This was originally a “Top 10″ list when I first wrote it in the summer of 2009. I was preparing to teach a Typography 2 class, updating my bibliography list, and thinking about which books are must-haves and/or classics. There are many great ones out there, and I’d love to hear what your favorites are. Recently, I read a great book that I want to add to my list, which now makes it a “Top 11″ list:
Just My Type: A Book About Fonts, by Simon Garfield
I know a lot about type history, and now I know even more after reading this book. Beginning with the early history of moveable type, Garfield takes us on a journey to the present with wit and enthusiasm. It’s written like a mystery novel, weaving stories about different fonts and their origins. Interesting facts, curiosities, and motivations about the type designers are revealed. We learn about Helvetica and Arial, and how they each became ubiquitous. We discover some unsavory aspects of Eric Gill’s personality. The selection of Gotham for the Obama presidential campaign is discussed. Garfield celebrates the typography in our contemporary lives by humanizing it and helping us understand how and why fonts elicit emotions and reactions.
The Elements of Typographic Style, by Robert Bringhurst
This is a comprehensive book that should be on every designer’s shelf. An expert typographer and an eloquent writer, Bringhurst has given us a gift that Herman Zapf hopes will become the “Typographers’ Bible.” Bringhurst’s language is refreshing, intelligent, and poetic:
“Typography is the craft of endowing human language with a durable visual form, and thus with an independent existence. Its heartwood is calligraphy….”
My favorite section of the book is the chapter on “Shaping the Page”, where he discusses organic, mechanical, and musical proportions in grid structures. Included is the golden section, which I found mesmerizing.
An excerpt from Amazon.com review:
“This lovely, well-written book is concerned foremost with creating beautiful typography and is essential for professionals who regularly work with typographic designs. Author Robert Bringhurst writes about designing with the correct typeface; striving for rhythm, proportion, and harmony; choosing and combining type; designing pages; using section heads, subheads, footnotes, and tables; applying kerning and other type adjustments to improve legibility; and adding special characters, including punctuation and diacritical marks. The Elements of Typographic Style teaches the history of and the artistic and practical perspectives on a variety of type families that are available in Europe and America today.”
Design With Type, by Carl Dair
In my Typography I classes, this used to be a required text. Sadly, it is no longer in print. If you can get your hands on it in the library or a reasonably priced used version, go for it. Its clear content is valuable as a foundation for teaching beginning students. Dair examines the basic components of type, type relationships (his explanation of the 7 dimensions of concord/contrast is excellent), space, and hierarchy. Throughout, he treats type as design material and provides ample examples of imaginative typography. The hardcover edition won several major design awards and was one of the “Fifty Books of the Year 1967″ selected by the AIGA.
An excerpt from Amazon.com review:
“Design with Type takes the reader through a study of typography that starts with the individual letter and proceeds through the word, the line, and the mass of text. The contrasts possible with type are treated in detail, along with their applications to the typography of books, advertising, magazines, and information data….”
Design with Type differs from all other books on typography in that it discusses type as a design material as well as a means of communication….”
Designing with Type, by James Craig
One of the best introductions to typography, I have used it in my Typography I classes for several years. Beginning with a brief history of the alphabet & typography, it also covers basic type measurements (point size, leading, line length, font, wordspacing, etc.), type families and samples, design considerations, and simple grids. Some of the content in my 3rd edition is outdated, but perhaps more recent editions have made appropriate revisions.
An excerpt from Publishers Weekly review:
“Part textbook and part reference work, the fifth edition of a typographic classic begins with a thumbnail history of the development of written language and ends with a glossary; in between are in-depth looks at five classic typefaces, lessons on designing with text type, display type and color, and plenty of project assignments…. While best suited for a beginning graphic design student, this clear, readable book should also intrigue those interested in how the look of a sentence has an impact on the way we read it. 100 color and 500+ b&w illus.” (May)
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Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works, by Erik Speikermann & E.M. Ginger
This is another great introduction to typography, with humor and informality that keep students entertained and informed.
An excerpt from Amazon.com review:
“World-renowned type experts Erik Spiekermann and E.M. Ginger explain in everyday laymen’s terms what type is and how you can use it to enhance the legibility, meaning, and aesthetic level of your work. They elegantly touch on all aspects of typography, including the history and mechanics of type, how to train your eye to recognize and choose typefaces, and how to use space and layout to improve overall communication…. A perennial bestseller since the first edition was published in 1993, Stop Stealing Sheep will draw you in with its beautiful design and layout, which makes liberal use of more than 200 illustrations and photographs.”
Geometry of Design: Studies in Proportion and Composition, by Kimberly Elam
I became enamored with this book the moment I read this sentence:
“Within the context of the man-made environment and the natural world there is a documented human cognitive preference for golden section proportions throughout recorded history…”
The book has a wonderful mix of great writing and fascinating examples of the Golden Section, Divine Proportion, and the Fibonacci Sequence. Can you tell that I once aspired to be a math teacher? The underlying grid structures of designs are illustrated via vellum overlays. I found myself smiling a lot as I read this book.
“At last, a mathematical explanation of how art works presented in a manner we can all understand. Kimberly Elam takes the reader on a geometrical journey, lending insight and coherence to the design process by exploring the visual relationships that have foundations in mathematics as well as the essential qualities of life…. Explanations and techniques of visual analysis make the inherent mathematical relationships evident and a must-have for anyone involved in graphic arts. The book focuses not only on the classic systems of proportioning, such as the golden section and root rectangles, but also on less well known proportioning systems such as the Fibonacci Series. Through detailed diagrams these geometric systems are brought to life giving an effective insight into the design process.”
The Precision Type Font Reference Guide, by Levell, Newman, & Newman
This is THE font reference in my studio: an excellent, comprehensive guide to nearly all of the fonts available for purchase from vendors. It’s a difficult undertaking to keep such a catalog updated, as foundries are always adding new typefaces to their libraries. Perhaps that is why this book is no longer in print, and the most recent version was published in 2000. Nonetheless, it is still an incredibly valuable resource.
“As the biggest and best font catalog for electronic publishing, Version 5.0 includes almost every commerically available font in the English-speaking world. Displayed are over 13,000 font samples from over 60 font foundries; from classic to contemporary, traditional to trendy, and simply unusual to absolutely bizzare. Includes full alphabets, history and designer information, and a comprehensive index with page numbers and foundries. This is an essential desktop reference for all typographers, designers, desktop publishers and typophiles.”
The Poster Art of A. M. Cassandre, by Brown & Reinhold
(Book image not available, but here is one of my favorite posters):
I am a huge fan of Cassandre and would recommend studying his typography and posters to all graphic designers. His posters have become iconographic symbols of the effective use of sans serif type, dramatic contrast in scale, geometric proportions, readability, and humor. He contributed greatly to an era when posters were a popular mode of advertising, and his work continues to inspire. You will probably be able to find this book in a library or borrow it from a colleague.
The New Typography, by Tschichold, McLean, & Kinross
Jan Tschichold was a leader in the “new” Swiss school of typography, which continued to influence designers for decades. Today, his approach may be considered rigid, yet it still informs and reminds us of the importance of white space and simple, clean layouts.
“Probably the most important work on typography and graphic design in the twentieth century.” – Carl Zahn, The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
“If you’re interested in design and typography, you should buy this book…it’s still one of the best typographic how-to books we have.” – Adobe Magazine
“The book is as well worth reading today as it ever was…. Tschichold’s lucid writing makes his words timeless.” – Photography Annual
Cool Type, by Drate, Salavetz, & Smith
Once you’ve learned the rules of typography, it’s time to explore how to break them. This book helped me do just that when I was a student, and I still enjoy looking at it for ideas and inspiration. There’s a nice range of styles and pushing the edge.
Typewise, by Kit Hinrichs (and Pentagram)
Any list of typography books would be remiss without including Kit Hinrichs, a partner with Pentagram Design since 1986. He has received many honors, notably the AIGA Medal, and is widely recognized as one of the premier designers in the U.S. The partner list at Pentagram reads like a “Who’s Who” in innovative, creative designers. Paula Scher once came to speak at Mass. College of Art & Design (my alma mater), and I was blown away. This book is only one of their many offerings to be inspired by, so if you can’t find it for sale, go with another Pentagram-penned book.
Now it’s your turn! Feel free to add your favorite type books. Thanks very much!