Typefaces are now 560 years old, but we barely knew their names until about twenty years ago when the pull-down font menus on our first computers made us all the gods of type. Beginning in the early days of Gutenberg and ending with the most adventurous digital fonts, Simon Garfield explores the rich history and subtle powers of type. He goes on to investigate a range of modern mysteries, including how Helvetica took over the world, what inspires the seeming ubiquitous use of Trajan on bad movie posters, and exactly why the all-type cover of Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus was so effective. It also examines why the “T” in the Beatles logo is longer than the other letters and how Gotham helped Barack Obama into the White House. A must-have book for the design conscious.
I feel like a huge nerd for liking this book as much as I did, but hey, I probably wouldn’t be doing this blog if I wasn’t one already. Basically, this book breaks down rather nicely the history of some of our most popular fonts and where they come from. Garfield does a great job of making this really interesting, even for those who aren’t exactly typeface nerds, which are admittedly a very small group of people. This book was required reading for my Book Design class, and while I am interesting in typefaces and fonts, I wasn’t particularly excited about reading a whole book about them. However, this changed when I actually caught myself laughing in the first chapter.
It was fascinating the learn about the history of these fonts that we use in everyday life but never really think about. Who actually wonders about the history of Times New Roman before they start using it for their term paper? Not very many. Now that I know some of these histories and the work and creativity that goes into making these typefaces, I have a much higher appreciation for them.
I also enjoyed the layout of the book itself. He has chapters on a certain subject in typefaces and then at the end of the chapter, gives us a brief history of a more famous typeface that most everyone has heard of in their lifetime, such as Futura and Helvetica. There is also an entire chapter on Comic sans that makes me giggle.
Before this book, I never really thought that typefaces alone could send a message to their readers, and how some typefaces have become so prominent with businesses that it makes people in the know roll their eyes when they see it. How unoriginal to use Helvetica, but damn is it pretty! After reading this book, I now look at type on signs and brochures and wonder which typeface they used and why. What does this typeface say about this company? It’s astounding how much time, effort, and money goes into finding just the right typeface, and how important that is for branding since picking the wrong typeface can actually turn people away from a business. No joke! He also makes fun of the 2012 London Olympics font which I found horrendous even before I read this book. That font and logo was just a hot mess.
In the end, if you want to read a book that gives you a highly informative but also engaging look into the world of type, this is the book for you. It is easy to understand, and while he sometimes uses typeface jargon, he makes sure to explain these phrases which was extremely helpful when he would talk about kerning, ascenders, descenders. A great read that has the changed the way I view type and fonts.