Monday, December 12, 2011

Just My Type (Simon Garfield)

Just My Type
Simon Garfield
Gotham Books
Nonfiction, Art/Typography
***+ (Okay/Good)

DESCRIPTION: Since the invention of the printing press by Gutenberg in the 15th century, letters took on a new form, one that relied not on a scribe's quill but on a tooled stamp. These new alphabets, these fonts, soon broke away from their hand-written progenitors, veering off in directions both simplistic and complex, understated and overpowering. Today, anyone with a computer and a word processor can list a dozen off the top of their head - Times New Roman, Arial, Comic Sans and more - and can drop them into any given document or web page without knowing the first thing about how they were designed, or by whom, or what message they're conveying to the world with their choice of font. Simon Garfield discusses the past, present, and future of fonts, a journey of over five centuries that winds through cultural upheavals, political minefields, designer eccentricities, and more.

REVIEW: As my bulging Windows Fonts folder attests, I have an armchair interest in fonts. This book, naturally, seemed to appeal to that interest. Garfield presents some interesting information on typefaces, both their use and impact and the people who create them. Like many graphic artists, font designers don't often get the recognition that their work deserves; they still struggle to get any sort of copy protection to prevent or even discourage outright piracy of their efforts. Unfortunately, he threw me a few times by wading too deep into "shop talk," leaning on industry terminology that I, as a layperson, didn't understand. (He offers a brief introduction to the history of movable type, describing a few terms, but not all of them.) Chronologically, the chapters wander all over the 500-odd-year-history of printing, often with little cause-and-effect in sequencing. Still, he offers some interesting and amusing anecdotes, discussing the peculiar paradox of font design: the "best" fonts are invisible, conveying the information they contain without delay or confusion, yet within that invisibility lurk a thousand and more ways to express (or repress) creativity. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to look at my pull-down Font menu in Word the same way again...

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