Book review: Thinking with type

I confess, I have a problem. I’m typophobic. No, I’m not scared of typos (pedantry is the lowest form of internet argument). However, the idea of having to make decisions about typography in virtually any situation does bring me out in a cold sweat. Not to mention my not-so-secret belief that typography doesn’t really mean nearly as much as some people say for readability, and especially mood. Can a font be happy? I… certainly didn’t think so.

Now, I knew enough to avoid the major pitfalls. Comic sans brings me out in a rash. Papyrus sends me into toxic shock. But I’m doing a Masters degree in a Department of Typography and Communication, and I need to overcome my phobia and cautiously embrace this tricky subject if I’m going to pass.

So one of my fellow students recommended I read this book, Thinking with type, by Ellen Lupton.

And I have to say, it’s (nearly) done the trick.

I already knew that there are families of fonts that go together, but this book taught me what I need to do to match them up properly and have them look good.

I already knew I was supposed to kern and lead things, and not use these straight apostrophes and speechmarks to mean anything other than feet and inches, but I didn’t know that if you indent your (proper, curly) speechmarks they look 100 per cent more awesome, or that most running text needs tracking at least a little bit to make it more readable. I now know that italics aren’t all bad – as long as they’re not a slant, and that ALL CAPITALS is generally a bad thing, but small caps are very useful.

This book has hundreds of tips like that. Things experienced designers might know instinctively, but I sure as hell don’t. It’s really accessible, damn sarcastic, and not afraid to send up typography too.

And now I do believe a font can be light and airy, or dark and heavy.

But I’m definitely still sitting on the fence about happy. Shudder.

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Corinne Pritchard

Corinne Pritchard

Information Designer at Simply Understand
I believe design and designers can and should make the world a better place. I love designing things that help people understand complex ideas.
Corinne Pritchard

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