Blue Pencil no. 17—Just My Type—Part One
Just My Type. Jacket design by Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich.
Just My Type: A Book about Fonts
New York: Gotham Books, 2011
[London: Proﬁle Books, 2010]
This is the original review that of Just My Type that I wrote for Imprint. I am posting it here because a number of comments in this dissection refer to it rather than to the revised review that Imprint published. For the revised review visit Imprint.
It was inevitable that once typefaces became fonts that the specialist world of type would become the subject of popular inquiry. First there was Type: The Secret History of Letters by Simon Loxley (2004). Then there was Helvetica: The Movie by Gary Hustwit (2008). And now there is Simon Garﬁeld’s Just My Type. JMT, to use the author’s own nickname for his book, is, on the surface, breezy fun for those who are not in the design or type professions. It is full of fascinating stories and trivia about type. Unfortunately, many of these stories are incomplete or superficial and the trivia often more odd than informative.
JMT is a look at both type itself and how type is used. Garﬁeld seems to have gathered up every intriguing story on the subject he could ﬁnd in print or online. Here is Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson’s dissing of the Doves Press type into the Thames, Eric Gill’s sexual experiments, the Obama campaign’s use of Gotham in 2008 and the recent flare-up over Ikea’s decision to replace Futura with Verdana. Some of these stories are chapters (often with cutesy titles such as “Capital Offence” or “Road Akzidenz”) and others are “fontbreaks”, shorter segments which focus on a particular typeface (or two).
Unfortunately, the most fascinating story in JMT—and the one that has gotten the most press—is not entirely true. In “What is it about the Swiss?” Garﬁeld says that “a New Yorker called Cyrus Highsmith put his life on the line by trying to spend a day without Helvetica.” However, it turns out that Highsmith, a type designer at Font Bureau, was not born in New York nor has he ever lived in the city. And he never put his life on the line trying to avoid Helvetica for a day. What he did do though, was a thought experiment, imagining what it would be like to live without that ubiquitous typeface. When I asked Cyrus why he did not try it out for real, he responded, “I think if some one did it totally for real it would end up with them naked, being chased by the police.” The story may be apocryphal, but the experiment is still thought provoking.
The other stories in JMT are true, as far as I know. But, whether long or short, they tend to wander and when they end it is not always clear what point Garfield is trying to make. The most egregrious example is “Capital Offence”. It opens with the story of a woman who was fired for using all capitals in an ofﬁce memo and then continues with a discussion of which typeface would be appropriate for a new edition of Pride and Prejudice—Garfield suggests Didot for the jacket and Bembo Book for the text; some comments on the gendered typefaces used for the jacket of Men Are from Mars, Women Are from Venus; an account of Gutenberg and the making of metal type; a disquisition on the origin of the word font; a recounting of the 1977 hoax that gave birth to the fictitious island of San Serriffe; a digression about type classification; a few words on the terminology of typefaces; and, ﬁnally, some nuggets of information about the point system. All of this in eighteen pages. Whew!
Although Garﬁeld tells us a lot about type in the course of his divagations, most of what he tells us is incomplete, misleading or often not the most important thing. What follows is an analysis of his approach as exemplified by the rambling stories in “Capital Offence”.
“The roots of this new sans serif lay in Germany,” writes Garﬁeld, “in a font known as Akzidenz Grotesk, released in 1898. But it was given a new life in Britain by Johnston and by Eric Gill’s Gill Sans, and by others in Germany, Holland—and most notably—in post-war Switzerland, where Univers and Helvetica arose to spearhead modernism’s spread across the world.” This eye-blink summary of the history of the sans serif in the 20th century sidesteps Franklin Gothic, News Gothic, Futura and Kabel; conflates grotesques with humanist sans serifs; ignores pre-World War II modernism; throws in an unexplained reference to sans serifs in Holland; and fails to explain what is different about 20th century sans serifs from their 19th century predecessors. He describes the former as a fusion of “the Roman and display traditions with modern style”, whatever that means.
