What is the Difference between a Typographer and a Type Designer?

Fournier's picture

I'd like to know the difference between a typographer and a type designer.
Can you provide two definitions with examples, please?
Thanks in advance.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

A type designer designs* typefaces. Example: Paul Renner.

A typographer uses typefaces. Example: Ryan Gosling

*Sometimes he also uses typefaces, in which case he is a typographer and a type designer.

Fournier's picture

So the typographer is a kind of a graphic artist or type setter.

k.l.'s picture

I would never have expected that Fournier would ask such a question. :)

(Renner was both type designer and typographer, possibly more active as typographer.)

George Thomas's picture

There is a distinction to be made between typesetter and typographer.

A typesetter can be anyone who merely types in the words and may have little-to-no typographical experience or knowledge. A person who sets type for grocery ads, books or newspapers would be considered a typesetter.

A typographer is someone who knows the intricacies of what makes type work, of what it takes to make type into a well-composed page. It is usually pretty easy to see the differences between a page composed by a typesetter and a page composed by a typographer.

So a typographer is not just a typesetter; it takes learning and years of experience to become a typographer. It is true to say that a typographer starts out as a typesetter and it is also true, as you wrote, that a typographer is a kind of graphic artist. Alone that same line, it is also true that not every graphic artist is a typographer.

The bottom line is that a typesetter is just a typesetter; a typographer is Best of Class.

Frode Bo Helland's picture

I would love “typographer” to be a sign of quality, but I don’t think that’s necessarily the case. From what I’m told, typographer used to be a protected title here in Norway. Not anymore. Now everyone is a typographer, just like everyone is a photographer. The tools are afforable and easy to use. There is no protected title. Off course, good work still requires experience and skills.

George Thomas's picture

@Frode, you are right; it is no longer protected, but if someone claims to be a typographer all one needs to do is see samples of their work. Quality shows and will tell the truth every time.

Just like the democratization of type design, today anyone with the requisite software can be a "type designer". The same rules apply.

ralf h.'s picture

Words can change their meaning or the the focus of their meaning depending on the context.
In a technical sense, yes, everyone who lays out some text in Microsoft Word is a typographer. He/she uses type to design a page. Quality doesn't matter in this regard. Just like Frode said: Everyone who uses a camera is a photographer. Everyone who uses type is a typographer.
Yet, think about a book like titled “20th century photographers”. It's obvious that this book will be about the best/most famous people of the professional field of photography.

So typographer/typography can just relate to the technique of designing with type — or those terms imply a certain expertise in execution and/or knowledge. The context decides. And that's okay. It's how language works. ;-)

hrant's picture

So in my family everybody is a calligrapher and a letterer; except for the two youngest ones everybody is a typographer; but I'm still the only type designer!

hhp

Martin Silvertant's picture

"Now everyone is a typographer, just like everyone is a photographer. The tools are afforable and easy to use."
Nah, the tools are easy to get access to illegally and as easy to abuse. Typography isn't easy, just like photography isn't easy. The fact that people think it is shouldn't affect what a typographer is. I simply can't call anyone who has to do with setting text a typographer. And likewise, I've taken photographs and I've had photography classes at the art academy, but I would never consider myself to be a photographer with my current skills. It's just not justified.

I have seen the term 'typographer' being used to describe type designers as well though. They should remain distinct professions, however I would think a type designer is also a typographer.

"In a technical sense, yes, everyone who lays out some text in Microsoft Word is a typographer. He/she uses type to design a page. Quality doesn't matter in this regard."
I don't agree with this statement. Am I technically a painter by throwing a bucket of paint onto a wall? Quality may not matter directly, but I think the tools the so-called typographer uses do matter and they affect the quality indirectly. I wouldn't call someone who knows nothing about type a typographer, even if he uses the kerning feature in Photoshop.

Why is it predominantly in art and design that everyone can be considered to belong to a certain profession without having the skills that go with that profession? It's awful. For us to insist that they actually ARE designers doesn't help. I could grab a hammer and helmet and consider myself a builder, and technically you could indeed say that I am because I build, but to be a genuine builder I would think I need to actually know something about building. For me to put on a helmet and get other tools needed for the job doesn't help me finish a house. If I do finish a house and it's understandably unsafe to occupy, you would seriously question my background. You wouldn't say "he happens to be a bad builder".

