“Just My Type” by Simon Garfield: My Favorite Book So Far This Year in Any Category
September 10, 2011
Just My Type by Simon Garfield is a unique book about a subject that is all around us and, except for professional graphic designers, mostly ignored by the general public.
However below the radar the subject of typefaces may be, it is also abundantly clear that they exert an enormous influence on how we perceive the written word. In everything from brand logos, the headlines and body copy of newspapers and magazines and, of increasing importance, in all digital user interfaces from the Web, smart phones to eReaders and tablet computers.
This book is sure to be on this Christmas’ wish lift for every graphic designer you know, but I would argue his real achievement is to take a niche subject and make it thoroughly engaging for the lay reader. Everyone is confronted with a variety of fonts every day, they are literally unavoidable. So I’d make the case that this book can be rewarding to every reader, not just those with a professional stake in the game. Because the story of typefaces is, at its root, also the story of people and communication.
26 letters plus a variety of numbers and symbols (ligatures, accents, fractions and dingbats) yield an almost infinite variety of styles, past, present and future – new typefaces are being designed and released every day. And all more accessible than ever before to the average computer user – even if all you ever type is a business letter – from the drop down menu in your word processor of choice. We can thank Steve Jobs and his college course in calligraphy for the early emphasis on good fonts in the personal computer market.
Garfield uses short chapters and abundant illustrations of his subject matter that include both biographic and historic detail that I found fascinating. I learned perhaps more than I ever wanted to know about the personal life of the creator of one of my all time favorite typefaces: who would’ve thought that a book on fonts could include topics like incest and bestiality? (It’s ranked number 8 on the chart below).
The take-away? Just My Type is my favorite book so far this year in any category and carries my highest recommendation. Buy it, read it, give a copy to every graphic designer you know.
Here’s a wonderful chart that’s used as the end papers of Garfield’s book, the Periodic Table of Typefaces – Popular, Influential & Notorious.