and some other elements of typography

Es­ti­mated reading time is 5 min­utes.

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!

She’s just my type

“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.

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.


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.

Lizard tongues 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)


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.

Non-designers can too design

Suchwas 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. The title and the look of this book could lead 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.

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.

Typographers have a sense of humor!

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:

Typography Garamond Ampersand 1500

FEA­TURED IMAGE: The image at the top of this page are ex­am­ples of Gara­mond’s plain and italic am­per­sands, here set by Fibonacci.

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