In the two paragraphs he devotes to type classification Garfield tells us that the key system is that of Maximilien Vox, that it was the basis for the 1967 British Standards Classiﬁcation of Typefaces, and that deﬁnitions in the latter are vague because they employ the word “usually”. What he doesn’t tell us is the year that Vox published his system (it was 1954), preferring instead to simply say it was in the 1950s; that it was the adoption of Vox’s system by the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI) in 1962 which served as an important imprimatur that led to it influencing the British Standards system; that the latter curiously mixes terms coined by Vox (e.g. Didone) with untranslated French terms (e.g. Lineale), English translations of French terms (e.g. Glyphic), and holdovers from older Anglo-American classification schemes (e.g. Transitional); and that there are twelve groupings in the British Standards not nine as he claims. He never explains what a Didone is (a name, conflating those of Didot and Bodoni, given to neoclassical typefaces) and, most importantly, he never tells us why Vox’s system is important in the ﬁrst place.
Garﬁeld’s discussion of type terminology is scattershot. He deﬁnes counter, stem, bracketed and unbracketed serif, x-height, base line, mean line, ascender, descender, body, beard, shoulder and face. This is preceded by a diagram captioned “Lesson one in the anatomy of type: ascenders and descenders (top), ligature and x-height.”—there are no further lessons—which, because it is poorly labeled, is useless to anyone not already familiar with these terms. Garﬁeld’s deﬁnition of x-height makes no mention of why the measurement is named after the letter x and not, say, the letter r. And while he is right to point out that much type terminology is anthropomorphic he focuses on the terms as they apply to a physical piece of metal type not to the parts of letterforms (i.e. the shoulder of a letter is not the same as the shoulder on a piece of lead type). Thus, he misses the opportunity to mention other relevant terms such as leg, arm, spine, tail, eye, jaw, tongue, hairline and crotch. However, he does have time for dumb jokes such as “At the San Serriffe hospital you could have a ligature, and the result would often be grotesque.” This leads him to a two-sentence discussion of grotesque typefaces in which he concludes that a neo-grotesque typeface “works very well in lower case in small point sizes.”—though he doesn’t say why. And he doesn’t bother to explain that in the United States grotesques are called gothics.
Garﬁeld’s take on “maths” in type amounts to this: “There are 72pts [sic] to an inch. 1pt is 0.013833 inches.” and “in the US, 1pt = 0.351mm; in Europe 1pt = 0.376mm.” The discrepancy between these latter measurements is not explained nor is there any mention of Didot points, Anglo-American points, or Macintosh points. And, more to the point, why is there a point system at all?
Having begun “Capital Offence” with the story of the woman being fired for using all capitals in an office memo, Garfield ends it with this out-of-left-field insight, “But the maths, geography and vocabulary of type should never obscure the most basic fact of all: regular or italics, light or bold, upper or lower case—the fonts that work best are the ones that allow us to read without ruining our eyes.” Why didn’t he put this in the chapter on “Legibility vs Readability”?
Not all of the chapters in JMT are as awful as “Capital Offence”. Garfield’s rambling is less egregious elsewhere, though even in a single sentence he can bollix things up: “Or the classic, Garamond, named after the type designer Claude Garamond, active in Paris in the first half of the sixteenth century, whose highly legible roman type blew away the heavy fustiness of his German predecessors and later, adapted by William Caslon in England, would provide the letters for the American Declaration of Independence.” Garamond’s types dislodged those of Simon de Colines and not those of “German predecessors”. They were not the model for Caslon’s types. Furthermore, most typefaces named Garamond are not based on his work but on that of Jean Jannon.
It is Garfield’s penchant for missing the signal point of a story that is most frustrating about JMT. Here are several examples. In the fontbreak about Gill Sans he doesn’t address the issue of why it is quintessentially British, thereby missing an opportunity to explore Alan Bartram’s theory about the “English letter” (as opposed to the “Roman letter”) and to point out the immense influence the Monotype Corporation had on typographic choices in England between 1920 and 1980. In the chapter “Legibility vs Readability” Garfield never clearly distinguishes between these two often-confused terms, sliding back and forth between them. He ignores the major studies by Paterson and Tinker (1928–1957), Luckiesh and Moss (1936–1947), and Sir Cyril Burt (1959) and, equally important, the methodological shortcomings of all legibility/readability experiments. In the case of Burt, who has been accused of fabricating some of his results, Garfield has also missed a good story.
