Best book ever

MickM's picture

Just bought the Designing Type by Karen Cheng and its the best book ever... Even before looking at it I used to say that a good type design book should have:a.basic rvisual rules and (most importantly) 26 Different chapters, ONE for each letter (or52) with all the individual characteristics and that exactly what this book is about. For some weird reason there seems to be no bibliography devoted to the actual proffesional design of fonts.. I would recomend Cheng's book to anyone.

dan_reynolds's picture

Peter Bilak has a nice little article on his site explaining why this isn't the best book ever (if you want to learn about typeface design):
http://www.typotheque.com/articles/designing_type_/

bieler's picture

MickM

I don't know that is the best book ever but it certainly is the best book I have seen that focuses on letterform construction, on a letter by letter basis. Bilak seems to miss the point of it completely.

Gerald Lange
http://BielerPress.blogspot.com

John Hudson's picture

I don't think Peter is missing the point at all: the book is entitled Designing Type and advertises itself as focusing on 'processes and issues of designing type'. It may well be a good book on letterform construction, and valuable in that regard, but letterform construction is not type design and analysis of letterform construction is not analysis of type design processes. Obviously these are criticisms of what the book claims to be and is advertised to be, rather than criticisms of what it actually is. As Peter says, the book is useful in providing a comparison of approaches to letterform construction. But to claim this is focusing on type design processes is a bit like saying a book on structural engineering focuses on architectural design processes.

Nick Shinn's picture

I know I've touted this before, but Stanley Hess' "The Modification of Letterforms" is one book that does address general principles, however it is also open to Peter's criticsm of the Cheng book, that it does not treat of letter combinations.

paul d hunt's picture

there are a lot of books that should be written on typography. maybe some of you will write one of these books to fill in the gaps.

hrant's picture

So are we supposed to dislike Lawson's book because of the title?

Also: the business of naming books these days is quite Machiavellian (blame search engines in part) with the author often having very little say in it! You should hear what Cavanaugh has to say about the title of his "Digital Type Design"...

http://www.typophile.com/node/2480

hhp

dezcom's picture

Cheng's book should be titled: "Looking at Traditional Roman Typeface Classification--an analysis of Differences in Letterform Construction."

ChrisL

John Hudson's picture

Lawson's book is one of those happy texts that offer more than the title suggests. Cheng's offers less, and also less than the introduction to the book suggests.

It is precisely because there are so few books on type design that we need to critically appraise books that do come out which claim e.g. to be focused on type design processes and issues, because they may easily be taken up by people, especially students and ill-informed teachers, as standard texts, simply because there are no alternatives. Cheng's book seems a useful sort of thing, and I'm glad it exists. But it isn't really about what it says it is about.

hrant's picture

> they may easily be taken up by people, especially
> students and ill-informed teachers, as standard texts

Anything is better than having "The Stroke: Theory of Writing"
as the main textbook... I'm pretty sure that nobody recommends
"The Horse Poop: Theory of Transportation" as a textbook in
automotive design classes.

hhp

thierry blancpain's picture

i just wanted to add that the german version of this book (released by hermann schmidt mainz) is said to be very nice (linking to juergen sieberts fontblog.de).

George Horton's picture

there are a lot of books that should be written on typography
Exactly. 'Anatomy of a Typeface' is a pleasant read, but it doesn't say much for the state of the literature that it should be canonical.

John Hudson's picture

Anything is better than having “The Stroke: Theory of Writing”
as the main textbook.

Actually, I think trying to build a type design curriculum around either book would be equally mistaken. But The Stroke makes no claims to being about type design, and I think one would have to deliberately misread it in order to think it was about type design. It is about what it says it is about, a theory of writing. It doesn't even contain a single illustration of a piece of type. It is completely concerned with the study and description of written forms.

hrant's picture

> The Stroke makes no claims to being about type design
> ... one would have to deliberately misread it in order
> to think it was about type design.

Please tell that to Mr $24-Per-Hour-Per-Student:
http://typophile.com/node/19708 _
http://www.cooper.edu/ce/calligph.html

Not to mention the 3000 Euro, and aptly named, VIDE guys:
http://www.viavide.com/summerexperiences/type_design_d_roos.xml

hhp

dezcom's picture

Wish I could take it.

ChrisL

hrant's picture

> Cool!

Just as long as we're clear that the "Noordzij doesn't
prescribe, he describes" incantation is pure codswallop.

hhp

bieler's picture

I wish John would write the book instead of wasting his time responding to dumb ass Typophile emails. But, writing the book, that is a different thing altogether.

Gerald

enne_son's picture

I think 1) John's claim that The Stroke "makes no claims to being about type design" and "is completely concerned with the study and description of written forms" is misleading, and 2) the 'incantation' [sic] Hrant wants us to believe is 'codswallop' ought to be taken seriously.

