A SURVEY: What was your first book about typography?

Double Elephant's picture

Hi there,
I'm doing a quick survey to ask, 'what was your first book about typography?'
Particularly, which books were on your first year (freshman) university/college/apprenticeship reading list? And which of these was the first that you bought, read, and referred to early on in your typographic education.

For me it was James Felici's Complete Manual of Typography.

Double Elephant's picture

PS I realise there are other posts regarding 'books for newbies', 'best books on typography' and, of course, the 'Typographic Triumvirate'. But I'm really after the name of your first book, not your/the best.

Answers on a postcard!

Conor's picture

Basic Typography: A Design Manual by James Craig.
Required reading before I began college – does exactly what it says on the tin! Certainly not one for igniting inspirado.

dan_reynolds's picture

Erik Spiekermann and EM Ginger's Stop stealing sheep and find out how type works.

Double Elephant's picture

Thanks Dan and Conor.

> Certainly not one for igniting inspirado

No – understandably.

As a matter of interest, when you do offer the name of your first book, it would be great if, like Conor, you could offer a few words about its impact on you and your peers.

Did many of your peers buy/read/borrow the same book?
What was the general class consensus?
Were you in a minority?
Did it inspire you to read more? Or did it bring on a yawn?

Reed Reibstein's picture

I believe I bought both Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style and Craig's Designing with Type at the same time in the RISD bookstore, but I only take one with me wherever I go. Guess which one ;-) .

EDIT: Per Ryan's request, I'll make it more explicit. I had been into type for several months before buying Bringhurst, but as soon as I sat down with it, I knew I was passionate about what it detailed. Just one of those classics (if I can call it that after only two years). Craig was certainly not bad, but I read it after reading most of Bringhurst, and there wasn't too much new information in there. Some practical knowledge, though, and a better introduction to identifying common typefaces than Bringhurst.

Manlio Napoli's picture

Stop stealing sheep and find out how type works was my first too.

dezcom's picture

The first book that I bought on typography was in 1967, "Typographie" by Emil Ruder. It was not available until a year after I graduated from design school but my typography professor was a student of Ruder so his teachings were part of our curriculum before the book was published.


eliason's picture

Either Bringhurst or S. Carter's Twentieth-Century Type Designers -- can't remember which.

blank's picture

Stop Stealing Sheep.

Double Elephant's picture

In addition to this post, I'd like to post the same question on another forum for designers, which isn't so obviously for typophiles.
Can anyone recommend such a forum?

William Berkson's picture

Types of Typefaces (1967) by J. Ben Lieberman.

dux's picture

I don't remember the exact title, but it was a grim technical textbook on how-to's. I still remember my excitement at first letterspacing and leading!

jupiterboy's picture

Type and Typography: The Designer’s Type Book, Revised Edition by Ben Rosen

I had jobs though before school so I had (and still do) a Linofilm by Typographics sample book.

nora g's picture

Ursache und Wirkung: ein typografischer Roman (1984) by Erik Spiekermann

Bleisetzer's picture

I got my one 1972 and I wrote already about it.
May be you guys cannot read it, because its written in german. Please forgive me that I'm too tired to tranlate it now — but: there is a picture included:


„Ich bin ein Preuße, kennt Ihr meine Farben...“

will powers's picture

In 1973, I had just gotten my journeyman's card as a hot-metal hand compositor. I had worked as an apprentice comp for 5 years. Though I had never read anything about "typography," I was excited about setting type for books. That summer I spent 5 weeks at the Vermont farm of the great type teacher Ray Nash. I read both volumes of Updike's "Printing Types" and talked with Ray and the handful of other students about what I had read.

When I had time I watched the Watergate hearings on TV.

Discovering the richness of typography in Updike made me go back to college, finish the final semester for a BA in English, and then commit to becoming a typographer. Here I yam, 35 years later.


Bleisetzer's picture

35 years, Will...
Tell me: Is this real? What is real?? Am I real???
Oh Jeeee... 35 years.

„Ich bin ein Preuße, kennt Ihr meine Farben...“

k.l.'s picture

Tschichold's Meisterbuch der Schrift, and a bit later The Form of the Book. Then at university, yet another Tschichold. He did have quite an impact, but meanwhile I have more sympathy for less dogmatic authors like Paul Renner. No idea why I prefer dead authors, though ...

It's funny to see that the books indicate how old its readers are. Stop Stealing Sheep readers must be the younger Typophilers.  :D

bleisetzer -- but: there is a picture included

Nice, I have one too!

Mark Simonson's picture

I don't remember which order they came in, but the required reading when I was studying type and design in college in the mid-1970s was:

Typography, by Emil Ruder
Asymmetric Typography, by Jan Tschichold
Design With Type, by Carl Dair

Don McCahill's picture

The TeXBook, by Donald Knuth.

Not really a general typography book, being specifically for the typesetting of mathematics, but it carried a lot of typographic information.

dan_reynolds's picture

>Stop Stealing Sheep readers must be the younger Typophilers.

Hmmm. But not so young. Wasn't the book first published in 1991 or 1992? (I bought mine albeit much later, in 1998…)

Nick Shinn's picture

I don't recall there being any typography books on the curriculum of my Foundation course or Dip.AD (Fine Art), in the early '70s in the UK. So "my" first book about typography actually belongs to my wife, who bought it when she was studying art at the University of Manitoba.

I've always been impressed with the asymmetric application of the price stickers, and their red bars which echo the bar on the dust jacket!