And Garﬁeld misses the thread that ties together “We don’t serve your type” (about Comic Sans), “Futura vs Verdana” (about the font switch at Ikea), “What is it about the Swiss?” (about Univers and Helvetica), and “Pirates and Clones” (about Arial among other things). Comic Sans, Verdana, Helvetica and Arial are all popular because they are all easily, widely and cheaply available. And that has led to their ubiquity which, in turn, has led to the backlash of hatred directed at them. (Surprisingly, Times Roman has escaped such widespread viliﬁcation. Why? That would have been a question worth pursuing by Garﬁeld.) In “Road Akzidenz” (about highway typefaces) Garﬁeld doesn’t fully explain what the ﬁght between Margaret Calvert and Jock Kinneir’s Transport and David Kindersley’s MoT Serif was about: seriffed type vs. sans serif, all capitals vs. upper- and lowercase, or different view on letterspacing? And he never tells us what Kindersley’s Optical Theory of Letterspacing is, though he describes it as “beautifully wrought”.
MoT Serif (above) vs. Transport (below)
In “What the Font?” Garﬁeld doesn’t tell us why we want to identify typefaces (beyond satisfying our curiosity) and why it is so difﬁcult for machines to do so. Wouldn’t this have been the perfect place to talk about capchas? Finally, in “Pirates and Clones” Garﬁeld doesn’t explore the difference, if there is one, between pirated fonts and clones. He passes up an opportunity to explain why Helvetica, which is clearly derived from Akzidenz Grotesk, is acceptable but Arial, which is clearly derived from Helvetica, isn’t.
It is these lapses, rather than the factual errors in JMT—e.g. Snell Roundhand was issued in 1965 not 1972, Linotype and Monotype were not foundries but composing machine manufacturers, Georgia is not “a modern take on Morison’s Times New Roman”, William Caslon did not design swash capitals—that is the main problem with the book. Garﬁeld is a charming and gregarious host and, admittedly, JMT is anything but a bore. Yet, if one is looking for a book to make the esoterica of type accessible to the ordinary person this is not it. There is no reason why such a book need be stuffy or dull as writers like Daniel Boorstin, Carl Sagan, Steven Pinker and Oliver Sacks have proven able to enliven other seemingly complicated subjects. In the ﬁeld of printing history and type we already have A Short History of the Printed Word by Warren Chappell, Stop Stealing Sheep by Erik Spiekermann and E.M. Ginger, and The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst as examples of serious yet approachable books. Just My Type is not my type of book. Although Garﬁeld derides it as “not a page turner”, I will gladly choose Harry Carter’s erudite and eminently readable A View of Early Typography Up to About 1600 over it any day.
What follows are additional Blue Pencil notes about aspects of Just My Type that were left out of my review for Imprint.
No one is credited with the design of the book’s interior. The endpapers reproduce “The Periodic Table of Typefaces: Popular, Influential & Notorious” designed by Camdon Wilde whose content includes material taken from my list of the top 100 typefaces of all time “based on a design’s historical, technological and theoretical importance as well as its aesthetic influence”. I quote from my original TDC document because my list, as here, has become known incorrectly as the “Top 100 Types”. Garfield does not discuss The Periodic Table anywhere in the book. However, its shortcomings, such as labeling Cheltenham a “Serif Garalde” or Eurostile a “Sans Serif Geometric”, are material for a different Blue Pencil.
The typography of the book is described in detail on the copyright page.
“The main chapters of this book are typeset in Sabon Lt Std 11/15pt. Sabon, a traditional serif font, was developed in the 1960s by Jan Tschichold, a Leipzig-based designer. Its story is told on p 251 [sic]. Interspersed with the chapters are a series of ‘FontBreaks’, which are set in Univers 45 Light i.5/15pt, except for their initial paragraphs, which appear in the font under discussion. Univers is a Swiss font, designed in 1957, the same year as its compatriot, Helvetica. Their story is told in Chapter Nine: What is it about the Swiss? But, being a book about fonts, Just My Type, also samples more than 200 other fonts, from Albertus to Zeppelin II.”