Gerrit Noordzij: [Foreward 2005] "My contribution to the course of graphic design at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague was founded on calligraphic exercises. Calligraphy is handwriting pursued for its own sake, dedicated to the quality of the shapes. From evaluating and discussing our experiences a theory of writing emerged that allowed us to describe the properties of shapes with parametric precision, without imposing aesthetic or ideological conditions.This book is an introduction to the theory."

And in an unpublished text provisionally called " The decadence of all design:" "While looking for an alternative [to indoctrination] I avoided the subject of design. Instead I concentrated on the interaction of tool and shape that could be expressed in parameters of the stroke. And here, at a convenient distance from design, I found the Archimedean point that enabled me to describe design with a high degree of precision."

No book will say all there is to say about designing type, but I do think Noordzij's book deserves the status of 'recommended reading.' My hope in translating it was that it would achieve 'recommended reading' status, and that it's actual worth be recognized. If the subject was the shape characteristics of exhaust systems in modes of public transportation, the horse poop metaphor might have been a little bit less of a load of crap. (I have not seen Karen Cheng's book.)

dezcom's picture

I quite liked The Stroke and am grateful to Peter for his translation. I think we all need to stay open to all ideas even if we don't agree with them. Tolerance is the key to an open mind. Unequivocal disdain leads us to welding the dead-bolt lock closed.

ChrisL

William Berkson's picture

'The Stroke' is one of the handful of best books on type, because it has new and valuable insights that can be found in no other author. Type is not writing, of course. But writing remains an "underlying force" [van Krimpen] in the design of letters, and for that reason 'The Stroke' is a must-read. Some of the history in it is not accurate, but that is a minor matter.

hrant's picture

> Noordzij’s book deserves the status of ‘recommended reading.’

I agree! Although pretty much how an automotive
engineer analyses the scene of a freeway pile-up.

The problem, Peter, is when the book starts getting recommended as the sole/central textbook in a type design course. When that happens, you can't convince anybody with half a set of wits that the "describes, doesn't prescribe" hymn holds any water whatsoever. The proof is the fonts, and in the curricula. If GN truly agreed with that hymn and cared about the fallout of its de facto fallacy, he would tell his disciples to cut it out already. Personally, I have to suspect he loves the fallout. Why? Because his own fonts are highly chirographic! Wake up and smell the fuel & oil on the pavement.

> Type is not writing

"There is no essential difference between writing and typography." -GN

I'm sorry, but it's quite pitiful how you guys are picking
and choosing whatever sound bites suit your own purposes.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

>pitiful how you guys are picking
and choosing whatever sound bites suit your own purposes

I have another adjective than 'pitiful': 'wise' ;)

My purpose is not to evangelize for Noordzij's views, but to learn from him. And there is a lot to disagree with but more importantly a lot to learn.

enne_son's picture

"choosing whatever sound bites suit your own purposes."

Do I?
Don't you?

Another quote (I've used it before): "It is decadent to make an artificial distance between the tool and the shape, but keeping them artificially together is decadent as well.

This is pretty categorically non-prescriptive if you ask me. It doesn't restrict freedom of movement, and it puts designers on the hook for being clear about why they are doing what they are doing, whether that be to optimize readability at text sizes or provide a repertoire of options for display. The parameters are there to give designers a handle on shape. I see nothing pernicious or deceitful or dishonest about any of this. Noordzij is concerned that designer be aware of what their shape-making actions represent. He is not interested in imitators.
______

“There is no essential difference between writing and typography.” -GN

Bill might better have said: "Type is not handwriting"

hrant's picture

William: Well, we agree then.
But I still worry that some people might paint a rosier picture
for themselves than what the reality on the ground indicates.

> Don’t you?

I try to pick up and amalgamate everything I'm hearing from GN. I certainly don't conveniently ignore the fact (protest until hell freezes over, it will still be true) that GN thinks the invention of printing was a fall from grace, that he makes chirographic fonts, and teaches others how to. Doesn't prescribe? Equine dung.

Let's see him come out and say that his book shouldn't be the
central/sole reference in a typeface design course. What we're
seeing is nothing short of cultish, and for the sake of the poor
students it must stop.

hhp

enne_son's picture

"I try to pick up and amalgamate everything I’m hearing from GN."

And who here doesn't?

What have you read of Noordzij's?
Where does Noordzij say the invention of printing was a fall from grace?
Which typefaces of Noordzij do you know?

