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Book Review: Type Matters!: Simple Tips for Everyday Typography by Jim Williams

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Type Matters!: Simple Tips for Everyday Typography by Jim Williams (publication date April 10, 2012) is physically satisfying. Seriously. I can’t stop rubbing the soft, flexible front cover, lifting it up and caressing it away from the pages, then hefting the whole book and running my fingers between the two ribbons bound in for keeping my place on two page-spreads at once. There’s also an elastic loop bound-in for holding a group of end pages fast to the back cover. When I smell the pages, they carry a leathery papery smell. The pages are thick and cream-white with red and black ink used intelligently throughout. This book is pleasing to the touch, the nose, the eye, and when actually read, to the hungry mind.

This is a starter book and a wonderful gift idea for someone beginning to develop page layouts, whether on the computer or in print (not that there’s really any other way anymore). Explained and demonstrated are terms such as kerning, leading, ligatures, drop capitals, and many others. This book highlights the most basic history and rules of typography that, when ignored, drive more knowledgeable typographers crazy — crazy enough to yell, “Type matters!”

The author, Jim Williams, is a freelance graphic designer and a senior lecturer in graphics at Staffordshire University. He was asked by a design company in Manchester (England) “to give a series of talks, one of which was about tips that could help its designers with day-to-day typography.” In addition to the material he included in that presentation, he notes that many things “have informed the content of Type Matters!, including what I have learned from the people with whom I’ve worked, the glaring mistakes I’ve seen and the questions I’ve most commonly been asked by students.”

Type Matters! is organized into three parts: (1) Background, (2) Setting Headings and Display Type, and (3) Text Setting. The third part is comprised of quadruple the items in each of the first two parts, and with good reason: most typographic rules relate to text setting. By text here, I mean the words that form sentences and paragraphs, not headings.

The author asks the novice typesetter or book designer learn only enough background as necessary to move quickly into learning basic rules of an historic game, some of which have been in play since before Gutenberg. The industry’s move from hot type to the computer screen has not pushed the rules of typography into oblivion. Sadly, however, the move has enabled too many computer users to ignore their readers’ need for text that subliminally encourages them to keep reading. Too often, the appearance of the text subliminally frustrates them.

Other books on typography may offer more on, for instance, the personalities of the many different typefaces available, but those books run the risk of overwhelming the early learner in the field. This book is perfectly positioned to ease the newbie into the world of typography. Type Matters! leaves the how-to for the various page-makeup programs to provide, its sole purpose being to give the novice helpful rules of thumb, important bits of information for noticing amateurish mistakes that can easily be avoided. With these basic rules under one’s belt, denser and more esoteric volumes may be tackled. The end matter in the book is excellent, including a glossary of terms, a bibliography for reference and further reading, an index, and a directory of museums, libraries, and organizations committed to good typography.

I learned a few terms that are not commonly used in the United States, such as calling en-dashes nut dashes, and em-dashes mutton dashes. “Flush left” in the U.S. is “Range left” in this book. But such differences are instructive more than annoying. I’m also embarrassed to admit I never realized the ampersand came about as an abbreviated design of the letters “e” and “t,” spelling the Roman word for “and.” Who knew?

Type Matters! is not really a reference book in itself; it is a learner’s bible. Its black, leather-looking binding befits its place as a bible. Its content will open the eyes of anyone who works with text creation but has never worried about typographic fine points. This book is for anyone who doesn’t understand the humor in Foreword-writer Ben Casey’s cautionary note: “Without [this fundamental knowledge, one] will be unequipped to enter a world that may sound surprisingly cruel and violent: where widows are castigated, punctuation is hung and, without due consideration, type can end up bleeding in the gutter. Pay attention.”

Three page-spreads from the book are reproduced below.



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About Meredith Ann Rutter