on January 22, 2013
After reading this book, you will never look at public signs, newspapers, advertising, or even your computer settings the same again.
Just My Type by Simon Garfield is a brilliant little book on a topic you would think boring beyond belief. But you would be wrong, for there is a lot to learn about how fonts and type sets affect the way we read and think.
Thousands of fonts are all around us and we are affected by them in an almost subliminal manner. Why do some ads attract us more than others? Why is the masthead of a newspaper written in a gothic style? Why are highway signs printed in lower case letters? And why did IKEA change its font from Futura to Verdana, and endure the fury of some of its customers? All is answered here, with wit and style.
Some fonts have become almost omnipresent, and once it is pointed out by Garfield, we suddenly see them everywhere. Signs in aeroports are likely to be in Frutiger because it is so highly visible. Johnson Sans was created for the London Underground and one only has to read Cockfosters in that font and know that it is a Tube station. Some are highly readable, such as Cochin, or highly legible, such as Helvetica, or look legal and important like Baskerville, or monumental (Trajan), or just beautiful (Garamond). Then there are the overused or ugly fonts, such as Comic Sans and Times New Roman. You will now see roadside signs and think, what on earth were they thinking of?
Just My Type is a wonderful, useful book and a pleasure to read, and not just because it is printed in Sabon.
Simon Garfield is a British author who has written non-fiction works delving into everything from the history of AIDS in Britain, to the attitudes of the British during and after WW2. He's a splendid writer who concentrates on - shall we say - somewhat "quirky" topics. Case in point is his current book on fonts (or founts, as they used to be called).
Fonts came into being with the invention of the printing press in the late 15th century. It is shocking to realise that the printing of books for the masses has only existed for a fraction of man's existence. Books are such an integral of our lives that its amazing to think only 600 years ago books were owned only by the very wealthy or religious orders.
Garfield traces the history of fonts from their earliest days, paying special attention to those which we're most familiar with - Helvetica, Gill Sans, Arial, and Akzidenz Grotesk (a favorite of mine, if only for the name). He writes about the artisans behind the lettering, and most interesting, how certain fonts cause emotional responses in the people who view them. Why were some fonts popular for hundreds of years, only to fall from favor? How do fonts determine what consumers buy and what they don't buy? And how boring our lives would be if everything was printed in the same font.
Garfield has a lively writing style and is never boring. He gives a very good reference section at the back of the book, which is very helpful to those readers who want to know more.
By the way, if you're reading this, then be sure to go over to AmazonUSA read the review by Rob Hardy in this section. His long and interesting review is spot on - he's a reviewer's reviewer - and Rob's are the gold standard of reviews.