Books Read in 2015 37. Just My Type – Simon Garfield


Genre: Non-Fiction, Microhistory

Narrative Style: Academic, Some first person anecdotes

Rating: 5/5

Published: 201151lZzrI4UcL._SX323_BO1,204,203,200_

Format: Paperback

Synopsis: This is book is the story of how we came to live in a type saturated world and how there came to be quite so many fonts to choose from. This is a book for anyone who has ever pondered what font to write that letter in or why the 2012 Olympics logo was just so terrible. This book takes us from the very beginnings of print to the very latest computer designed fonts and takes in all the stages in between. 

Reading Challenges: Eclectic Reader Challenge Genre: Microhistory

The reading of this book came about because my husband is obsessed with fonts and often bemoans the trend for not saying what font a book has been typeset in. So I bought him this book a while ago and when this genre came up, it seemed to fit perfectly.

This is not just a book about type and its (seemingly) infinite varieties. it is also about the history of the industry. It takes the reader from the very beginnings of type when it was a laborious and highly skilled job to the modern day where anyone can invent a font or base on one their handwriting using their personal computer. This is not to suggest that modern font designers are not craftsmen, just that it is a completely different process and as with so many things, the computer has made it a much wider playing field.

Along the way, there was much nostalgia with discussions about printing sets for children and Letraset – both of which I can remember. I loved the inkiness of using the printing set and it was less irritating than trying to actually use Letraset. Certainly, children who are interested in such things these days will never know that particular frustration. There is an undercurrent of longing for the old days throughout this book as if the computer has sucked some of the romance out of font design. Which undoubtedly it has.

There are also chapters on specific fonts, the circumstances of their birth and the use to which they are now put. These were particularly interesting as they showed the eccentricity of many designers. This thankfully hasn’t changed with the advent of computer design. There are still mavericks out there, doing their best to be as different as possible despite the universal pull towards simple – and I think boring – fonts such as Helvetica which is becoming stupidly ubiquitous.

Finally, here is a warning. When you read this book, you will bore your friends silly with the amount of interesting font trivia in this book. And also, you will find that it is almost impossible to walk down the street without surveying every single sign you see. It’s funny how much we take for granted. It is strange to think of motorway signs being designed. This is because they work so well. (And when you see the font we could have had, you understand exactly how important this design was.) Everywhere in our lives, we see type working well, doing its job. it’s only when the font doesn’t work that we groan and hold our heads. For the most part, the designers get it right and fonts don’t invade our consciousness when we are trying to find our way or read important information. But now, I will certainly think about it a little more and appreciate the effort a designer took to make life a little bit more effortless for me.

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