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Old 04-28-2006, 01:05 PM   #1
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Default Two new books on type

Besides Helvetica: Homage to Helvetica and InDesign Type: Professional Typography with Adobe InDesign CS2, both mentioned in other threads recently, I have two other interesting new books:

Type: The secret history of letters
by Simon Loxley (ISBN 1-85043-397-6). Traces the history of printing with movable type from the 15th century to the present, in fits and starts (I suspect the chapters began as lectures which are here strung together).

The book is not much about type per se (so there are not many specimens). It is about the role of type and printing in a social, political, and economic context. Biased, as one would expect, toward English history.

It tells the stories of many pivotal characters in the history of type, starting from Gutenberg and the rivals for his fame. And it oddly slights others, such as Frutiger, who is mentioned only twice, briefly: in a quote on the failings of the Lumitype; and in a negative critique of Univers, “the coldest typeface,” with no mention of the face Frutiger or his other work. But there are obviously limits to how much can be crammed into 250 pages.

It is mostly a good read. Not scholarly, for better or worse. Its best virtue is that it fills in the history of type and brings it somewhat up to date, discussing the development (and demise) of Letraset transfer type, Photo-Lettering, ITC, the rise of desktop digital type, and more. I would love to see the topics of the last 70-ish pages expanded (where these topics were covered) into a book of their own, however.

Designing Type by Karen Cheng (ISBN 0-300-11150-9). According to the jacket blurb, this book “discusses issues of structure, optical compensation, and legibility, with special emphasis given to the often overlooked relationships between letters and shapes in a font.” It does all that, for sure, in an attractive but somewhat unwieldy large-format book, with text set in what appears to be 9/12 Univers Light, which is elegant looking but hard to read.

Those cavils aside, this is a useful book. Using a variety of desktop digital fonts as illustrations (and occasional drawings from her students), Karen Cheng shows examples of the construction details of each character of the alphabet, including punctuation, figures, and diacriticals for serif and sans serif typefaces, and explains the “standards” behind the proportions and details in the actual fonts.

She is thorough, even getting into tiny details — a slight tilt to the top of the t in some faces or the height of crossbars of f and t (which might vary). She even tackles the letters I find most vexing to draw, the z and Z.

For spacing advice, she presents a slightly adjusted version of Walter Tracy’s system from Letters of Credit, which is the best starting point I know. And she includes Emil Ruder’s useful spacing text from Typography, a textbook of design.

If you are thinking of designing type or even if you are interested in understanding how type works in text, this book is an excellent reference. Highly recommended.

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