In specing type it is not necessary to add the abbreviation “pt” when using the fractional notation for point size and leading. Simply writing 11/15 or 9.5/15 is sufficient. “Sabon Lt Std” should be “Sabon LT Std”, though just Sabon is enough to distinguish it from Sabon Next. Sabon was designed between 1964 and 1967. Garfield often avoids specific dates in favor of generalized ones. Tschichold, born in Leipzig, was living in Switzerland when he designed Sabon. In the book each short profile of a typeface is called a “Fontbreak” rather than “FontBreak”. “Chapter Nine” should not be italicized. “Univers 45 Light” is redundant; it should be either Univers 45 or Univers Light. Univers was released in 1957 but designed between 1954 and that year.
Both the Sabon and the Univers 45 have overly loose wordspacing. The latter, especially with the generous leading, looks pallid on the page. Why not set each Fontbreak entirely in the typeface under consideration rather than just the ﬁrst paragraph? The title of each chapter is set in a different typeface, one relevant to its content, a fact that goes unremarked by Garﬁeld. Overall, the typography of Just My Type is undistinguished. And the decision to set the names of typefaces mentioned in the test in that font often backﬁres as many of them are not meant to be seen at text sizes.
The images in Just My Type tend to be dull, gray and small. They are sprinkled amidst the text with no feeling for page design. The impression is of a book designed before World War II.
The tone, for better or worse, of Just My Type is set by its foreword, written by Chip Kidd. “Type in My Life (and Vice Versa): A Typographic Essay”, is predictably clever and funny. And ignorant. A two-page spread is a parody of Jan Tschichold’s 1937 poster for an exhibition of Constructivist art at the Kunsthalle in Basel. The text reads: “jan tschichold, / a typographic genius, who was also a too-strict swiss-grid / douchebag. / it was only after I saw he designed the three horizontal band scheme for the penguin book covers that I dug him but…” Tschichold did not use grids and the original three-band Penguin covers were the creation of Edward Young. (The later version, possibly the one that Kidd has in mind, was the work of Romek Marber.) Furthermore, calling him a douchebag is embarrassingly sophomoric. (Also, if Kidd was really trying to imitate Tschichold he should not have left “I” capitalized. But then again, maybe his ego couldn’t accept “i”.) That spread is followed by one parodying El Lissitsky’s iconic “Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge” poster of 1919. Its text is almost as puerile: “El Lissitsky Gave Me a Wedgie / And I Loved it” The typography is a poor imitation of Lissitsky’s handcut letters. Kidd then describes the classified pages of a newspaper as “an uncanny visual metaphor for living in the city itself”—as if small, crowded together advertisements were somehow unique to New York CIty newspapers. Kidd is no typographer. The opening page of his text, set in Times Roman, is full of rivers.
“Introduction: Love Letters”
p. 2 “As well as including familiar types such as Times New Roman and Helvetica, Jobs introduced several new designs, and had evidently taken some care in their appearance and naming. They were named after cities he loved, such as Chicago and Toronto.”
Garﬁeld makes no mention of Susan Kare’s role in the design of the city fonts for the original Macintosh computer.
p. 3 “And here [on the pull down font menu] are the risks of ridicule: Brush Script, Herculanum and Braggadocio.”
Brush Script (Robert Fuller, American Type Founders, 1942), which Garﬁeld later places on his list of the eight worst typefaces of all time, is an important landmark in the development of script faces. It was the ﬁrst brush-influenced script typeface to give an effective illusion of being joined. It does not deserve his ridicule. Neither does Herculanum, designed by Adrian Frutiger (Linotype-Hell, 1990), which is based on 1st c. Roman cursive capitals. It may not be the most important typeface that Frutiger ever designed, but it certainly is not frivolous.
p. 4 “Or the classic, Garamond, named after the type designer Claude Garamond, active in Paris in the ﬁrst half of the sixteenth century, whose highly legible roman type blew away the heavy fustiness of his German predecessors and later, adapted by William Caslon in England, would provide the letters for the American Declaration of Independence.”