I think it's our job to guard the integrity of our work, and so I don't call anyone who works with type a typographer.

Martin Silvertant's picture

"Now everyone is a typographer, just like everyone is a photographer. The tools are afforable and easy to use."
Nah, the tools are easy to get access to illegally and as easy to abuse. Typography isn't easy, just like photography isn't easy. The fact that people think it is shouldn't affect what a typographer is. I simply can't call anyone who has to do with setting text a typographer. And likewise, I've taken photographs and I've had photography classes at the art academy, but I would never consider myself to be a photographer with my current skills. It's just not justified.

I have seen the term 'typographer' being used to describe type designers as well though. They should remain distinct professions, however I would think a type designer is also a typographer.

"In a technical sense, yes, everyone who lays out some text in Microsoft Word is a typographer. He/she uses type to design a page. Quality doesn't matter in this regard."
I don't agree with this statement. Am I technically a painter by throwing a bucket of paint onto a wall? Quality may not matter directly, but I think the tools the so-called typographer uses do matter and they affect the quality indirectly. I wouldn't call someone who knows nothing about type a typographer, even if he uses the kerning feature in Photoshop.

Why is it predominantly in art and design that everyone can be considered to belong to a certain profession without having the skills that go with that profession? It's awful. For us to insist that they actually ARE designers doesn't help. I could grab a hammer and helmet and consider myself a builder, and technically you could indeed say that I am because I build, but to be a genuine builder I would think I need to actually know something about building. For me to put on a helmet and get other tools needed for the job doesn't help me finish a house. If I do finish a house and it's understandably unsafe to occupy, you would seriously question my background. You wouldn't say "he happens to be a bad builder".

I think it's our job to guard the integrity of our work, and so I don't call anyone who works with type a typographer.

ralf h.'s picture

Why is it predominantly in art and design that everyone can be considered to belong to a certain profession without having the skills that go with that profession?

It isn't. I can also be a gardener (professionally or as hobby), a cook (professionally or just for one evening), a driver, a soccer player or whatever. That's how language works. The word just describes the activity. Whether or not a profession is meant, or a certain quality or expertise, depends on the context. That's all I am saying.

Martin Silvertant's picture

I think you slightly misunderstood, which is my fault for wording my statement that way. What I was insinuating is why it's predominantly in art and design that someone can be considered a professional without having studied the subject in question deeply. A good example would be my own career. I've been pretty knowledgeable about typography for many years and in fact I probably could have considered myself a typographer back then. I didn't though, and if I did I think it was an overstatement. My skills at the time, although reaching further than the average graphic designer and many so-called typographers, wouldn't have justified calling myself a typographer I think. You need a certain skill set to make that claim.

You say the word just describes the activity, but we're not completely working with abstracts here. Arresting someone doesn't make me a cop. Likewise, I've never in my life described myself as a cook for merely making a dinner. I really think it's an overstatement to ascribe a profession to someone because he happens to practice such an activity at the moment.

I think we can have a debate about semantics and metaphysics here, but the deeper message I want to convey is that it's our job to safeguard the integrity of our profession, and that applies to any profession. I know we live at a time where many tools are easy accessible so the borders between professions and certain principles tend to blur, but to make language blur along with it would be a mistake. Because, in the end what does it mean to be a designer in that case? I'm already being underrated because of my profession, both as a graphic designer and a type designer.

ralf h.'s picture

it's our job to safeguard the integrity of our profession

But will that really happen through semantics? Who decides then who is qualified to be a typographer?
A degree? You can do lousy work even with a degree.
The act of doing it for money? That also doesn't say much.
Being famous as a typographer? Maybe that was just good marketing.
The work being seen as “quality work”? Who can decide that? Is there a global committee somewhere?

Today, there is not one accepted definition of “typographer” anyway, that could clearly divide people who do something with type in the groups "is a typographer” and “is not a typographer”. Type is now a tool for everyone and reserving typography/typographer just for some sort of elite wont work anyway.
When in doubt, I personally just speak of the “technique of typography” or the “art of typography”. In the first case, everyone who works with type is a typographer. In the second case I stress the skill/expertise. That is not blurry at all and I also don't think it devaluates the term. It just reflects how type is used today.

