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Just my type : a book about fonts

In our modern world, some thought should be applied to the method in which we interact and communicate with written language. Should text and the font used on the computer, in books, on street signage, on products be beautiful, functional, provide clarity or be invisible? When reading a book, should we notice what font is being used? How much identification of a corporation’s brand is tied in with the characteristics of their font choice? Is the Paris Metro the same if it does not employ the swoopy Art Nouveau signage or should the aim be for the consistency of the New York subway system and its use of Helvetica? More importantly, why is everything in Helvetica?

Typefaces have been with us since the Gutenberg Bible, the revolutionary first Western printed book. The movable metal type for printing this book allowed for the mechanization and the mass production of the written word, and the book that helped usher in the boom in scholarship from just the clergy to the middle classes by the time of the Renaissance. Fonts developed to suit regional mores, as well as reading traditions such as German blackletter, a Gothic script that was in use until the 20th Century and has associations with German identity and pride. Similarly, books, newspapers, phone books and directional signage developed with the local community in mind. Tradition and habits of readers resist typographical change and yet, scientific and industrial progress creates a constant push for type design innovations. Things get interesting when the way we read changes. With the advent of the Internet and the personal computer, the way we interact with fonts is very different from the past; many now purport to be experts on fonts, especially of the multitude of choices of fonts on the Apple or the PC. There is an even greater homogeneity of culture through globalization that is reflected in font choices in everyday life.

This book covers the history of the printed word, metal typefaces and digital fonts and is divided into a series of chapters, filled with anecdotes about the culture and the stories of type designers that cover the gamut of type design and its tumultuous (and back-stabbing) history. Of note, the book covers the recent uproar over the IKEA corporate logo font change; issues of fonts and copyright; and the universal hatred and practical uses of Comic Sans. Interspersed between chapters are brief histories of individual fonts, such as Frutiger, Sabon, Gill Sans and Vendôme with their popular cultural uses and a brief biography of their designers. On a humorous note, the author lists his least favorite fonts.

This book in tracing the various roles in which fonts have been applied and used in our lives is a breezy, irreverent historical analysis for the book lover, amateur graphic designer and the culturally curious.