curious readers, students, and type historians may consult the on-line references listed below. Some publications offer the complete article in digital format, for a fee, and hard copies of the magazine may still be available in libraries and archives.
ENGLISH: Scientific American August 1983 “Digital Typography” by Charles Bigelow & Donald Day (lettering illustrations by Kris Holmes)
FRANÇAIS: Pour La Science No. 72 Octobre 1983 “La typographie numérique”. http://www.pourlascience.fr
DEUTSCH: Spektrum der Wissenschaft Nr. 10 Oktober 1983 “Digitale Typographie”
ITALIANO: Le Scienze “Tipografia digitale” http://www.lescienze.it/archivio/articoli/1983/10/01/news/tipografia_digitale-543523/
CHINESE Taiwan Edition: Scientific American http://sa.ylib.com
Some international editions may not have been published in 1983, and some URLs may not refer to the original publisher of 1983. If we could not find a URL or print citation for the 1983 article, we list only the current url for the publisher.
A current listing of international editions of Scientific American is here: