Typography books for newbies

matthew_dob's picture

I want to learn about good type design, elegant type layout and a small amount of history. What books would you recommend? I live in London, England so have a wide access to various design bookshops.

Please... I need inspiration!


christopher's picture

Ruari McLean's Manual of Typography gives a good history of typography and design and is a very practical book. The only caveat is that it only goes up to the 80s so the digital side of typography is not addressed.
I also like Stop Stealing Sheep by Erik Spiekermann, it is a nicely illustrated introductory text.

j75's picture

Every one talks about 'The Elements of Typographic Style' by Robert Bringhurst http://www.amazon.co.uk/exec/obidos/ASIN/0881791326/qid=1042314873/sr=1-1/ref=sr_1_2_1/026-8626606-6990000

matthew_dob's picture

Yup, I read Stop Stealing Sheep. Good it was, too. I would recommend it to people who are interested in letters, whether or not they are typophiles.

rcapeto's picture

I don't know this book you mention, Detailtypografie,
but I recommend the similarly titled Detail in Typography,
by Jost Hochuli (Compugraphic, 1987). It's instructive to
the newbie and a pleasure to the veteran. It's out of
print, but it does turn up now and then on the used-book
services. I've recently bought a copy in English (the
original is in German, of course).


nike's picture

you can find detailtypografie at amazon:


i read it too and its recommendable.

nevine's picture

Yes, definitely Bringhurst!

Miss Tiffany's picture

Don't forget to visit our Books List: http://typophile.com/books

Miguel Sousa's picture

The non-designer's design book - Design and typographic principles for the visual novice by Robin Williams; a very nice and informal way to look at Typography and start using it correctly.

In http://www.typebooks.org/ you'll find a complete typographic bibliography.

book cover

jay_wilkinson's picture

out of the five or so books on the subject <joke> bringhurst's book is good. i think stop stealing sheep is kind of weak. as far as books on letterforms my old teacher from art center has a book out called font's and logos which is very comprehensive. the authors name is doyald young.

hrant's picture

To me Gill's little book is very serious. It puts type in the context of society, exposing some deeply-rooted problems. The fact that many people today might think it's "strange" is simply that we've been brainwashed into loving industrialization over the past 100 years. I think when Gill's book came out, there were a lot more people who "got it".

According to the colophon*, "Essay" was in fact the first use of Joanna. And the later 1936 edition was set in foundry, not Monotype.

* It has two: one on page 4 and one at the end. I'm not sure the first one can be called a "colophon".


Jemma Hostetler's picture

i really love emil ruder's Typography you can get it on amazon but it's cheaper on YWFT... those are the nice hardcover versions... mine is older and paperback, but i love it. (did i mention i love it?)

hrant's picture

> i really love emil ruder's Typography

The way it treats the three languages identically bothers me a lot, not least functionally: there are spots (like in some illustration captions) where you have to make an extra effort to know where to start reading.
Way too much Modernism.


keith_tam's picture

Type & typography by Phil Baines and Andrew Haslem is a great book for beginners as well as those with more experience. It approaches type first and foremost from the linguistic point of view in a section called 'function', then move onto 'form', where history and classification are discussed in great details. The third section is about the designing and manufacturing of type. The next section is titled 'Structure', where hierarchy, grid, and the fine points about setting type are covered. The last section is 'Conventions', the 'rules' of setting text type, if you will. The whole book is illustrated throughout with relevant and engaging examples, The main running text set in Swift in a large point size and 'sidebars' set in a smaller Meta that goes into more depth about each issue discussed. I highly recommend this book. I think it's one of the best, most comprehensive and least biased I've seen so far. It is quite a brilliant achievement: it has a lot of depth and students are going to like reading it because it actually looks so interesting. Along with Bringhurst, it's going to be required reading for my type class.

Jemma Hostetler's picture

> Really?

really. i wasn't bothered by the extra languages... but then again i wasn't bothered by the german in the weingart book either. then again, i'm one of those people who aren't bothered by subtitles in films. (did i mention i wasn't bothered?)

i'm getting out of hand ;)

i found it very informative; it made sense to me. and i still go back to it every so often, as reference.

keith_tam's picture

Hrant, you're going to like this book. It's so post-modern :-P

I love Phil Baines's work!

matteson's picture

I must say, I quite like Ruder myself. But more as an artifact really - not as a current resource or how-to book or entry point for someone. I'm not one to say modernism didn't (doesn't) have its fair share of problems...

hrant's picture

> Type & typography ... is quite a brilliant achievement

I agree. Maybe the best single "textbook" out there.

The only thing that bugs me is that they go to all that wonderful trouble of setting up typography with speech, writing and all, but... did you notice... nothing about how we actually read! :-/ The whole point, really.


> i'm one of those people who aren't bothered by subtitles in films.

I'm envious. I have a lot of trouble watching a foreign movie in a language I know because I can't help reading the subtitles. Same thing with the opera these days - those stinky surtitles - guys, you're supposed to know the story before you get there anyway, you know?! The point in opera is the delivery. And to me the only really good thing about DVDs is that you can turn the subtitles off. I even like watching foreign movies that I can't understand - they often make more sense that way. Like before I knew Spanish I enjoyed Mexican TV much more. And one time I was watching Ran, and I called the station yelling at them to turn of the subtitles...

Now I'm getting out of hand...

One thing I found definitely kind of innovative in Ruder's book is that page where they compare regular and irregular spacing of letters of different structures, with carefully selected words set large. That was sharp.


Jemma Hostetler's picture

> And one time I was watching Ran, and I called the station yelling at them to turn of the subtitles...

hahahaha! fantastic.

keith_tam's picture

Hrant, you're right, nothing on the reading process. :-(

keith_tam's picture

Ovink would be a good supplement to Baines.

hrant's picture

> nothing on the reading process.

