MICResque Type Design
MICResque Type Design
0The technology necessary for MICR developed roughly parallel with OCR and addressed a similar need: inputting large amounts of information into a computer system using characters which could be read and verified by humans. In the 1950s, the growing demand of check processing demanded that a mechanized, automated solution replace the tedious methods of hand sorting, routing, and processing all personal checks (McKenney 61)â . A Technical Subcommittee of the American Bankerâs Association convened in 1954 to address the problem, and after a series of consultations with banks, manufacturers and the Federal Reserve Bank, the committee developed a recommendation and standard for a common machine language for check processing, which was published in its final form as Document 147 of the Bank Management Commission, first published in 1959 and still in use today (McKenney 75)â . The committeeâs use of the term language here is significant because the standards and specifications set forth in their recommendations encompass the numeric font itself, the location of MICR information on the check face, the ink quality, the system for encoding routing, transit, and account numbers, and the equipment required to process it. James McKenneyâs detailed narrative of the technical subcommittee is careful to note that the use of language in this context is strictly metaphorical (61)â , but the sense in which it describes the entire system strongly resembles Ferdinand de Saussureâs use of langue (the complete semiologic system of any language) as a field that is distinct from parole (the singular expression of a specific language act). This analogy between langue and MICR as a âcommon machine languageâ also will help explain the means by which re-appropriated MICR fonts express associations similar to those identified with OCR-A.
0The tone of document 147 is far less figurative than McKenneyâs, and in laying the detailed process which produced MICR technology, emphasizes the great degree of effort, innovation and cooperation which went into its development (Bank Management Commission, Technical Subcommittee 12)â . The clear benefit of this technology lay in its commonality (that is, its near-universal, near-simultaneous adoption), but its significance for aesthetic purposes was that it depended on the uniformity of mechanized input and processing.
0MICR works by a recognition process similar to OCR, except that in MICR, the ink is magnetized and it is read by a magnetic tape head rather than an optical scanner. This prevents stray marks and paper degradation from interfering with reading, both of which were important problems the Technical Subcommittee had to solve. The typeface ultimately selected by the committee, E-13B, consists of simple, geometric forms adorned with asymmetrical rectangular slabs (Figure 2-16). This design conforms to the technical requirements of the MICR input devices, and the variability of the slab location among individual letterforms ensures that even degraded type will yield a sufficiently distinct magnetic waveform in order to be properly read.
0This material durability has also given rise to E-13Bâs lasting aesthetic influence. Like OCR-A, E-13Bâs forms were originally determined by technological considerations but are now retained as aesthetic signifiers of those material circumstances constituting the original design constraint. Because E-13Bâs characters are even less natural,6 their visual legacy has been more pronounced and has had a lasting association with videogames since the early 70s. However, like OCR-A, the designs tended toward dystopian associations before being applied more generally to science fiction contexts, including videogames. Mark Owens and David Reinfurt discuss the influence of E-13B on type design and how it âquickly became a typographic signifier of the emergent human/computer interface and the intersection of money and technology â¦ The awkward, technically derived forms of E13B came to represent the âpure dataâ of information networks, pointing towards a post-industrial future that lay just on the horizon.â As evidence for this argument, Owens and Reinfurt offer that one of the first artistic uses of E-13B was in a 1967 work by Ed Ruscha which depicts simply the date 1984 set in E-13B, apparently in reference to Orwellâs novel. Like OCR-A in The Matrix, E-13B had become the lingua franca of dystopia. It is, therefore, interesting to explore several typefaces based on E-13B that were designed in the 1970s and that made frequent enough appearances in relation to videogames that their associative qualities today still suggest 1970s videogames.