Friday, 26 October 2012

Book Review - Mastering Type

I've always been a little intimidated by typography. I've never been sure of which typefaces work well together, or whether my attempt at kerning was actually improving my type or making it worse. It felt a little like an elite world that I wasn't privy to. 

Mastering Type is a classy looking book and has given me some new found confidence. For someone with a degree in graphic design, I didn't find that it contained anything new, mystical or enlightening, it was all reassuringly familiar. Don't think that this diminishes the quality of the book in any way though, it just confirms that I was actually paying attention when I was at university, and that my only real failing has been lack of practice, experimentation, and if we are being honest, too much silly fear. 
Mastering Type offers a wonderful, solid foundation in the key principles of typography for anyone that is new to the subject. It's structured in a logical way, where by the chapters gradually build up your knowledge. It begins in chapter one by looking at the history of type. It isn't the most thorough history I've ever read, there are entire books on that, but it does highlight key historical moments and movements. 
Chapter two begins to look at actual type in more detail, the subject being Letter. Basics such as the difference between serif and sans serif, or the meaning of x-height, ascender and descender are explained. It then goes that bit further, breaking down entire letters into their different parts, including blunt, curved, cupped and point terminals, and brackets, barbs, beaks and shoulders. Simply, if you are interested in type, but have no idea what I'm talking about, then this book has something to offer. The chapter also looks at how type is measured and classified, as well as giving advice on where you might begin if you wanted to start designing your own typeface. It ends by looking at illuminated initials, monograms, and designing letter based logos. 
The following chapters build upon what you have read previously, so unsurprisingly the chapter following Letter is Word. The chapter on word considers how those individual letters form relationships once they are placed alongside each other, the success of which may be dependent on your chosen typeface, whether you need to think about ligatures, or alter the kerning. 
Word is followed by Sentence – leading, alignment, the use of punctuation – which is followed by chapter five, Paragraph – varying type sizes, complimentary pairs, type issues, poster and brochure design. Chapter six, Page, looks at balancing all the various elements you might have on a page, creating movement, layouts, and using grids.
The final chapter, Screen, begins to consider the role of type in a digital medium. While all the typographic fundamentals still apply, there are extra considerations that need to be addressed once you venture outside of the world of print. This chapter opens up a discussion about some of the current issues that designers creating online content might face. The problem is, as much as it is important to cover this ever evolving area, and it's great that the book acknowledges this, it's always going to be tricky to put something relevant into print about a subject that is constantly changing. For anyone wanting a thoroughly detailed discussion about using type online, it makes more sense to be kept up to date, by reading articles by the designers fighting for positive changes for type in a digital environment. The interview at the end of the chapter with Jason Santa Maria is a great starting point if you want someone to follow, I found what he had to say more on point compared to the rest of the chapter. The book itself doesn't lose any merit for this final chapter, it just felt a little like an add-on, when the information in the rest of the book had felt so reliable, timeless and solid. 

I've used words such as foundation, and fundamentals, but that doesn't mean that Mastering Type is in any way simple. It's packed with useful information, broken down into manageable segments, all beautifully balanced with useful illustrative diagrams and images. All the information, whether textual or visual, is clear and easy to understand. Each chapter also includes an insightful interview with a designer/letterer/expert and a gallery of design eye-candy, based on the topic of the chapter. 

My only (tiny) gripe is that sometimes I had to flick over to the following page to see a visual that I was reading about. It was a bit annoying, but forgivable, considering the images were a great size (no squinting here) and plentiful. 

I'm never going to be a typographer, I don't have the patience, the meticulous attention to detail, or the tiny dose of obsession that is required. However, I don't think that is any excuse to settle for bad type either. This book isn't necessarily for professional designers, (they should already have this key knowledge covered), but it's a handy resource for anyone that knows they could do with refreshing their knowledge and skills. It's also for those that have an interest in type, but have had no formal training, but want to improve their communication and visual appeal of their blog, website, business card or poster. It's useful for those that have a say in the design or branding for their company, but can't understand why they always end up arguing with their designer. It's a great book for anyone thinking about studying graphic design, and perhaps, most importantly, it is essential reading for anyone still using comic sans (just don't).

There are many books on the subject of typography available, and many cover the same information as Mastering Type, but for me, the difference was, that as much as I'm interested in the subject of typography, every book I've read has induced sleep – until now, while I was reading Mastering Type, I stayed awake. Win. 

Mastering type  - Denise Bosler
Available from most book retailers including Amazon  
currently £22.74

RRP: £34.99
How Books
ISBN-10: 1440313695

Please note that I was given a copy of this book, but was not paid to write this review. 

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