BOOK REVIEW: 'Just My Type': Type Fonts Can Fuel Intense Likes and Dislikes

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen
BOOK REVIEW: 'Just My Type': Type Fonts Can Fuel Intense Likes and Dislikes

Unless you're a member of the Typosphere, you probably don't pay much attention to the huge variety of type faces -- technically type fonts -- that are available to publishers, corporations and advertisers.



As Simon Garfield points out in "Just My Type: A Book About Fonts" (Gotham Books trade paperback, 384 pages, illustrations, bibliography, index, $16.00) when IKEA changed its signature font from Futura -- designed in 1928 by German designer Paul Renner -- to Verdana, designed by Matthew Carter, one of the many designers Garfield discusses in his very readable survey and history of type design, many IKEA fans went ballistic.


Carter created Verdana for Microsoft Corp. and, since its release in 1996, it has become one of the most popular sans serif fonts, rivaling the ubiquitous Helvetica. Perhaps in reaction to the Microsoft connection, IKEA customers recognized the change and many reacted as if an old friend had been fired. Maybe Futura devotees felt that if the font was good enough for the plaque left on the moon with the Apollo 11 mission (see photo) it was good enough for the Swedish furnishings giant.
BOOK REVIEW: 'Just My Type': Type Fonts Can Fuel Intense Likes and Dislikes

Similarly, the use of the Gotham font by the Obama campaign in 2008, boosted the sales of Gotham. Ironically, Garfield points out, the posters for Clint Eastwood's 2008 film "Gran Torino" also used the popular Gotham font. Empty chair, anyone?


Gotham, designed by American type designer Tobias Frere-Jones in 2000, is inspired by signs popular throughout New York City -- Batman's Gotham City --. and will be used as the type face on the cornerstone of the One World Trade Center, the tower to be built on the site of the former World Trade Center in New York.


I wasn't aware of the relative newness of Helvetica, designed by Swiss type designer Max Meidinger, and released in 1957, the year I graduated from high school. It seems as if it's been around forever. A year before Helvetica was released, in 1956, Univers, another very popular font, was designed by Adrian Fruitger, another designer Garfield discusses.
BOOK REVIEW: 'Just My Type': Type Fonts Can Fuel Intense Likes and Dislikes

British author Garfield takes us on a tour of European and American type design and designers, introducing most readers to people they've never heard of. This is a book for type geeks and also for anyone interested in expanding his/her education in a fascinating subject. Reading the book brought to mind the art directors I've worked with as a reporter and editor on five daily newspapers and how they improved the real estate, automobile and special sections I've edited or worked on. I particularly recall Terry Rednapp at the Los Angeles Times, a supremely talented native of Britain who understood the importance of design and typography.

Fonts didn't spring up by themselves, like dandelions after a rain. Garfield looks at street signs and buildings, at movie posters and books, and on just about every product that we buy and explores where they come from -- and why do we need so many of them. After all, Verdana isn't that much different than Futura or Helvetica or Arial -- is it?

 

Who is behind the businesslike subtlety of Times New Roman, the cool detachment of Arial, or the maddening lightness of Comic Sans (and the movement to ban it)? Simon Garfield embarks on a mission to answer these questions and more, and to reveal what may be the very best and worst fonts in the world. A hint on what he considers the worst typeface, in his own Top Ten list near the end of the book: It involves an event that occurs every four years and that has just concluded.

Simon Garfield
Simon Garfield

Typefaces have been around since the days of Gutenberg -- 560 years and counting -- but the general public barely knew their names until about twenty years ago, when the pull-down font menus on our first computers made us all the gods of type, able to change the look of our document with the click of a mouse. Beginning in the early days of Gutenberg and ending with the most adventurous digital fonts, Garfield in "Just My Type" discusses -- among other subjects -- how Helvetica took over the world and what inspires the seemingly ubiquitous use of Trajan on bad movie posters -- especially for Russell Crowe's bad movies. After reading "Just My Type" you'll never look at the printed word the same way -- and that's not necessarily a good thing, Garfield says.

 

Maybe we have way too much time on our hands, enabling some of us to obsess about fonts. Or to watch a real fox jump over a dog in the YouTube video in the link provided by Garfield: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f2d6q2oUJeY. Watch it! It's a delight! On Page 338 there's a list of that YouTube other "favourites" as Garfield spells it, including the Helvetica vs.Arial Fontfight and Trajan is the movie font.



About the author

Simon Garfield, born March 19, 1960, is a British journalist and the author of twelve nonfiction books. He was educated at the independent University College School in Hampstead, London, and the London School of Economics, where he was the Executive Editor of The Beaver. His website: www.simongarfield.com

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