Probably because that's a book by itself. But still, some stuff about saccades and such would've been nice. Ovink might be too heavy.

BTW, speaking of video titling, I've always loved the Chinese tradition of freezing the action and showing a person's name in huge vertical letters, with a gong. To me that beautifully leverages the surreal nature of video.


.00's picture


hrant's picture

That's definitely a great one. And fortunately bookfinder.com seems to show two copies currently available (for $50). Just be careful, Frutiger has at least one other book (also a good one, but not as good for type design) with a very similar title (and that one I think is still in print).


hawk's picture

Jan Tschichold - The New Typography

Eric Kindel - Typeform Dialogues

The typography of William Caxton ( well. this one is $$$$$ - first edition 1861-1863).

David Hamuel

hrant's picture

Kindel & Dixon's book/CD-ROM isn't out yet. Well, I assume it isn't since I've been on the waiting list for ages! It promises to be a real gem.


aeolist's picture

can't you veterans suggest a couple must-have books on the basics of typography? from what everyone has posted so far, I should have been born a millionaire in order to just start learning about it.(any explanatory websites would be great too)

hawk's picture


yes i do. but - about Reading - doing what?

this paper or academic paper is pure knowledge. it is about history. culture.

this kind of paper - MUST!!!

i think the problem with young people, students (and part of this problem is because of the school/university) - that they are looking for shortcuts. they are looking for "how to" books.

e.g. a post by a guy(not here). he wrote, more or less, : i am new to fonts. i am looking for a book about metrics.

the problem: he wants to create a typeface. but he does not know what is a typeface. just to buy FontLab or Fog....you can't create a typeface.

Steven Heller, the Great Heller wrote ( about illustration - but i think you can say type design/ graphic design etc., etc., ) :

"...At most art schools, despite the requisite nod to the liberal arts, the student is not exposed to or encouraged to take part in classes about literature, sociology, psychology, or history...

"Having a liberal education will not necessarily guarantee a rosy illustration career, BUT neither will an art school education. What liberal arts WILL facilitate is a better understanding of subjects and themes that an illustrator will encounter in a majority of assignments.....


that is why this paper is must. and not just this paper.

David Hamuel

keith_tam's picture

I think part of being a typographer/type designer is having a large library, and spending a fortune on books :-P

If Typeform dialogue is out, I want to buy it right now! I, too, have seen a demo of it (in 2001) and was throughly impressed. Definitely a great tool for learning.

I agree, Tiffany. The Nymph and the Grot is great and it offers quite a unique pespective on the early developments of sanserif letterforms.

Robin Kinross's Modern typography is a great book on the historical developements in the twentieth century. But, imho, the typographic design itself makes for a rather uncomfortable reading experience.

There are so many books that I want to recommend. Here are a few that I think are great (sans comments or details, sorry):

Writing, lettering, & illuminating
Edward Johnston

A book of scripts
Alfred Fairbank

An essay on typography
Eric Gill

Gerrit Noordzij

Elements of typographic style
Robert Bringhurst

Graphic design & reading: explorations of an uneasy relationship
Gunnar Swanson, ed.

Twentieth century type designers
Sebastian Carter

Letters of credit
Walter Tracy

Type, sign, symbol
Adrian Frutiger

The visible word
Herbert Spencer

Texts on type: critical writings on typography
Steven Heller and Philip Meggs, eds.

hrant's picture

> spending a fortune on books

Or have access to a [really] good library. I worked for UCLA for a couple of years, and I still get to use their stellar library resources, including doing ILLs of just about anything ever printed! Like I certainly couldn't afford Enschede's glorious 1908 specimen book (~$1200 market value, and worth the quadruple price of the 1978) but I recently got to scan it up the wazoo.

BTW, don't forget Alexander Lawson's "Anatomy of a Typeface". It's way up there.


keith_tam's picture

> > Or have access to a [really] good library.

Sure. The library at Emily Carr here in Vancouver is not the best, but it does have quite a well-stocked typography section, as well as a number of books on calligraphy and lettering.

> BTW, don't forget Alexander Lawson's "Anatomy of a Typeface". It's > way > up there.

Yes, Hrant, you're right. Lawson is a good read. But I remember the copy at Reading University's library has been scribbled all over with comments that challenge the historical accuracy of a particular chapter (I forgot which one it was). I also remember someone from Reading saying that it is a bit iffy on historical facts. Don't quote me on that.

antiuser's picture

I'm quite fond of Bringhurst myself. It was the first book on type that I read.
It's a great introduction to the world of type.

Joe Pemberton's picture

Stop Stealing Sheep is in its second edition
as of this past summer. (It is available in the US,
but I'm not sure about the UK.)

anonymous's picture

Bringhurst is (very) good. For advanced reading & typography I recommend "Detailtypografie" from Forssman and de Jong, (you can find it here, the german Amazon). It's in german, but it's got everything in there. There's also a book by Adobe Press that got some good reviews: The complete manual of typography, by Jim Felici. see it at amazon. I like Detailtypografie more tough...

Miss Tiffany's picture

Historically narrow, but very interesting, is James Mosley's "the Nymph and the Grot".

Miss Tiffany's picture

Type & Typography. Just released by Mark Batty Publishers. (Look in the books section, first page) Great book for those that want an introduction from several authors. Articles are all compiled from past Matrix printings.

Miss Tiffany's picture

David -- have you actually seen Eric's book? I saw a preview of it in '99 (maybe '00) when I was at Reading. What do you think of it? I'd love to hear a review from someone that has used it. At the time it looked very interesting, as well as something an educator could really use.

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