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 29 December 2010
I've enjoyed other books by Simon Garfield but found this a disappointment. It was on my wish list and I was looking forward to reading about something which really interests me. But if you are going to write about typefaces then unless it is to be simply the history of typography and printing, you have to illustrate what you want to say. To talk about the curve on the bowl of a letter, or the shape of a particular letter "g," or thick and thin strokes, or even the appearance of a page set in a particular font demands that you show the reader a sample of what you mean. Here there are simply too many fonts for which only the name of the font is shown in that font, set in the middle of other text, so any comment on the design of the font meant very little.
The problem is made worse of course because to the uninitiated many of the fonts look alike, so pointing out (and showing) the distinctions would have been really useful. Yes there are nice essays about a few fonts, Comic Sans, Helvetica, and so on. But unless you come to the book with a very good knowledge already of what the different fonts look like, or have specimens beside you as you read, more than half this book will pass you by.
What you get is a gossipy sort of ramble through the world of typography, like listening in on two well-informed people chatting about their favourite topic. It left this bystander not much the wiser.
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!
This is one of those books that you had no idea when you first set eyes on it how compulsive it is. I really didn't know and understand that I had much interest in type faces/fonts at all until I found myself devouring this book (although I was delighted that I knew what kerning is) - I am absolutely amazed that there is so much to know - I am definitely not looking at anything in the same way as I did before I read this book.
The author starts at the beginning of printing and shows the evolution of different fonts and the reasoning behind some of the changes. Inserted in the narrative are little snippets of interesting information about one particular font - its history and use. I really had no idea how many fonts there are and nor did I understand that in most cases they are the property of the creator. The book looks at ease of reading, where the dot should go over the i, what an ampersand should look like and why people hate Comic Sans - amongst other things.
I read a paper back version of this book and where the author talked about a font that section was written in it or examples were shown to demonstrate what he was saying. I don't know whether or not this feature is sustained on an e-reader or a tablet - much woudl be lost from the book if it isn't so I advise checking a sample first if you choose to read the book electronically.
An absolutely gripping book, well written, easy to follow and fascinating. Highly recommended for those who like their non-fiction a bit quirky.
on 6 June 2011
This is a book about typefaces. It's fantastic, explaining the evolution and power of type. It understands the effect of computers, the Mac and DTP but misses the equally significant effect of photosetting and the ability to do "close not touching".
The biggest mistake however is mine. I bought it on the Kindle and while I love my Kindle I've always had a problem with the books on the Kindle being set in the Kindle typeface not that chosen by the author and this book goes to counterpoint just how limiting that is.
It's often about as useful as a radio programme on typefaces. There is a proportion of the information there but it is missing the beauty. I gave up in disgust.
I'll put it on my Christmas list.
on 29 December 2010
I've wanted this book for several months and waited for Christmas to see if anyone took the hint. They did, but indirectly. I was given a Kindle for Christmas, so naturally this was the first book I purchased (the whole process of setting up the Kindle and buying the book was faultless - well done Amazon). However, it took me only a couple of pages to realise my folly: this is a book about typefaces, delivered in a medium that overrides them.
A number of paragraphs are set in specific fonts in the hard-copy to illustrate a point, but these all appear in one of the Kindle's default fonts - this is not a universal problem as some sections of illustrative text are bitmaps. In particular, the first letter of each chapter hangs on its own somewhere above the paragraph; at first this is odd, but it becomes a constant reminder that I am missing the full glory of the original work. Perhaps Simon Garfield (who clearly has a passion for his subject) should not have sanctioned the Kindle version. Perhaps I should be asking for a refund to buy the hard copy.
I'm no Luddite, and I'm becoming quite convinced by the Kindle, with its bookmarks and notes, but there are clearly limitations in what it can deliver reliably. I'm therefore giving a 3 star review as a health warning that this book is not really suitable for Kindle reading, in the same way as the film Avatar is not really suitable for viewing in black and white - you will be missing something.
on 8 November 2010
Simon Garfield has good form for interesting books and this latest doesn't disappoint. It works on so many levels, from the most casual interest to that of professional typographer. Everyone has been affected at some level or another by the use of font and type. It's just that we don't always know it. And there is an interesting view in here that the whole point of good type is that it is often NOT noticed. But we also find we have surprisingly strong views on it (the section on IKEA is fascinating!). The point is that everyone who uses MS Word will recognise many of these fonts: their names and their looks. But most of us don't really know who created them - certainly not Microsoft!
Anyone with a curious mind will love this book - and anyone using typography as part of their profession (e.g. most marketers if they are serious about their job) - will find this VERY useful. Very well written too, by someone who obviously loves typography and fonts. A great book.