I have probably said enough about the issue, and I have always felt that more needs to be said than Noordzij says about the optical-grammatical and gestural-atmospheric prospects opened by typographic contrast and feature manipulation. Moreover I accept that your basic complaint about 'chiro-referential' type reduces to a question worth asking, but when I sense a type-design-historical movement or a commendable analytic effort is being stubbornly misrepresented, publically, opportunistically and repeatedly treated with disdain, or the integrity of the opponent's message willfully occluded, I feel obliged to speak out. This may not be your intention, but it is what comes across.

It is possible that a reader is unable to grasp how a writer can claim one thing and seem to do another, but that is no reason for derision. I sometimes feel as if I am being pummelled into submission, rather than constructively engaged.

Would it be better to just walk away?

hrant's picture

> Where does Noordzij say the invention of printing was a fall from grace?

According to somebody who doesn't want to admit it, nowhere.
It's right there in plain English (I've pointed it out before, and you've reacted, so I know you know, so I don't want to waste more time) but since natural language is inherently fuzzy, there's always room for escape artistry or coping mechanisms.

These patchy, hyper-jargon, by-proxy apologisms that GN delivers through you don't cut it. Let him put as a preamble to everything he writes: "Do not use these ideas to make type!" Repeat: let him ask his disciples to stop supposedly misusing his ideas, to stop using his book as the core of type design instruction. He won't, because he doesn't want them to. Because they are not misusing his ideas, they are applying them, just like he has been.

Disdain? For actions, no - we're all weak humans. "Do as I say, not as I do." But for denialism, yes, disdain by the truck-load (and not the horse-drawn-carriage-load).

hhp

enne_son's picture

"cryptic, hyper-jargon, by-proxy apologisms that GN delivers through [me]"

Sorry, my comments come directly from me. They represent my understanding of what I take the author to be saying. Sometimes I check my perceptions with the author to see if they represent his intentions.

John Hudson's picture

Peter: I think 1) John’s claim that The Stroke “makes no claims to being about type design” and “is completely concerned with the study and description of written forms” is misleading...

It also represents my reading of the book, which is in the context of my readings in palaeography. It is only because I know Noordzij has taught at The Hague and I have seen his type design work and the work of his students that I would think to relate his ideas to type design. If I encountered The Stroke without knowing anything about Noordzij's involvement in type, and considered only the content of the book, I would presume that its principal audience was palaeographers and its principal critique was of common methods of palaeographic analysis, which seek to categorise letter shapes without understanding the tools and techniques involved in making them. For me, despite the fact that I am a type designer, this seems the content of the book. Applying the content to type design requires interpretation and extrapolation, because the subject of type design is not directly addressed in the text.

Hrant: The proof is the fonts...

Thesis? Beowulf? Proforma? Caecilia? Inter? The work of the most notable graduates of The Hague programme is hardly characterised by strong chirographic characteristics, and is notably dissimilar to Noordzij's own typeface design. If you talk with these designers, it is obvious that their engagement with Noordzij's ideas are critical, and they need to be critical precisely because Noordzij positions his ideas at a distance from design (deliberately, as Peter's quotes indicate). The ideas are not prescriptive for type design -- cannot be prescriptive for type design -- because they do not engage with the processes of type design: they need to be interpreted, extrapolated and critically applied by the student.

enne_son's picture

John, points taken--I now understand the background to your comment. However there are strong hints, especially in the forwards and on page 72 in reference to John Baskerville.

redge's picture

Perhaps there is no such thing as a "best book".

One of the things that I like about Bringhurst is that his book shows the impact of various design choices. This makes it possible to step back from the content and examine, and analyse, the book as an object. To take an obvious example, each of his appendices is laid out differently.

Very helpful.

A book about a particular philosophy towards design of type, or about the development of a specific type, has its own place, either a good or bad book for what it is and (if I can inject a personal bias) whether it is well written.

hrant's picture

> I now understand the background to your comment.

More equine dung. A couple of chirography apologists
propping each other up after tripping over one another.

John was caught with his pants down, surprised that the GN book is used so centrally in those classes; he doesn't agree with it, but he won't admit that in my presence, and you're helping him recover from the faux pas. How cute is that!

> hardly characterised by strong chirographic characteristics

What's "strong"?
Chirography is at the heart of all of it, by their own admission.

> The ideas are not prescriptive for type design

Then it should not be the sole/main textbook for any type design class.
The fact that it is means there is a big lie hovering over.

hhp

enne_son's picture

"More equine dung [...]"

So be it.

hrant's picture

"a load of crap"

I on the other hand didn't mind that one bat guano.

hhp

enne_son's picture

My 'so be it' was a sigh of resignation. I didn't see the point in pursuing the matter further.

hrant's picture

> a sigh of resignation.

