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Fonts and More Fonts

This is a portion of my summer (re)reading list, at least on one particular subject matter. I am reading various books on type and design. So far, I have completed Dodd and Lupton. The Bringhurst and Parker texts are re-reads, which I will tackle later in the summer. The current book on my stand is the Stanley Morison Tally of Types.

I'm putting the bibliography up top, to stress the books a bit more than my own ramblings.
  1. Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. 3rd ed ed. Point Roberts, WA: Hartley & Marks, Publishers, 2004.
  2. Consuegra, David. American Type: Design & Designers. New York: Allworth Press, 2004.
  3. Dodd, Robin. From Gutenberg to Open Type: An Illustrated History of Type From the Earliest Letterforms to the Latest Digital Fonts. Vancouver, WA: Hartley & Marks Publishers, 2006.
  4. Lupton, Ellen. Thinking With Type: A Critical Guide for Designers, Writers, Editors, & Students. Vol. Design briefs. 1st ed ed. New York: Princeton Architectural Press, 2004.
  5. Made With Fontfont: Type for Independent Minds. 1st ed. Ed. Jan Middendorp, and Erik Spiekermann. New York: Mark Batty Publisher, 2007.
  6. Morison, Stanley, and Brooke Crutchley. A Tally of Types: With Additions By Several Hands; and With a New Introduction By Mike Parker. Boston: D.R. Godine, 1999.
  7. Parker, Roger C. Looking Good in Print. 3rd ed. Chapel Hill, NC: Ventana, 1993.
  8. Tice, Bruce, and Nadine Monem. Font. The Sourcebook. Black Dog Publishing, 2008.
Now then, for my own ramblings.

We have tried, especially in academia and in some forms of publishing, to downplay the power of the typeface, the font, and how a typeface influences the reading experience. We've adopted a utilitarian philosophy: the type should not get in the way of the words. The words are "special" and are somehow independent from presentation.

I've been experimenting with poetry and fonts. Poetry and prose were illuminated for a long time. Words on the page were accompanied by carefully designed miniatures. Borders and uncial scripts gave a text majestic form. Mechanized type meant less "frills" and a much colder rendering of texts.

There was a movement in the mid twentieth century to use type to affect the reader, with poetry set in shapes. Fonts were used by some to convey meaning. And then, poetry retreated back to under the heavy hand of bland typography.

I have been thinking about books and type a lot lately. I want to experiment more with fonts and emotion. I want to manipulate my readers. I want to play against their expectations, and then swerve into something at full-speed to leave the reader stunned and shaken.

We have all this wonderful technology, thanks to digital typography and illustration software. We should be using it to move beyond words alone. Lines of text to do need to be straight lines. We can twist and turn letters. We can add effects easily. But, we continue to think of that as somehow "wrong" -- a violation of the word.

The socialist and communist designers tried to devise "systems" that would guide readers to think logically, rationally. The type and the other design elements were to be subservient to the ideas and "science" of Marxism. The results were still emotional, and still rhetorical: Bolshevik posters are powerful in their attempts to focus on words and "realistic" images.

You can't create a page without the design giving some clue as to your philosophy or biases. Most novels suggest the words matter and are sufficient. But, imagine if you used a "Blackletter" font when setting the name of a village or household. That would be pretty powerful. I thought about using a "technology" font, such as OCR-B with its rigid shapes, when narrating from the perspective of a character. What would that convey about the character? Why not use such devices?

We should experiment. We should shatter the norms. Not only because we can, but because doing so might lead to something more. I do not know what more, but I wonder how readers might react.

My dissertation will appear in a bland 12-point Courier or similar font. The words will be what matters. Every dissertation the same, to focus on the words. I suppose only design students or other art majors get to say more than mere words.

I want more from my words. I want them to be more than a text. Something to ponder. It is also something to explore with our writing students.

Let's move beyond the "basic" fonts and see what happens. We might learn something about composition and rhetoric in this digital age. Advertising uses fonts well, so why not creative writing or even academic writing? Let's explore.


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