Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield

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Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield

Buy Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield at Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com

Category: Humour
Rating: 4.5/5
Reviewer: Chris Bradshaw
Reviewed by Chris Bradshaw
Summary: Why a quality typeface is like a good football referee.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 352 Date: October 2010
Publisher: Profile Books
ISBN: 978-1846683015

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A quality typeface is a bit like a good referee at a football match in that you only really notice them if something has gone wrong. A referee is there to facilitate the players on the pitch, not to be the star of the show (though watching Match of the Day these past few weeks you'd often beg to differ). So it is with typefaces. A good type helps the reader, enhances the flow and makes the viewing experience easy and simple. Well sort of.

As author Simon Garfield puts it, the fonts that work best are the ones that allow us to read without ruining our eyes. But what makes such a font? Why are some types perfect in one environment but hopelessly misplaced in another? Why does the viewing public respond positively to a certain typeface but rails against another? Garfield examines these and many more questions in this fascinating history cum guide.

Of course a book that merely describes developments in type and font design has the potential to be extremely dry, technical and like the worst of fonts, dull. As someone who previously has written engaging books on topics as diverse as Big Daddy era wrestling, the end of the Dave Lee Travis days at Radio 1 and the diaries of ordinary folk in World War Two, Garfield certainly knows how to tell a good story form unorthodox source material and Just My Type is no exception.

As well a chronicling the major technical developments in printing and typeface, Garfield considers the social, economic and political impacts typefaces have had. Whether in advertising or shop fronts, logos or road signs, not to mention all manner of the printed word. There's plenty of interesting factual information offered that's easy enough for the lay reader to digest as well as the stories behind some of the most iconic designs in the world like the London Underground. As well as functionality, Garfield also considers why some fonts are ubiquitous in one country yet almost invisible in another as well as briefly sketching some of the most seminal type designers from yesterday and today. The author has a nice turn of phrase too. Take for example his description of Cooper Brown, the sort of font the oils in a lava lamp lamp would look like if smashed to the floor.

The book is packed full of juicy stories, from the battles for IKEA's soul (Futura versus Verdana), the war on Comic Sans, to the tales behind the most iconic of record sleeve designs. While all this can sound a little trivial (would anyone really care about IKEA changing their typeface? The answer is yes, massively so) Garfield also considers the political implications of fonts ranging from Nazi Germany to the political campaigns of today. The chances are that Barack Obama would have been elected as US president even if he hadn't used Gotham in his campaign literature. Would the campaign have had the same impact if it had been written in say Helvetica? Probably not. Fonts matter, even if we don't think that they do.

Of course for every classic Gotham style font there are clunkers like Souvenir (loved by 1970s soft porn directors) and Brush Script (anyone who has ever watched Neighbours will recognise this monstrosity). Garfield saves his severest scorn for something we'll be seeing an awful lot more of over the next couple of years. Like the bad football referee it appears to be trying too hard to be the centre of attention when it should be letting others dominate. Take a bow the 2012 Olympic Font in all its ugly majesty. Wacky and zany, two of the scariest words in the English language spring to mind when viewing this abomination. That's about as far away as you could get from describing Garfield's rather excellent book though which is informative, entertaining and as you'd expect given the subject matter beautifully produced.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: The Design of Future Things by Donald Norman

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Buy Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield at Amazon.com.


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