on 3 November 2010
I read a gushing review of this in the DT and was immediately transported back to the late 1970s (1979 I think) when a uni friend of mine gave me his old (c1977-1978) Letraset catalogue (I think I still have it somewhere). I was rather taken aback and impressed by all the different typefaces and even tried to reproduce by hand some Old English names and signs with a Rotring pen (remember those?). Fast forward a few years and there I am doing my final year project surgically removing the lower line of the 'E' because I had run out of 'F's for 'Figure'. So I thought this book would be the sort of minutiae type anal retentive stuff I enjoy reading - and it is!
It could have been such a boring book just talking about some of the more famous 100,000+ typefaces that exist but it isn't - it's a masterpiece. I can't believe that someone could research and write such an excellent book on something that ostensibly is insignificant, and it is only when you read the book the lightbulb comes on and you think how important typefaces, fonts and printing is in your life. This is even truer with the advent of the digital age, as we can easily compare typefaces and fonts on a PC - which is a lot of fun!
I didn't realise (I suppose I should have) just how much effort goes into designing a typeface and the fonts and in a way this book salutes that with its clever (though perhaps obvious) use of the typefaces all the way through - it must have been a nightmare to proof read.
I now know that the delicious typeface on the London Underground is Johnstone Sans and that one of the designers had some very odd sexual leanings!
Also I did find a couple of potential minor errors in the book and wrote to the author who was kind enough to reply - what a good egg (and we agreed that they were minor!).
If you like this type (b'dum tschh) of thing then I can't recommend this book highly enough - it's a real gem.
on 22 October 2010
As the anarchic cover hints, this isn't a dry history of typopgraphy; the miscellany of stories within build up a picture of font history through a montage of anecdotes. The book uses the lives of typographers, the inspirations for their designs, and the social background to weave a fascinating story.
From the elegant and practical Sabon (first produced for easy typesetting), via the downright criminal Gill Sans (wanted for incest and zoophilia), to the now infamous Comic Sans (wanted for crimes against taste), most of the fonts we use today are touched upon, and a few less well known ones too.
Sadly the fonts we use every day to dress our thoughts often pass unnoticed, and the creators unrewarded - Just my Type lets us know why fonts are so important, and what your choice of font says about the words you have writtten before they have even been read.
There's no neat chronology here, and little to surprise a close student of typography, but as a layperson's introduction to the surprisingly passionate world of typography this book couldn't do better.
on 18 November 2010
You are looking at it right now, and if it is doing its job, you don't even notice it. It might represent a creation that has taken centuries to come to its current state of perfection, or it might be something that a dedicated specialist worked on for years and brought out a decade ago. It represents artistry directed within a circumscribed realm. I am talking about the font in which these letters are presented. Thirty years ago, fonts were usually the interest of only a select few in the printing world, but now every computer is charged with fonts and everyone gets to be an amateur typographer (technically, the font is a specific set of metal parts, or digital files, that allows reproduction of letters, and a typeface is the design of letters the font allows you to reproduce, but you can see how the words would get used interchangeably). Simon Garfield is not a professional typographer; his role is bringing out fine nonfiction about, say, stamp collecting, history, or the color mauve. But he has an amateur's enthusiasm for fonts, and communicates it infectiously in _Just My Type: A Book About Fonts_ (Profile Books). This is not a collection of type designs, though there are many illustrations. In most cases it won't help you in finding out what font you happen to be looking at (but it will tell you how to do so in surprising ways). It is a book of appreciation for an art that is largely invisible, but is also essential.
I would not like to read pages set in any of the fonts in one of Garfield's last chapters, "The Worst Fonts in the World." On the list is Papyrus, which caused a stir when it was used extensively in the film _Avatar_. The expensive film used a free (and overused) display font, and font fans noticed. There was also a font war (also known as a "fontroversy") when in 2009 Ikea decided to change its display font from Futura to Verdana. The change inspired passionate arguments in mere bystanders, "like the passion of sports fans," says Garfield, and the _New York Times_ joked that it was "perhaps the biggest controversy to come out of Sweden." The biggest of font wars has had a comic edge to it, and it is the starting point for Garfield's book. Comic Sans is a perfectly good font. It looks something like the letters you see in comic books, smooth, rounded, sans serif, clear. Because it caught on and was quickly overused, there has been a "ban Comic Sans" movement. Even the heads of the movement, which is somewhat tongue-in-cheek, admit that Comic Sans looks fine, say, on a candy packet; but they have also seen it on a tombstone and on a doctor's brochure about irritable bowel syndrome. If you see a font and you wonder which one it is, you can take steps to identify it. Lots of people like to do this. It is especially useful to examine the lower case g. (The other character that reveals a lot is the ampersand, which, maybe since it is not a letter or a punctuation mark, appears in exuberant eccentricity even in some calm fonts.) That g has a lot of variable points; it might have a lower hook or it might have a loop, it might have a straight line on the right, or the upper loop might have an ear that rises or droops, and this doesn't even get into whether the upper loop is a circle, a long or wide ellipse, or has uniform width. Take a look at the g letters shown here, or in your regular reading matter, and you will be amazed at how variable a selection of even only a few can be. If you have your g, you can look it up in font books, but there are so many fonts now that no book comes close to showing them all. There's an application for the iPhone which allows you to take a picture of the letter in question, upload it somewhere, and then get suggestions of possible matches. Or you can go to a type forum and ask there, because there are lots of people devoted to hunting down this sort of thing. And they take it so seriously that, as on many internet forums, they get rather snarky about disagreements.
