Thursday, 31 January 2008

Thinking with Type

My first experience working with typefaces ("muka taip", as it was called then) was in my Form 2 art class. Our teacher Mr. A made us create our own set of fonts using his cardboard strip method. This was followed by a few weeks designing a poster, using the font we made ourselves. At the time, I thought of all this as nothing more than a just another school work.

Years later when I started working with Powerpoint and web design, I realised how valuable the lessons Mr. A gave us were. Different fonts and types can convey different meanings. Picking the right font to use is an art by itself.

I may not understand the subject better than any formally-trained arts graduate. But at least I can have a conversation with someone with that background (like my cousin's husband, an arts lecturer.) I'm indebted to Mr. A for opening my eyes to the world of typography and font design.

I decided to further educate myself on this subject with Thinking with Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors and Students. Ellen Lupton, the author, opens the book with a brilliant quote:
Typography is what language looks like.
This book however is not intended for general reading. It is slightly heavy with terminology. There are explanations but nothing in detail. It is more on the intermediate side. As a beginner, I had to refer elsewhere as well.

The book is divided into four parts: Letter, Text, Grid and Appendix (compiling advice, warnings and other useful notes.)

In Letter, readers are started off on a historical tour on typography. Ever wondered why italics are called that? Italics is actually a branch of typography. In the 15th century, Italian typographers created types that captures the cursiveness of natural handwriting, which is slanted to one side. This part also includes a brief lesson the anatomy of types.

The following part, Text, takes everything in last one to a higher level. Text are after all letters in formation. I was surprised to learn that the paragraph is actually a necessary invention for text. Of course, since none of us talk in paragraphs. But text flowing on and on without any paragraph is certainly unbearable.

Grid, or more familiar to us as layout, talks about the many possibilities in arranging letters and text on a page's space. Grid is a new concept for me. I once tried to produce an assignment in a magazine format, and I struggled to get everything in place. If I had viewed everything in terms of grid, I might have saved a lot time and effort.

Even without any arts background, anyone can learn to appreciate types and typography from reading this book, thanks to the informative essays and the loads of example and photo. Lupton generously shares a sizeable portion of the book on the book's website. Thinking with Type is not just an essential design reading; it's a visual thinker's delight.


mudin001 said...

This book is certainly not my type! Haha!

rol said...

Haha! Good one.

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