Font of all knowledge
I was lucky enough at Christmas to get a whole stack of books. I’ve just finished the first one in the pile, Just My Type, by Simon Garfield. It is essentially a potted history/guide to fonts and typefaces from the beginning of the printing press to the present day. And here is my little review of it, you lucky things.
The book is nowhere near as dry as you might imagine and is full of some great anecdotes. These range from the playful (the designer who tried to live a day without Helvetica font) to the downright bizarre (the font designer who had sex with his dog). It is no surprise that Garfield took this approach, as his work before has focused very much on the subjects telling their own tale (for example, see: The Wrestling, a fantastic book about the British wrestling industry. A must-read for anyone who was glued to World of Sport on ITV in the seventies and eighties).
I now also know more about Comic Sans than I ever imagined was possible. This isn’t as bad a thing as I might have once imagined. I can’t get enough trivia, me. And this book is full of it.
It also works as an illustration of how people can get obsessive over the most esoteric of subjects, and how the internet often brings them together. It lists a bunch of websites I should really check out. If I was any sort of consistent and helpful blogger, I’d link to them here, but I’m just not that organised.
Suffice to say, there are people out there who take typefaces/fonts very, very seriously indeed, and have an encyclopaedic and passionate knowledge of the subject. When I say ‘passionate’ I don’t mean they fornicate with their dog in the name of typefaces. Although some of them might do. I don’t know. Ahem. This review isn’t going as well as I planned.
One thing I took from the book is that a great font works when you don’t notice it. It is at the service of the reader. When you do notice it, it is often doing something wrong. I liked the analogy of the words being the music and the font being the sound. The melody might be the important part, but unless the sound quality is right, you won’t be able to enjoy it fully.
Now…to tinker with this site’s fonts again…
This is a rather timely topic. I have a friend in rhetoric and composition who shares at least one typeface link a day via Buzz or Google Reader. Another friend (coalition friend Father of the Year) who posted something on Facebook about the antiquated practice of double-spacing from a typeface designer’s perspective. Typeface really is a big deal as we enter this new decade. Thanks for the review. I’ll have to check it out.
It feels like more and more people are caring about design and its implications. And typefaces are an easy ‘in’ for many. I guess choosing what font to use in Word or whatever is one of the first and most accessible design decisions we make. It is also easy to go horribly wrong. The book touches upon this – that the more eye-catching or distinctive fonts are not necessarily the best or most functional, but are often used by ‘amateurs’ who think these fonts will lift their work and showcase their creativity. Instead, more often than not, they make their work look crappy.
I’m a font buff, so I’ll have to check this book out. Helvetica has a worthwhile documentary. Times New Roman has a compelling creation myth.
Nice TNR story! I keep meaning to check out the Helvetica documentary, but never get around to it. I’ll certainly endeavour to now.