Before about 1990, a book like Letter Fountain would have been aimed at the professional community of typesetters, publishers, typographers, graphic designers and advertising agencies – but times change. According to the cover of Dutch designer Mieke Gerritzen’s manifesto Everyone Is a Designer in the Age of Social Media – anyone who wants to can write, set, turn their hand to layout or graphic design and even design typefaces. So, obviously, the avid computer user will do so. The consequence: an avalanche of printed material that is aesthetically and technically of a dubious quality.

Through myths and legends, spoken languages contribute to history. Although there are no audio recordings of ancient times that can tell us how people lived or what they told one another, there is a level of certainty about visual variants of language. A fleeting visual version exists until this day: sign language. Contrary to popular belief, sign language is not universal. As with spoken languages, most countries have their own sign language, complete with dialects. But this is beyond the scope of this book. We are dealing with the recorded version of language, specifically the western forms of writing and their resulting typography. This typography could only develop after a long history that eventually resulted in the Latin alphabet. The journey to those twentysix letters, ten numbers and some added punctuation marks took more than 50,000 years. It all started with the ‘sign’.