I know - hence my reply.

hhp

George Horton's picture

GN's animus in Letterletter especially is surely revulsion at what he took to be the widespread incompetence of a now long-gone generation of palaeographers, as John says; and from what the one palaeographer I knew at university told me this disgust wasn't unjustified. Calligraphic history is his thing; he may be a bad influence, but only in the same way that 'Papazian on the Bouma' would be if by perverse mischance it became a set text for historians of calligraphy.
On the other hand, yes, he should have made the point more clearly himself. But doesn't he say somewhere that the use of his approach in teaching type design is (paraphrasing wildly) to provide exactly that merely-cultural norm against which genuinely typographic decisions can be measured? And would any type designer incapable of seeing that there was more to text design than the moving front have produced really valuable work had Noordzij not corrupted him?

John Hudson's picture

Hrant: John was caught with his pants down, surprised that the GN book is used so centrally in those classes; he doesn’t agree with it, but he won’t admit that in my presence...

I wrote: 'Actually, I think trying to build a type design curriculum around either book would be equally mistaken.'

I stand by that statement. So what am I not admitting?

If I were trying to teach type design, I would put both The Stroke and Letterletter on the reading list, and I would comment on what I think is useful about each book. I don't think I would put Cheng's book on the list because I think it would be a better educational opportunity for students to make their own measurements and observations of typefaces, rather than reading about Cheng's measurements.

Far from teaching chirographic type design, I think I would put the focus on scale, having students explore different techniques for making letterforms readable at different sizes. This derives from notes I made many years ago when I was researching different approaches to spacing (including Kindersley's). I was planning a two-part essay for the defunct Serif magazine entitled 'On the just spacing of letters'. The title was a reference to Durer's 'On the just shaping of letters', and it struck me that what the renaissance treatises on letterform construction and modern writing on the spacing of letters had in common was that both ignore the question of scale. I think it would be fruitful to put size at the centre of a type design curriculum.

hrant's picture

> a better educational opportunity for students to make their own measurements

But that would take up too much of the class, and assume direct
access to numerous fonts, some of them quite expensive. This is
one reason Cheng's book is so useful.

> having students explore different techniques for
> making letterforms readable at different sizes.

That would be a superb component in a second class in typeface design. For an introductory class (like the one I teach, and those two I referenced in this thread) it's actually pretty hard to strike a good balance between results and ideology, guiding versus brainwashing, etc. in a way that students can relate to and leverage. I actually managed to mention optical scaling, and how size affects everything (with some specifics, like color) but no way did I have time to get them to actually practice it.

Here's something informal I wrote in response
to a person who asked me how I teach my class:
"
It's not an easy thing to wrap your head around. Especially
for somebody who sees problems in the two major schools,
Constructivism and Chirography. Strangely enough I think my
strategy has been to simply scare them a bit. :-) To say that
the "good way" of making letterforms is a thorny issue, and
they'll have to think about it on their own a lot. Mechanically,
I've advised them to think principally about notan, about the
*boundary* of black/white, as opposed to merely building the
black and allowing the white to fall into place. Beyond that I
try to explain the necessary balance between cohesiveness
and individuality among letterforms, I show different ways in
which certain elements (like numerals) have been done and
what the pros/cons are, all while asking them to doubt doubt
doubt, to take no precedent for granted, and certainly not try
to make fonts the way I do! I have no idea if this'll work though...
"

Strangely enough, I think my students appreciated this style.
But I'll know more when I read the class evaluations...

> I think it would be fruitful to put size at
> the centre of a type design curriculum.

I agree, and really, I don't want to sound like a broken record, but by GN's
own admission, the dimension of scale is missing from his celebrated cube.

hhp

David Cabianca's picture

Peter,

Um, sorry to make this request in a public forum, but by any chance can you email me? I will be presenting at ATypI in Lisbon. My paper will be based on my MA Reading dissertation, "Practicing theory: a study of Gerrit Noordzij, teacher" and I was hoping to be able to discuss it with you in advance.

Much obliged.
_
David Cabianca, Toronto

John Hudson's picture

But that would take up too much of the class, and assume direct
access to numerous fonts, some of them quite expensive.

You don't need access to the fonts: you need access to specimen sheets, calipers and rulers.

I'm not thinking in terms of short courses like your introduction to type design course, but a longer term programme. I'm not very interested in introductory classes in anything.

dezcom's picture

Learning the numbers in the measurements is not of so much value. The act of taking the measurements and conjuring theories for differences as you take them, leads to thought beyond what the caliper tells you. This is the value that goes beyond the time spent doing it. I would also recomend that students fight with drawing glyph curves--building them up by going back and forth using black and white paint and brush--before ever drawing glyphs with bezier curves on a computer. Once you complete the struggle and learn to see what makes a curve work with paint, you will later make leaps in seeing curves on the computer as you draw them. Sure, you can more quickly draw a glyph on the computer at first but taking the slower route at first speeds learning later.

ChrisL

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