brown and white labeled box

Symbols and Association

There was a time when this text looked futuristic:

This is an example of an MICR-inspired typeface.

In the 1970s and 1980s, typefaces like this would show up on book covers and posters that dealt with science fiction or computers. In the 2020s, I rarely see this sort of typeface used.

I believe this is because these letterforms carried associations with things that happened in the 1950s. As that decade gets farther away, those associations weaken.

What this has to do with the 1950s

Around the 1950s, banks started using computerized systems to process checks. The approach that became most popular was MICR, or “magnetic ink character recognition.”

For MICR to work, it needed special letters with the chunky look of the “science fiction” text above.

The idea of having computers (robots?) in charge of peoples’ money was a novel one. Thus, MICR occupied the same place in peoples’ psyche as computers and other high technology.

If you want to learn more about MICR, there is a page about it on Wikipedia.

Why perceptions changed

For the people of today, those funny-looking numbers at the bottom of checks are nothing new. They are unremarkable. Their presence on checks does not inspire an association with new technology.


Despite our distance in time from the events that inspired the association between MICR and high technology, there are still echoes of the sense that MICR has something to do with computers.

In my case, for my entire adult life, checks have had those MICR numbers on the bottom. However, I consumed entertainment produced by people who had been writing checks in the 1950s.

They created book covers and movie posters that had what they felt was “the look of the future.” I grew up with what they created, and so an echo of the association lives on with me.

The echoes will get quieter in time. There may be occasional resurgences in future generations, as creative works are made by those with this association.

There are people who know these letterforms have something to do with old-timey computers, but have no idea why. I was one of those people until recently, when I finally learned where these letterforms came from.





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