See my comments in the Imprint review.
“We don’t serve your type”
Not surprisingly, JMT opens with a joke. The ﬁrst chapter is devoted to Comic Sans and the hatred it has engendered. It is a fair account, but Garﬁeld bungles the ending. He doesn’t properly explain why people choose Comic Sans. The conclusion he comes to—prompted by Vincent Connare, the font’s designer, who says that people want a typeface that does not look like type—is that people choose Comic Sans because it “most reminds us of the schoolroom.” This is tone deaf. Comic Sans was born of the comics, a repository of fun and fantasy. It is the antidote to typefaces (such as Times Roman and Helvetica) that remind us of authority, bureaucracy and formality—whether it be in the office, the church or the schoolroom. (The typeface that should be popular if Garﬁeld’s theory is right is Chalkboard, a free Comic Sans look-alike found on Macintosh computers which has, so far, escaped viliﬁcation. Is it because it’s from Apple and not from Microsoft?)
Connare’s insight into Comic Sans was an opportunity for Garﬁeld to explore the dilemma that Sumner Stone, Erik Spiekermann and others recognized at the dawn of the digital age: how can we make computer-created documents look as if they were not created by a computer. If Connare’s theory about Comic Sans is right—and why not?—then it is part of a lineage of fonts that have tried to solve this problem, including ITC Stone Informal, ITC Officina, Template Gothic, Caflisch Script, and Tekton.
Surprisingly, Garﬁeld never digs into the question of how typefaces get named or what their names mean to us psychologically and emotionally. Could Comic Sans be popular because of its name? Suppose it had been called Bob Sans? Another possible reason for Comic Sans’ popularity is its location on a font menu, especially one set to show what fonts look like.
The issue of appropriateness, brought up by Holly and David Combs, the couple behind the Ban Comic Sans movement, is something that Garﬁeld never grapples with in JMT even though it surfaces several more times. Why shouldn’t Comic Sans be used for a brochure on irritable bowel syndrome or on a tombstone? (p. 18) Is appropriatenes subjective, culturally conditioned, or universal?
p. 11 “It [Times New Roman] had been designed by Stanley Morison…”
This ignores the contribution of Victor Lardent. Garﬁeld also misses a wonderful opportunity here to recount Mike Parker’s theory about Starling Burgess as the true designer of Times New Roman.
See my Imprint review for more about this chapter, possibly the worst in the book.
p. 24 “This font [Didot] will ﬁt right in [with Pride and Prejudice], and will sell books to people who like classic editions. But if you wanted to reach a different market, the sort who might read Kate Atkinson or Sebastian Faulks, you may opt for something less fusty, perhaps Ambroise Light, which, like Didot, has a stylish French pedigree.”
I don’t know who either Kate Atkinson or Sebastian Faulks are—many of the pop references in JMT are British-centic—but I assume they are very different authors from Jane Austen, more so than the differences between Didot (presumably LH Didot) and Ambroise Light since the latter is a Didot too. Both “Kate Atkinson: The Official Website” and the official Sebastian Faulks website set their titles set in Trajan, the typeface also used for both authors’ names on their books. This suggests that Didot might not be such a bad choice after all. Clearly some publishers believe that classic typefaces can be used to sell books that are outside the literary canon.
p. 25 “…the designer Andrew Newman chose Arquitectura for the male lines and Centaur for the female ones” re: the typefaces used on the jacket of Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus
Garﬁeld’s capitalization of “from” is not American practice. The typeface for the female lines is Arrighi, not Centaur.
p. 25 “This then is another rule: type can have gender.”
