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

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.

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