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are so many different elements to a book, each infusing the book with some type
of advantage. Another element to great
books is typography and a terrific book highlights the power of type and makes
its mark on readers, called Listening to
Type: Making Language Visible by
Alex W. White.
2016 paperback provides an expansive array of visuals, sparkling writing and
thorough research on the evolution of typography. As its backcover says of itself: “Listening
to Type proves that type is much more than groups of letter forms on a page,
it is a language with the ability to convey meaning and evoke emotions that
represent the spoken words it symbolizes,” this book illustrates the language
an award-winning design consultant and typographe, is a chairman emeritus of
the Type Directors Club. He is also the
author of several best-selling books on design and typography.
are several interesting excerpts from his lively book:
have seen the evolution of type from being professionally prepared and
proofread to just another responsibility among many of the modern design
professional. From 1450 through the
early years of the 19th century, the printer was the typesetter and,
quite often, the type designer as well.
From the early 1800s to the early 1900s, the printer bought type from a
foundry, a specialist who frequently developed his own technology for setting
the characters. He thereby cornered the
market on his particular typefaces, so if a printer wanted an additional size
or weight or posture of type in a family, there was only the one place to get
cannot be faked. It is either clear,
interpretative of the content, and appropriate to its message, or it is a
random treatment that only superficially looks daring and current. I am certain there is no Photoshop filter for
instant typographic excellence.
Typography can only be mastered one hard lesson at a time. It is not for
every designer because it requires a love for language and a gift for details.”
Type History and Rules
systems evolved from symbol systems.
When humans needed to record complex abstract ideas, symbols were no
longer adequate. Languages that combined
symbols into new meanings began to emerge.
Eventually, written symbols carried no meaning of their own at all. Our Roman alphabet, for example, is a
collection of abstract symbols that represent sounds, and work only in combination.
type was invented in China in 1041 AD. Gutenberg figured out to make metal letters
that could be used on a printing press in about 1450 AD.
type was invented around 1500, when the quantity of printed material began to
accumulate and identifying content became essential (type’s evolution is a
history of developments that solved technical, economic, cultural, and
aesthetic problems). With improvements
in speed, metal type was in use until the 1960s.
was in limited use as early as 1950 and digital type was introduced to common
use in 1985.”
design requires sharply defined visual relationships. Good design requires breaking long items into
smaller, friendly, nonthreatening, bite-size pieces. It requires a sufficiency of entrances into
the copy, not just the headline on the first page. Good design requires a clear page
structure. The hierarchy of information
must be neon bright. This requires that
the designer understand the material being designed. But much design is done without the designer
even having read the material, I suppose because thinking and understanding is
harder than just creating prettiness.
Few of your readers, however, read for the prettiness of the page;
readers read to glean some information from the page.”
is, according to the dictionary, “the art or process of printing with
type.” The root words that make up
typography are typo (type) and graphy (drawing), so it literally means drawing with type. My definition is: Applying
type with eloquence to reveal the content clearly and memorably with the least
resistance from the reader.”
letters we use are the product of 10,000 years of written evolution. At about the time of the first human communities
– and the time of the first farming – the people living in what is now Iraq and
Syria began to make marks that recorded their herds and harvests. At first, the marks were very
representational. The mark for a cow
looked like a cow. As speed and need
imposed themselves, the marks became more and more abstract, until they
couldn’t be understood without having earned their meanings. A separation between spoken and written
languages continued until the Phoenician’s developed a system that used far
fewer symbols, each symbol representing a specific sound.”
the Phoenicians passed their system on to the Greeks, who made changes as their
spoken language required. The Greeks
passed it on to the Romans, who made further changes, and we use the Roman (or
“Latin”) system with only a couple of minor changes.
developed around 3,000 BC. Alphabetic writing, where each sound is represented
by a symbol, developed around 1,600 BC – and is the greater development because
it simplified language and made it accessible.
use elements and traditions inherited through generations of writing, printing,
and reading. Many typographic rules were
adopted from handwriting as printable type forms were developed in the 1400s
and 1500s. Historically, typography was
handled by the printer who cut his own typefaces, designed the page, and
reproduced the design on paper. In the
20th century, typography and printing separated. Around 1950, typographers and typesetters
became vendors who set type to the specifications of the designer or art
director, itself having developed into a new responsibility. Computers, forcing
a new working methodology, have nearly obliterated the typography specialist
since all type decisions are made on screen. Designers today are widely
expected to be masters of an art form that takes years to learn.”