I know what you’re thinking: One more collection of classic typeface examples from your colleagues & contemporaries to throw on the pile, right? Wrong. Chances are, if you’re reading this blog, you are already well-versed in design, regularly work with fonts / typefaces and probably have that aforementioned stack of books. Simon Garfield’s “Just My Type: A Book About Fonts” delivers for this crowd as well as the average layperson who might unknowingly still commit the unspeakable crime of Comic Sans. Garfield’s plan is not to showcase existing work like so many books-about-fonts already do; rather, his aim is “to extend awareness and to celebrate our relationship with letters”.
Garfield is clearly having fun here, which is great for us. Instead of sticking to one typeface throughout, he sets small examples in the book with the font he’s currently unfolding. For instance, he contrasts the fonts in the opening paragraph of the chapter Futura v. Verdana, highlighting Ikea’s famous crossover from the get-go. It would also be hard not to enjoy the journey from Ringo’s drumhead logo through Vampire Weekend’s love of Futura, either. He discusses cinema too! On the Typecasting section of Mark Simonson’s website, he features filmmaker’s flubs in font choices. For example, the Coen Brothers, known for their superbly meticulous nature, use Bodega Sans from 1991 in the Hudsucker Proxy, which was set in the late 50‘s. A more recent instance came to mind while reading. Did you notice all of the House fonts emblazoned at the used car dealership in Super 8 earlier this year? The movie was set in the late 70‘s and House wasn’t making fonts until the 90‘s…whoops! Instead of everything reading like a freshmen year textbook, it engages and engrains whether you’re a seasoned vet or a Neutraface newbie.
One of the more interesting aspects I found in the book was the evaluation of different countries and time periods’ involvement in type history. Of course, it all started with Gutenberg, but Garfield goes on to mention the nearly-forgotten Peter Schoeffer, a calligraphy graduate from the Sorbonne, who helped Gutenberg rectify early practices in how type was made and set the bar for future typographers. Fast forward 500 years to Switzerland’s gift of Helvetica in 1957 (along with Univers the same year!), he examines the country’s fixation on sans serifs and how those shapes have shaped us. Move forward about another half century and you see modern type houses leading the pack like Hoefler-Frere & Jones (HF&J) with Gotham, which some say is America’s answer to the Swiss’ domination of sans serifs. Will Gotham stand the test of time, or is it just a passing fad? It stood still for about decade before Obama used it for his campaign in 2008, but now it can be seen almost everywhere…sound familiar?
Our relationship with fonts is not exclusive to the daily interactions we have on our computers and in our various environments. “Just My Type” delves into a more human-centric study where we learn the meaning behind the name of ‘Mrs. Eaves’ (Sarah Baskerville’s name from her marriage prior to famous typographer husband, John), the history of Cooper Black (Commissioned by advertisers to look eerily close to Pabst Extra Bold), and all-too-much about Eric Gill’s (Gill Sans) sordid sex life (ew). Your friends may not find these tidbits tantalizing; however, it may give them the sense, and perhaps a deeper appreciation, that Verdana was created by someone (Matthew Carter) and wasn’t just part of the code written for their OS.
A. Micah Smith is a graphic designer, illustrator and art director based in Nashville, TN. View his work at www.amicahsmith.com