Typography traces its origins to the first punches and dies used to make seals and currency in ancient times. The typographical principle, the creation of a complete text by reusing identical characters, was first realized in the Phaistos Disc, an enigmatic Minoan print item from Crete, Greece, which dates between 1850 and 1600 BC. It has been proposed that Roman lead pipe inscriptions were created by movable type printing, but German typographer Herbert Brekle recently dismissed this view.

When I’m working on a problem, I never think about beauty. I think only how to solve the problem. But when I have finished, if the solution is not beautiful, I know it is wrong.

The essential criterion of type identity was met by medieval print artifacts such as the Latin Pruefening Abbey inscription of 1119 that was created by the same technique as the Phaistos disc. The silver altarpiece of patriarch Pellegrinus II (1195−1204) in the cathedral of Cividale was printed with individual letter punches. The same printing technique can apparently be found in 10th to 12th century Byzantine reliquaries. Individual letter tiles where the words are formed by assembling single letter tiles in the desired order were reasonably widespread in medieval Northern Europe.

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Typography is the work of typesetters (also known as compositors), typographers, graphic designers, art directors, manga artists, comic book artists, and, now, anyone who arranges words, letters, numbers, and symbols for publication, display, or distribution, from clerical workers and newsletter writers to anyone self-publishing materials. Until the Digital Age, typography was a specialized occupation. Digitization opened up typography to new generations of previously unrelated designers and lay users.

“Type design is about function. Drawing pretty shapes isn't enough.”

― James Todd.

As the capability to create typography has become ubiquitous, the application of principles and best practices developed over generations of skilled workers and professionals has diminished. Thus, at a time when scientific techniques can provide evidence that supports established practice (legibility or brand recognition achieved through the appropriate use of serifs, letter case, letter forms, contrast, spacing, etc.) through understanding the limitations of human vision, typography may be encountered that fails to achieve its principal objective: effective communication.