“Just My Type” by Simon Garfield

Title: Just My Type: A Book about Fonts
Author: Simon Garfield
ISBN: 9781592406524
Pages: 356
Release date: September 1, 2011
Publisher: Gotham
Genre: Nonfiction; graphic design
Format: ARC
Source: TLC Book Tours
Rating: 3 out of 5

“Comic Sans walks into a bar and the bartender says, ‘We don’t serve your type.'”

This joke–printed in, of course, Comic Sans–encapsulates the tone and content of Simon Garfield’s Just My Type. Garfield sprinkles his history of typefaces with humor and pop culture references, creating a fresh and insightful reference book for type novice and design geek alike.

Can a font get you fired? Can a typeface make you more popular? Do letterforms have nationalities? What the hell is an interrobang? Garfield addresses common and unusual typographical questions against the backdrop of history and culture.

He contrasts the most used fonts alongside the most hated (what he calls “the worst fonts in the world”), while also handling less emotional but still subjective topics of legibility versus readability–an old argument of art versus function.

At the end of each chapter is a sojourn into a different typeface; from discussing the sexual eccentricities of the creator of Gill Sans to the limited applicability of fonts that honor rock bands, Garfield provides interesting facts that, I bet, very few people at your next dinner party will know. For instance, did you know that Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert designed a typeface, Transport, because they discovered that “it is a lot easier to read lower-case letters than capitals when travelling at speed”? Now you do!

He brings up the oft-quoted rule of good design: Excellent art breaks the rules, but you you have to know the rules before you can break them. From the historic (the impact of Swiss design) to the eccentric (a designer who attempts to avoid Helvetica all day), Garfield delineates the history of those ever-present but often transparent letterforms that guide our lives.

Garfield attempts to explain the curious power of type:

Identifying a particular font can be the most infuriating task, and designers can spoil their whole day by walking past a shop window seeing something they can’t name.

Sounds terrible. While I’d never allow the shape of a few words to ruin my day, I have often contemplated the differences between, say, Helvetica and Arial.

Luckily, Garfield does not allow such confusion in his own book; each time a typeface is mentioned, it is in its own font. The rest of the book is set in Sabon, which Garfield praises for its ability not to stand out:

It is not the most beautiful type in the world, nor the most original or arresting. It is, however, considered one of the most readable of all book fonts; and it is one of the most historically significant.

Lest you discard the study of typography for geeks and artists, consider the public outcry that accompanied IKEA’s switch from Futura to Verdana. Real people got really upset! Interested in politics? President Barack Obama’s adoption of Gotham on the campaign trail in 2008 made him seem as open to change as his slogans promised. (But you can’t attribute all of his success to a font; John Edwards also used the typeface in his campaign materials, and you know where that got him.)

Garfield’s humorous yet thorough account of type is more conversational–and accessible–than the industry bible, The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. However, Garfield’s book is not as well-organized as Bringhurst’s. With short, often unrelated chapters, it seems more like a collection of essays than a cogent introduction to typography.

Nevertheless, it is a useful addition to the library of anyone interested in the history and art of typography.

If you liked that, try these:

Just for funsies:

Don’t just take my word for it!
Check out what other reviewers on the tour have been saying:

August 16: Mockingbird Hill Cottage
August 17: Chaotic Compendiums
August 18: Books Like Breathing
August 22: A Home Between Pages
August 23: Steph and Tony Investigate
August 24: 1330V
August 25: 2 Kids and Tired
August 26: Amused by Books
August 29: Unabridged Chick
August 31: Simply Stacie
September 1: BookNAround
September 6: Bibliosue
September 7: Man of La Book
September 8: My Book Retreat
September 12: Lit and Life
September 14: In the Pages

5 replies »

  1. I watched a film on Helvetica font that was quite eye-opening – who knew type could be so important?!

    Thanks for being a part of the tour. I’m glad you enjoyed this one even if it wasn’t perfect.


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