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The World’s Least Efficient Type Machine Takes 30 Minutes To Write A Single “A”

The machine is designer Sooji Lee’s attempt to bring craftsmanship back to the age of digital reproduction.

Press down a letter on your keyboard, and your computer will fill your screen with it, in any font you want. It’s a process we take for granted, says Design Academy Eindhoven graduate Sooji Lee, who wondered what it would take for a human to reproduce type–or at least one typeface, Bodoni–as reliably as a computer does.

For her project “How To Write Bodoni Lower Case,” Lee created an enormous, pedal-operated wooden machine, which resembles an industrial loom in some respects. Totally analog, the machine simply exists to allow Lee to recreate Bodoni consistently. By changing the settings on her machine and pushing the pedal down, she can draw any lower case letter in Bodoni. It takes Lee some 74 steps, 43 presses of the pedal and 30 minutes just to reproduce the letter a. Other letters are simpler. Even so, it requires an incredible amount of patience to write anything on Lee’s Bodoni machine.

Which is, of course, the point. Lee created her machine as part of a master’s thesis on craftsmanship, to see what it would take to adapt the analog techniques of old world masters to the digital age. Craftsmanship requires patience and care, qualities in short supply when we’re picking a font for our Word documents. Yet the fonts we’re picking so carelessly are often extraordinary works of craftsmanship in their own right; “How To Write Bodoni Lower Case” posits that maybe if we’re going to use them, we should do so with a modicum of the care that went into creating them in the first place.

[Photos: via Sooji Lee]

About the author

John Brownlee is a design writer who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. You can email him at john.brownlee+fastco@gmail.com.

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