This bias is really a bias endemic to all lettering, whether handmade or machine made. It has been a staple of lettering and typography books for at least a century. For example, see my post on Benjamin Sherbow’s Making Type Work (1916) where on p. 68 he shows type that suggests femininity next to type that suggests strength.
p. 30 “The type used for their famous Bible [the Gutenberg Bible] has come to be known as Textura—taking its name from one of the ‘writing hands’ of the time, part of a group known as Schwabacher (blackletter) script favoured by monkish scribes.”
The Gutenberg type has come to be known as the B-42 type. It is a Textura in style. Textura is not part of a group of scripts known as Schwabacher. Textura and Schwabacher are both varieties of blackletter type. Textura is also a category within blackletter scripts, but Schwabacher is not.
p. 34 the San Serriffe hoax was carried forward and perpetuated not only by The Guardian itself in later years, but even more energetically by Henry Morris of The Bird & Bull Press (Newtown, Pennsylvania) who published four books and various ephemera ostensibly from the republic: The World’s Worst Marbled Papers, Being a Collection (1978), Private Presses of San Serriffe (1980), The First Fine Silver Coinage of the Republic of San Serriffe (1988), The Booksellers of San Serriffe (2001), a stock certiﬁcate for the Republic of San Serriffe (1977) and a bank note for the Republic of San Serriffe (1986)
p. 35 “…their [serifs] lineage can be traced as far as the Roman emperor Trajan, whose Column in Rome, completed in 113, bears an inscription in his honour….”
Serifs can be traced back much farther than that, at least to the Temple of Athena Polias at Priene (340 BC).
p. 36 See my Imprint review re: the quotation about Akzidenz Grotesk, Gill Sans et al.
p. 37 See my Imprint review re: Garﬁeld’s reference to Maximilian Vox and the British Standards Classification of Typefaces.
p. 37 The illustration of ascenders, descenders, ligatures and x-height mentioned in my Imprint review appears here. The ascender of h and the descender of y are both grayed out but not the ascender of d. An arrow has been added to the diagram to indicate x-height (though it could be closer to the x to make the connection absolutely clear) yet there are no similar marks used to identify ascenders, descenders and ligatures.
p. 40 See my Imprint review re: Garﬁeld’s comments on point sizes.
Fontbreak: Gill Sans
My comment on Gill Sans in the Imprint review refers to this fontbreak, pp. 41–44.
pp. 42–43 “Its impact was instant and is still reverberating. Gill Sans appeared in 1928, when its creator was forty-four. It was the most British of types, not only in its appearance (spare, proper and reservedly proud), but also in its usage—adopted by the Church of England, the BBC, the ﬁrst Penguin book jackets and British Railways (where it was used on everything from timetables to restaurant menus).”
Garﬁeld should have detailed how and why Gill Sans differed from earlier English sans serifs, not to mention Futura and Kabel, its contemporary rivals on the Continent.
“Legibility vs Readability”
See the Imprint review for my comments on this chapter. Opening the chapter with a scenario from the television show The Office will date the book, just as the references to books by Kate Atkinson and Sebastian Faulks will.
p. 46 “The lettering on the sides of planes had rarely implied fun (‘we’re one of you! climb aboard!) before easyJet tried it….” re: the use of Cooper Black for the easyJet logo.
I don’t know if Garﬁeld would consider them to be fun or not as much fun as Cooper Black, but several American airlines used casual scripts for their logos in the 1980s and 1990s (e.g. Alaska Airlines and Frontier Airlines) as did Virgin Atlantic Airways (established 1984) in the United Kingdom.
p. 47 “In fact he [Oswald Cooper] achieved something spectacular—a serif face [Cooper Black] that looked like a sans serif.”
What does Garﬁeld mean by this provocative statement. Cooper Black clearly has serifs and they are neither minimal nor reticent. Garﬁeld doesn’t elaborate.
p. 48 “Cooper Black for the band name [Beach Boys] and title [Pet Sounds] is iconic, not least because the letters are touching, and reflect Robert Indiana’s then very much in-vogue ‘Love’ logo. But its weakness as a text font is immediately clear. ‘Wouldn’t It Be Nice / You Still Believe In Me,’ the ﬁrst line runs, before our brain unscrambles the rest of the offering, ‘God Only Knows’, ‘Sloop John B’ and the others.”
