Sunday, March 25, 2018

Exploring The Typography Of Books

Words. Letters.  Editing.  Writing.  Packaging.  Cover Design.

There 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.

His 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 of type.

White, 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.

Below are several interesting excerpts from his lively book:

“We 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 it.

“Typography 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
“Writing 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.

“Movable 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.

“Display 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.

“Phototype was in limited use as early as 1950 and digital type was introduced to common use in 1985.”

Good Design
“Good 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.”

Art of Typography
“Typography 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.”

Type as Form
“The 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.”

Language and Typography
“Mediterranean, 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.

“Writing 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.

“Typographers 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.”

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Brian Feinblum’s insightful views, provocative opinions, and interesting ideas expressed in this terrific blog are his alone and not that of his employer or anyone else. You can – and should -- follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels much more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2018. Born and raised in Brooklyn, he now resides in Westchester. His writings are often featured in The Writer and IBPA’s Independent.  This was named one of the best book marketing blogs by Book Baby and recognized by Feedspot in 2018 as one of the top book marketing blogs. Also named by as a "best resource."

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