IN MY PREVIOUS POST, “robert bringhurst and the elements of typographic style,” addressed the poetry that the author brought to his lengthy treatise on the history and importance of typography. If Bringhurst’s prose did not completely hook you but at least piqued your interest in type, then read on, so that I may suggest two more books on the subject.
Simon Garfield’s Just My Type – A Book About Fonts (Gotham, 2010) is very easy to read. It is also both very entertaining and very instructional. As with that first essay, rather than me dithering on (while I have always loved a well-designed and printed book, I can claim no real expertise), I am going to print the description from the book’s publicist (indented and justified below):
This is the original first edition of Just My Type from Profile Books of England (hardbound, 2010). I really don’t care for the design but it certainly makes its case for being a must-read book on fonts!
“A hugely entertaining and revealing guide to the history of type that asks, What does your favorite font say about you? Fonts surround us every day, on street signs and buildings, on movie posters and books, and on just about every product we buy. But where do fonts come from, and why do we need so many? Who is responsible for the staid practicality of Times New Roman, the cool anonymity of Arial, or the irritating levity of Comic Sans (and the movement to ban it)?
Typefaces are now 560 years old, but we barely knew their names until about twenty years ago, when the pull-down font menus on our first computers made us all the gods of type. Beginning in the early days of Gutenberg and ending with the most adventurous digital fonts, Simon Garfield explores the rich history and subtle powers of type.
This is the American first edition from Gotham Books (hardbound, 2011). This is the book that I just read and I prefer this cover: the red banner against the black backdrop is bolder and the type in black that look as much like squiggles as letters invites the reader to guess its meaning.
He goes on to investigate a range of modern mysteries, including how Helvetica took over the world, what inspires the seeming ubiquitous use of Trajan on bad movie posters, and exactly why the all-type cover of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus was so effective.
It also examines why the ‘T’ in the Beatles logo is longer than the other letters, and how Gotham helped Barack Obama into the White House. A must-have book for the design conscious, Just My Type‘s cheeky irreverence will also charm everyone who loved Eats, Shoots & Leaves and Schott’s Original Miscellany.” (GoodReads)
Be glad that I let the publicist have her way: I would never have thought to make any kinda comparison between the Garfield, Truss, and Schott books . . .
The darting tongue of a lizard catching flies
Garfield sheds light on the ampersand, a ligature that is usually merely functional in most modern typefaces but can be a thing of beauty: “For the first real flight of fancy, we need to look to that revolutionary Frenchman, Claude Garamond, the man who instilled the virtues of clear roman type on sixteenth-century Paris. With the ampersand, however, he allowed himself to head off from type to art.
His character provides a clear indication of the form’s origin: on the left side the e, on the right the t. But they are linked by a cradle that begins weightily, then thins out, and there are inky globular endings to each end of the crossbar on the t.
It betrays strong calligraphic roots, but what distinguishes it is the ascending stroke on the e portion, something that begins in the regular way as a belt across the letter, before ascending freely skywards, resembling the darting tongue of a lizard catching flies. It must have been great fun to sketch; painfully difficult to cut in metal.” (one long paragraph on page 91)
Such was my luck that I found three books on typography available at the library, the third being The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams. While the title and the look of this book could lead me casual observers to assume it is one of the seemingly endless books on scrapping or other similar hobbies. Too bad, as this is the book that I would suggest that a beginner read first (as I wish that I had).
This is the first edition of The Non-Designer’s Design Book by Robin Williams (paper, Peachpit Press, 1994). I like the design: simple, clean, direct, nice choice of a decorative typeface.
Some very basic terms are explained here that the Bringhurst and Garfield books simply assume the reader’s familiarity. Plus, the Non-Designer’s Design Book can be read in one sitting and its lessons applied almost immediately to any project, from a neighborhood flyer to a business card to a website to a self-published book!
The following (indented and justified) is from the Peachpit Press site and is intended for the fourth edition, but it applies here and is too good to pass up:
“For nearly 20 years, designers and non-designers alike have been introduced to the fundamental principles of great design by author Robin Williams. Through her straightforward and light-hearted style, Robin has taught hundreds of thousands of people how to make their designs look professional using four surprisingly simple principles.
Now in its fourth edition, The Non-Designer’s Design Book offers even more practical design advice, including a new chapter on the fundamentals of typography, more quizzes and exercises to train your Designer Eye, updated projects for you to try, and new visual and typographic examples to inspire your creativity.
Whether you’re a Mac user or a Windows user, a type novice, or an aspiring graphic designer, you will find the instruction and inspiration to approach any design project with confidence.”
This is the third edition from Peachpit (2008). This is the book that I just finished reading, the fourth edition not yet available from the library.
The Non-Designer’s Design Book is a must-read for almost anyone who isn’t an experienced typographer and art/graphics designer. Williams covers a reasonably broad spectrum of topics, which include but are not limited to:
• The four principles of design that underlie every design project
• How to design with color
• How to design with type
• How to combine typefaces for maximum effect
• How to see and think like a professional designer
• Specific tips on designing newsletters, brochures, flyers, and other projects.
I will end this on a light note: there is such a thing as typographer’s humor. One of the books (the Bringhurst, I believe) notes one (and I am paraphrasing): If you really hate someone, teach them the difference between typefaces. I love it! I found some silly ones on the Internet to close this essay out:
Did you hear? Comma and Period got married. But it didn’t last: Period was always finishing Comma’s sentences.
What did the typographer say to the printer who wouldn’t stop talking?
“Get to the point.”
Two fonts walk into the bar and the bartender says, “Sorry, we don’t serve your type here . . .”