Every Friday, a list of five things: 5ive on Friday. Quickly bashed out, designed to start not finish conversations. 95% of these will be inspired by the week’s social media conversations.

Just My Type Excerpts

There’s an independent bookstore about a block from my new office space. Danger danger! I’ve managed to only buy one book there so far, and I think I had good justification: I needed something small to read on the bus. I grabbed Just My Type by Simon Garfield, which is a relatively breezy journey through the history of typefaces and fonts, with digressions about specific faces, designers, and events. There’s some very interesting stuff about the design of typefaces for road signs, and the competitions between them!

Here’s five little fun excerpts:

  1. “In Manhattan, we can stroll into the reassuring chaos of the Strand Bookstore on Twelfth Street and Broadway, and find that their popular T-shirts and mugs (
    ’18 Miles of Books’) are in Helvetica. But you will find no better example of the diversity of type than by touring the tables and stacks. The text choices favour the digitized traditionals, the Bembos and Baskervilles and Times New Romas, but the jackets display the full roster, the fluid scripts for those intimate heartrending memoirs, the all-lower-case for the comic novels, the no-nonsense bold capitals for the business books, the wimpy scrawls for the kids stuff. Of course you can judge a book by its cover; moreover, we are obligated to.” (Hell yes. If you don’t judge a book by the cover, why the hell do you think a publisher puts a cover on a book? To attract people! To be judged! To indicate what it contains and the style of the book! To be judged! A cover shows a publisher’s priorities and intentions! Judge it!)
  2. [Vincent] Connare can sometimes be elliptical about his fame. ‘If you love Comic Sans, you don’t know much about typography. If you hate it, you really don’t much about typography, either, and you should get another hobby.”
  3. “This is one difference between legibility and readability: at small sizes, Cooper Black is legible but not very readable. But some type is meant to be seen rather than read (a type designer once compared this attribute to a dress designed to look great on the catwalk but provide no protection against the elements). Font-as-couture is a common analogy. Adrian Frutiger, designer of one of the most popular modern fonts, Univers, had another: ‘The work of a type designer is just like that of a dressmaker,’ he noted. ‘Clothing the constant, human form.’ Or as the graphic designer Alan Fletcher put it. ‘a typeface is an alphabet in a straitjacket.'”
  4. “Much of what one needs to know about the history and beauty of a font may be found in its ampersand. Done well, an & is not so much a character as a creature, an animal from the deep. Or it is a character in the other sense of the word, usually a tirelessly entertaining one, perhaps an uncle with too many magic tricks.”
  5. “The alphabet as a free-for-all is an appealing concept, not least for lawmakers who fear the restriction of free speech (and the complex possibilities of distinguishing one lowercase ‘g’ from another). Zapf argued his case at a time when he believed there were 7,000 to 8,000 different typefaces, and he claimed, ‘I hold the world record for the most type designs copied without permission.’ In 2010, with the number of faces rather greater, and Zapf into his nineties and no longer designing, the title may still be his.” (Hermann Zapf has since passed, in 2015.)

Just My Type is worth checking out as a light summary of the history of type, or just a fun read that will give you a bunch of jumping-off points to research in depth later, such as a the delicious Adobe Systems, Inc. v. Southern Software, Inc. lawsuit.