Robert Indiana’s “Love” logo ﬁrst appeared as a Christmas card issued by the Museum of Modern Art in 1964. It did not gain its iconic status until later when it was turned into a sculpture (1970) and then a United States postage stamp (1973). Pet Sounds was released in 1966. I would suggest that Cooper Black is closer in appearance to the soft sculptures of Claes Oldenburg (such as his “Giant BLT (Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwich)’ and “French Fries and Ketchup”, both 1963).
Garﬁeld has bungled the text on the album cover. The ﬁrst line is “Sloop John B. / Caroline No” (See the photograph on p. 49.) And they are perfectly readable on the LP cover. But that is probably because they are not set in Cooper Black. It looks like Craw Clarendon. What Garﬁeld missed was the typographic horror show on the back side of the album: the band’s name in Futura Black with album title and song titles in Rustic (Vincent Figgins, 1845), the typeface with letters in the form of tree branches. The design of the Pet Sounds album cover is not credited, though the photographs are.
Pet Sounds (1966) by The Beach Boys. Detail of front album cover.
Pet Sounds by The Beach Boys. Detail of back album cover.
p. 51 “One of Dr Javal’s theories now seems particularly absurd—that the most legible type is also the most beautiful.”
Isn’t this more of an opinion than a theory? Certainly, there are a number of graphic designers who would find that “theory” to be absolutely correct.
p. 51 “And the old principle of legibility, once the prime factor in any consideration of good type, and deﬁned with terrible severity by the French opthamologist Dr Lous Emile Javal at the beginning of the last century (and then slavishly followed by many designers)….”
I am unaware of any type designers, other than the Bentons at American Type Founders (see The Bentons by Patricia A. Cost (2010), p. 198) and Thomas Huot-Marchand, the designer of Minuscule, who have speciﬁcally mentioned being influenced by Javal’s theories. His theories, by the way, were published in a series of articles in 1878 and 1879 in Annales d’Oculistique (nos. 79–82). That is not the beginning of the 20th century. “Emile” should be “Émile”.
p. 55 “…this [readability] is naturally dependent on the size of the text, but is ideally considered to be between ten and twelve words…”
The ideal measure is not universally considered to be 10 to 12 words. Robert Bringhurst (The Elements of Typographic Style, p. 26) says that a conventional measure in books is 30 times the point size, giving an acceptable range as 8 (40 characters) to 13 words (65 characters). James Felici (The Complete Manual of Typography, p. 120) follows a longtime—at least in the United States—rule of thumb that the line length should be 1.5 times the lowercase alphabet length. He believes the minimum line length is 27 characters, the optimal one 40 characters (8 words), and the maximum one 70 characters (14 words). John Kane (A Type Primer, p. 88) advises that line lengths should be between 35 and 65 characters. Samuel A. Bartels (The Art of Spacing, p. 36) gives different measures in picas depending on the typeface and point size used. Tschichold (“On Leading” in The Form of the Book, p. 122) refuses to give an ideal line length. He says, “a ﬁxed and ideal line length for the lines in a book does not exist…. And although it has erroneously been praised by some as an ideal length for a line in a book, nine centimetres looks abominable when the type size is large, because good line justiﬁcation becomes almost impossible.” Jost Hochuli (Detail in Typography, 1987, p. 30) says that typographers recommend “for English”—a reminder that language plays a role in such rules—50 to 60 letters per line (equal to 10 to 12 words). Geoffrey Dowding (Finer Points in the Spacing & Arrangement of Type, p. 11) suggests 54 to 60 characters (11 to 12 words)—“But in the ﬁnal decision it will probably be found that this generalization has been qualiﬁed by one or several of the following factors [type size, x-height, set and design of the typeface, nature and scale of the work].” I could go on.
p. 56 “It’s an interesting party game: the dot of a dotted i in a traditional serif font is usually not directly over the top of the stem but slightly to the left.”