Martin Silvertant's picture

But will that really happen through semantics? Who decides then who is qualified to be a typographer?
In theory it would. In practice it's more difficult to achieve. I don't think anyone in particular will decide who is qualified to be a typographer. In fact, I don't want us to decide who is a typographer and who isn't. My only issue is that we shouldn't just consider anyone who does type to be a typographer.

If someone lacks knowledge in type, we should point that out, and I think we do. What we shouldn't do is give the person the impression he is already qualified to be a typographer just because he works with type. Right now too many graphic designers think they're good typographers. I thought my typography was done well 6 years ago, but I had no idea how seriously I was lacking in knowledge and therefor lacked the insight to make the typography as good as I would do it now. I suspect in 5 years from now I will feel the same about the work I do now. To have considered myself a typographer 6 years ago would have been unjustified despite the fact I knew more about typography than many you would probably consider to be typographers for merely working with type.

I don't think we can necessarily judge who is a typographer because indeed there are many things to consider, but I think it helps to ascribe a certain amount of knowledge to a typographer.

Also, I find the notion of someone typing text in Microsoft Word being considered a typographer to be almost offensive. I think I'm being underrated as a designer exactly because people seem to think anyone can be a designer. I studied hard to get to the point where I am now and I have another 4/5 years to go. I have been doing freelance work for about 12 years but initially I considered myself an artist because I was doing designs and illustrations according to my own principles and knowledge. To be a designer requires more knowledge and insight about color, composition, typography etc. and you need to know about printing, trending, marketing, the history of art and design. Only then do you have control over what you do and only then can you justifiably call yourself a designer.

Very simply put, you need a certain skill set for a certain profession and it's not justified to consider someone to be of that profession just for doing an activity related to that profession. Perhaps it doesn't apply to the English language, but in the Dutch language there seems to be a distinction between "playing soccer" and being a "soccer player". My sister plays soccer two times a week but I wouldn't consider her to be a soccer player. She just lacks ambition, technique and motivation, and that's alright because it's just a hobby.

I will give one more example. I like to consider myself an amateur scientist because I analyze data of stars from the Kepler space observatory to find exoplanets. I've found about 10 planets of which I calculated one to be three times the mass of Jupiter and I identified about 10 eclipsing binaries and a few other oddities. Now, it requires quite a lot of insight into astronomy and physics and science in general to do this, hence I'm an amateur scientist. To consider myself a scientist however would be unjustified because although I did a lot of research, I never went to university for a degree in the subject. Although I do scientific work, I don't strictly think like a scientist. In fact, my contributions are predominantly statistical and I have no idea how to actually gather data and construct hypotheses like actual scientists do. To me it's technically correct to call myself an amateur scientist but this is probably more to my own satisfaction. Put me in a lab and I can almost assure you nothing scientific will be done. Hence, scientists need to protect the integrity of their field, and they do. They don't just consider anyone who does something scientific to be a scientist. Fortunately not.

Conversely, in design we do. In my opinion it's not justified.

ralf h.'s picture

Also, I find the notion of someone typing text in Microsoft Word being considered a typographer to be almost offensive.

Note that I said “in a technical sense” — that's a big difference. Also note that original question was about “typographer” vs. “type designer”. This question is very clearly about “what they do”, not “if they are good at it/qualified/have a degree, years of experience and so on”.

Martin Silvertant's picture

Oh I agree with you, technically. A few posts ago I said you seem to slightly misunderstand my point and you still do. The original question has already been answered and so I thought it was relevant to make the point that although there are clear descriptions of what type designers and typographers are and do, basing their job description on their activities rather than on their actual job, knowledge and skills may not be a desirable thing to do.

quadibloc's picture

@Martin Silvertant:
Also, I find the notion of someone typing text in Microsoft Word being considered a typographer to be almost offensive.

How about this then: someone typing text in Microsoft Word is practicing typography.

Without a license.

Té Rowan's picture

Surprise news: A diploma does not a scientist make. Doing science does so. If I remember correctly, the Showa Emperor was an accomplished scientist – a marine biologist.

Nick Shinn's picture

A diploma does not a scientist make.

However, you do need one to become a Doctor of Thinkology.

Martin Silvertant's picture

I'm not saying I need a diploma to be a scientist. I'm saying I need to be educated as a scientist to be a scientist.

"How about this then: someone typing text in Microsoft Word is practicing typography."

I still don't like it. You can do typography with MS Word, but typing text in Word isn't necessarily practicing typography.

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