The face of type

Designing books is easier than posting on WordPress.

Talk about comparisons that will get lost in the shuffle. Most likely the older computer that I am still using (I have a new one) is why WordPress seems to be so slow and stupid when trying to create a simple post with flush left text. Back and forth between visual and HTML to get the justified blocking to go away, select all, click, save, and again, why is that image floating over there?

Learning by Rote poetry by Martina Reisz NewberryMy system isn’t that old. My design program is not that old. Fortunately they function well enough that I can still design books and covers while I am reviewing the new software on the new computer. Yes, really, new books in progress. They are a big part of what I / we live for. We being me and the authors.

Now I have seen a Kindle and a Nook. I have seen statistics about how e-books are selling, and news of making their way into the library. I can see benefits and important uses in education but I still have questions. For instance, why even bother trying to make them seem bookish? If the idea is to replace books, why go to the trouble of making a pseudo book? We’ve had computers around for years and are used to the text on them being wanting at times, and blogs and Web sites can be well designed, innovative, stylish, even graceful and elegant. The Fire makes the crossover well as far as I can tell with color and linkage.  I don’t really have a problem with the kindle, a smallish grey screen, and I like the ivory,  with type that seems much less pixellated though always the same in less you change it to one of the four other typefaces offered. Nothing to get excited about. My impression is they seem small and rather prototypical. How can it be expected to keep our attention for reading text books, illustrated books, polyglot books, what about footnotes and marginal notes in scholarly books. The progressive mind has to ponder the possibilities that future such devices will come up to our already vivid imaginations that have been met by the desktop.

tablets from early history I saw a blog by a designer that was getting attention for designing a typeface for a tablet (and this word tablet is from the roots of information history) by creating a typeface reminiscent of an old modern face like Century, or Corvinus Skyline with short ascenders and descenders—not all that appealing for reading, probably designed for use in tiny sizes while still legible and squashed into blocks with no leading or space between lines. Then to take this face and put it in columns of short word count like and old magazine or newspaper on a tablet that has room to have healthier lines of average word count, about nine words per line is a desirable reading length. It makes no sense at all. If one has the magic of being able to use this digital format with the ability of looking like any book, why not go to finely printed books to take from, use typefaces optically designed for reading comfortably on pages of good line length. Websites already do this. The New York Times Magazine does this; columns yes, but two maybe three columns on a page not six or eight. Advertising types may have their appeal in display but they were not meant for book text. And don’t use too many typefaces on one page, two or three at the most with appropriate space and we will all be reading better for a long time.

Another important factor is the WYSIWYG factor, or so it is called. What is on most screens when looking at type is a bunch of squares arranged in shades and grades to try to make themselves look the way typefaces were designed and meant to look, but they are not. This fact and the tact that a monitor is an illusive two-dimensional non focal surface. What I am trying to say is that it is not really a surface that the eye can focus on. There are some tablets like the kindle that come closer to being an improvement. This non-focusing aspect is tthe face of typeiresome to the eye. For all the wonders and convenience that computers bring us, this is a factor that must be recognized so that we don’t completely lose track of our graphics heritage. The printed page and the film based photo process is all but being eclipsed by new systems that are illusory. We should be teaching and reminding ourselves that the old forms have value and quality that should not be completely lost or made so rare they become out of reach or the inquisitive mind and eye.

I know I may sound like a curmudgeon but I don’t mean to be saying anything but keep in mind the treasures of our not too distant past and maintain a balance of perspective regarding these things so that our creative minds and youth can be wiser for them. All design should be based on a foundation that considers the wisdom of previous accomplishment and engineering. Lets not forget the ideas of the private press movement, the arts type on the screenand crafts movement, nor the techniques and designs of the designers that gave us the designs that are the basis for what we have today and typefaces are only one example. Most of our fonts are redrawn and reissued types from previous ages.

Having said that, there are great new typefaces being designed digitally that take into consideration the fundamentals of type design. These are things every typographer must know. Things that have to do with basic lettering and the optics of reading handed down by generations. These are the things that by the nature of good design in typography are meant to go unnoticed, yet we know when we see them, such as proportion, or balance, the natural distinctions afforded by the true mechanics of typography.


2 thoughts on “The face of type

  1. I had no idea of the craftsmanship required for a book. Your efforts in creating this post are evident and appreciated.

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