In the image on p. 57 the only i whose dot drifts to the left is Baskerville (presumably Monotype Baskerville—Garﬁeld tends not to be consistently specific about which cuts of a type design he is discussing). The other fonts shown are Goudy Old Style [sic], Sabon and Times New Roman. This small sample runs counter to his assertion.
p. 57 “…Beatrice Warde… who was the face and voice of the Monotype Corporation in the 1920s and 1930s.”
Beatrice Warde was the principal publicist for Monotype from the time she was made publicity manager in 1929 until her retirement in 1960.
p. 58 “‘What I’m really good at,’ she [Beatrice Warde] reckoned, not long before she died in 1969, ‘is standing up in front of an audience with no preparation at all, then for 50 minutes refusing to let the even wriggle an ankle.’”
“Why was she so strict?” Garﬁeld asks. She wasn’t. He has misread her comment. Warde was not being strict with her audience, she was captivating it. And she was proud of her ability to do that under any circumstances.
p. 60 “It is easy to agree with Warde [about the job of a book typographer]… But her eighty-year-old viewpoint now seems restrictive, and while her theories chide the flashy they do not reward the curious or the experimental.”
Warde is no more out of date in 2011 than she was in 1930 when she gave the speech “Printing Should Be Invisible” (the origin of her 1932 celebrated essay “The Crystal Goblet”). There was as much experimental typography happening then as there is now. Her essay was a rebuff to it and not meant to encourage experimentation. The vision of typography she elucidated is still relevant for many kinds of printed matter and for many typographers.
p. 63 ‘Wolpe began work on Albertus in 1932 and it swiftly appeared on book jackets, announcing the young Seamus Heaney and William Golding as writers too good to ignore.”
This account of Albertus is a bit too swift. A titling version was released in 1935, the year that Wolpe emigrated from Germany [Garﬁeld simply says he fled the Nazis in the mid-1930s], and it was not until 1938 that a fully fledged upper- and lowercase font became available. Wolpe was not hired by Faber & Faber until 1941 and the ﬁrst books from William Golding and Seamus Heaney for the ﬁrm did not appear until 1954 (Lord of the Flies) and 1967 (Death of a Naturalist) respectively. The accompanying illustration (p. 63) is of the jacket (set in Albertus) for For the Union Dead by Robert Lowell. It was published by Faber & Faber in 1965.
p. 64 Garﬁeld attributes the popularity of Albertus to the fact that it is “brilliantly and crucially legible”, but he does not explain how such a quirky design achieves this. The popularity of Albertus that he describes is restricted to England. Does that mean that Albertus, like Gill Sans, is “spare, proper and reservedly proud”?
“Can a font make me popular?”
p. 66 “And how did the props team of a movie set at the start of the Second World War get the idea that it would be okay to print a document in Snell Roundhand Bold, when [Matthew] Carter, watching in the multiplex, would recognize the face as something he himself created in 1972?”
Carter is likely to be just as upset at discovering that he designed Snell Roundhand Bold in 1972 rather than 1965. (The Encyclopaedia of Typefaces dates Snell Roundhand to 1966 but Mergenthaler Linotype, the type’s manufacturer, says 1965.)
p. 67 “These [Ed Wood, Chocolat, Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid, The Hudsucker Proxy and LA Conﬁdential] are modern ﬁlms, appearing at the cinema at about the same time as graphic design was becoming all the rage at art school.”
Is Garﬁeld talking about the United Kingdom? In the United States graphic design had a wave of popularity in the 1960s and than again in the 1980s. The movies he cites were released in 1994, 2000, 1982, 1994 and 1997 respectively.
p. 68 “…Snell Roundhand, based on an eighteenth-century calligraphic style, very festive, good for ironic party invitations…”
Garﬁeld frequently makes snide comments like this about fonts all the while missing what makes or made them important. Snell Roundhand—which, as scripts go, is very sober—was the typeface that helped prove to printers and typesetters the advantages of ﬁlm composition over metal type.
p. 68 “…Bell Centennial, designed for the 100th Bell (now AT&T) phonebook…”
Bell Centennial was designed as a directory typeface on the occasion of the company’s, not the phonebook’s, 100th anniversary.