Chris Rugen's picture

I honestly can't remember for certain, but I think it was Stop Stealing Sheep. Though the first book I bought of my own accord was Bringhurst's The Elements of Typographic Style.

jupiterboy's picture

Now that's a bullet.

metalfoot's picture


blank's picture

Nick is so damned hardcore.

Nick Shinn's picture

But now that I think about it (for the first time, it would seem), the grey sticker covers up the asymmetricality of the author line.

dezcom's picture

But Nick, 6 bucks for a book is a real deal :-)


paul d hunt's picture

Elements of typographic style. i jumped in on the deep end...

cuttlefish's picture

There was a little thing I picked up in the late 1980s:
The Mac is not a Typewriter
Not so much a typography book, but it was enough to break me of typewriter habits before I got out of high school.

Dan Gayle's picture

Typographic Design: Form and Communication, by Carter, Day and Meggs

Not the most exciting of books, but solid. 95% of the class switched from print design to web design after Typography 101 and this book :)

blank's picture

95% of the class switched from print design to web design after Typography 101 and this book :)

That book scared the living shit out of me during sophomore year. Now I have two copies.

Dan Gayle's picture

I, unfortunately, sold it back to the school bookstore.

But the book set me on a path. I never intended on getting interested in type or typography. I went to school for photography, but our school's Visual Communications: Photography program required a class in basic typography.

After that first class that everyone else dropped, I was hooked :)

richardmassey's picture

bringhurst, 20th century type, stop stealing sheep, and robin kinross' classic modern typography -- which i am quite surprised no one has yet mentioned -- it's crucial.

TomN-CA's picture

Bringhurst, and thinking with type.

Thomas Levine's picture

I haven't gone to university, college or an apprenticeship. The first typography book I read was The Elements of Typographic Style.

Zennie's picture

Mine were also Stop Stealing Sheep & The Elements of Typographic Style.

eeblet's picture

I became interested in type* long after I'd graduated college. I've done a lot of internet research & went to TypeCon in 2006, but my first real typography book is "About Alphabets" by Zapf, which I read last year. Since then, I've gotten a bunch from the library. I'm still quite new to it all, though.

*I've loved type since I was a little kid - I'd pore over books from the library on "Circus Letters" and spend hours retraining my handwriting to be big or small or have two-story a's, etc. But I didn't know other people liked this and kind of lost track of it until a few years ago.

Double Elephant's picture

Excellent -- don't stop! With any luck I'll get the feedback from everyone on Typophile.com.
Dan is right about Stop Stealing Sheep -- I have the first English paperback edition that was published in 1993.

As a matter of interest: is anyone here still studying, or in some way in touch with current design students? Do you know what is being read Now by beginners? I spoke to a first year student last weekend who mentioned Type & Typography, by Baines & Haslam, About Face by David Jury and, obviously, one of Carson's books.

  • What are the main titles now being read by complete beginners?
  • Perhaps Elements of Typographic Style is a bit heavy for a beginner, or do you disagree?
  • Do you think many graphic design students read First Principles of Typography by Stanley Morison(?) or are such books now considered irrelevant by beginners?

Back in the beginnings of my education, I always had the opinion that anything printed more than 10 years before wasn't worth reading!

Nick Shinn's picture

anything printed more than 10 years before wasn’t worth reading!

Students would take to Morison if he were reprinted in Helvetica.

lirmac's picture

Before setting my first book I bought Bringhurst and John Kane's A Type Primer simultaneously. Kane's book isn't bad, but it didn't change my life. Bringhurst did (obviously).

Double Elephant's picture

Maybe that's true Nick. Please elaborate.

rlynch's picture

A Type Primer by John Kane.

Renaissance Man's picture

The first book I got was inPrint by Alex Brown. It really is a great introductory book for those who don't want to start at the deep end.

Some people start with the (Bringhurst) Bible; others start with bible stories.

ISBN 0823025446; out of print; you can find used copies dirt cheap, unlike Dowding's Finer Points which sells for about $80.

jupiterboy's picture

Perhaps Elements of Typographic Style is a bit heavy for a beginner, or do you disagree?

It was a touchstone for me. When I was in school (not a very good design school) it was all backlash and '70s freedom. There was very little taught about classic geometry and structure. Everything was stagnant and the Mac was about to hit. Elements was the real deal—it had all the knowledge my teachers didn't have, which is exactly what I wanted. I think the book works as a read, but also a great reference. I still look things up in it all the time.

ingap's picture

I became interested in type looking at specimens used by my parents. :) But the first real book was "Designer's Guide To Typography", edited by Nancy Aldrich-Ruenzel and John Fennell [1991] . It is the special annual edition of Step-By-Step Graphics magazine.

blank's picture

A Type Primer by John Kane.

It should be everyone’s first. Reading Kane cleared up all the confusion I was left with after reading the usual stuff.

Perhaps Elements of Typographic Style is a bit heavy for a beginner, or do you disagree?

I tried reading it early on and was really confused as to why my professor wanted me reading all this pretentious nonsense that no editing department would ever go with. I often use it as a reference, particularly for terminology, but as a student I find the advice in it is usually too impractical to be of much real value. Professors who insist we read Bringhurst will usually see our work as boring, dated, or stuffy if we put the ideas into practice. And all three of my design jobs have explicitly stated not to follow Bringhurst.

Don McCahill's picture

Well, it is not my first type book, but Edmund C. Arnold was my hero in my college days back in the 70s. He wrote several books about newspaper design during the 50s and 60s. At that time I thought I wanted to be a reporter ... turns out I really wanted to design newspapers, not write for them.

Syndicate content Syndicate content