If you don't pay attention to fonts (and most of them do their work best by not calling attention to themselves), Garfield's entertaining book might get you started. There are chapters about the difficult matter of copyrighting a font, because if you design a good font it is easy to copy it, and there isn't much that can be done about font piracy. Font designers work for love, not money. There's a chapter on "The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy white dog" and other phrases that show all the letters, or particular words that display a lot of the letters most important to font design. There's plenty of history starting with Gutenberg and the historical Roman types from which are descended many of the fonts we read every day. Between the chapters are "font breaks" to praise Albertus or Gill Sans and to tell about how they came to be designed, with plenty of anecdotes and other funny or sad stories. This is a delightful, amusing book about a whole world most of us take for granted.
on 31 December 2011
A quite interesting read, but written in the modern style - nice anecdotes but no coherent chronology and presented in mostly short fragments (though some are rather idiosyncratic and go on for too long!).
Given that the subject matter is visual - fonts, and their use in signs, advertising, record sleeves, etc - the book is poorly illustrated. Sometimes we get an enlarged illustration of the font that is under discussion, more often all we see of the font is in its name, displayed within the text. Perhaps the author belongs to a sect where images of the divine are not permitted, or only through occasional glimpses.
on 19 November 2010
It's all about typefaces and fonts. Geeky indeed. It includes a brief history of the printing game, from Guttenburg to Letraset. The book goes off on a tangent about an important font every couple of chapters, giving us a more detailed look at the most widely used (Futura, Optima, Gill Sans). I found the parts on how a different typeface affects business - ie in terms of branding and product perception verrrry interesting (See easyJet [Cooper Black], Ikea [formly used Futura, now Veranda]) It would have be an inert read without hearing the human side to it. There are interviews from important figures (Nevile Brody, and Margaret Calvert for example) and these are worked into the text well. It's poppy, anecdotal, easy to read and of the times, just like font should be, I guess.
Excellent as an introduction to the whole font business, I'll definitely keep my eyes peeled for the books and websites that Garfield mentions in his bibliography.
The first gripe I have with it is easily dismissed - it doesn't go deep enough. [In fact I'll dismiss it myself - it's meant to be light enough so that someone who isn't into the semantics of font can enjoy it, and those of us who need more can, well, go read more.]
Secondly, I'd love it in coffee table book-size. With colour pictures, this could be as good-looking inside as it is on the outside. Font is graphic design, so it seems strange having finished read it, that it isn't big and chunky like other such reference books. Having said that, its format makes it more appealing to pick up in a shop. It's probably just my horrible eyesight speaking, but I'd love if the example fonts and the pictures were a bit bigger. Maybe it'll be really successful and get an update!
on 30 November 2010
Most people don't notice fonts, but they are part of everyone's everyday life - whether it's in the newspaper in the morning or the products that face us on supermarket shelves. This is a fascinating and very readable history and guide to the stuff that's all around us, singing the praises of the elegant and functional Gill Sans while despairing at the ubiquity of the miserable Comic Sans. A fun and always edifying read, and set in the lovely Sabon.
on 23 November 2010
Typefaces are all around us and in bewildering variety. While at first glance they seem to be just a simple tool, a way of communicating though the words they make up, in practice they are often both subtle and sophisticated. They transmit an impression or generating an emotional response by their very shapes. Fonts have emotional overtones and convey messages, and companies can spend many thousands of pounds matching up the right one to image they want to convey, or developing a new font from scratch.
The subject is a fascinating one to many of us, and "Just My Type" will make it even more so, and will draw in people who previously had no real interest in the subject. The author is an engagingly geeky (and not just about fonts, he's also published books on stamp-collecting, and on the history of the Morris Mini) and writes with enthusiasm, some strong opinions (you may not always agree), and the occasional strange turn of phrase. The history, and modern developments, are chronicled in terms of people almost as much as the typefaces themselves, which gives the book a nicely human touch, and modern developments and culture are more than adequately covered.
A highly informative and thoroughly enjoyable read.
on 2 January 2011
It's a charmingly written brief history of typography, from movable type to modern computer typesetting, which tells the story of some famous fonts and their creators. And if you accept it as such, it's a good read. But it's not a reference or text book.
Even so, I was frustrated by the lack of rigour. I didn't need to be told what a "serif" is, but I'd have appreciated being told in more detail what a "slab serif" was. Terms like "Grotesque", "Modern" and "Egyptian" are used in a throwaway fashion and should, I felt, have been more clearly defined. [Maybe the author might want to consider adding a Glossary to the paperback edition?]
My other frustration -- which is hardly Garfield's fault -- is that this book encourged me to go "font spotting". Swiss-style fonts are of course ubiquitous, but the many clones and variations made them almost impossible to identify, based just on the knowledge I had aquired from this book. It felt a bit like travelling in a foreign country where you know a little of the language but can't quite decipher all the road and shop signs that clamour for attention.
on 26 November 2010
This is a book about fonts, typefaces and printing. I have always enjoyed that sort of subject so needed no persuasion to buy this when it was mentioned in the BBC Radio 4 Loose Ends programme. Of course, being half price helped as well! It is informative and entertaining, with some interesting anecdotes thrown in - and not just about Eric Gill, either! I would have preferred more font examples but that is a small criticism.
on 9 March 2011
I do have some strong ideas about design, including the use of fonts. I'm not such an expert as the author of this book or the people in it, but the very fact that I chose to read it at all probably does indicate a level of geekiness. Suffice to say, I found this book fascinating. Chapters look at fonts in relation to different subjects, such as music, politics or transport, or looks at issues including piracy, who to design a font and the world's worst fonts. Interspersed with the main chapters, are shorter sections called "Font Breaks" which focus on an individual font, its history and usage. The book itself is beautifully designed, with the title written in some unusual fonts, a font periodic table on the inside cover, lots of illustrations and text written in the font being discussed. If I had to find fault with the book, I would have liked a little more about the DIY fonts the 60s and punk movement, but overall, I found it very informative and surprisingly fun read.