Typography Reference Books
June 12, 2004 3:37 PM   Subscribe

What are the essential reference works for someone interested in typography, especially the aspects dealing with layout? I have and adore "The Elements of Typographic Style" by Robert Bringhurst, an amazingly useful, well designed book. I also am fond of "The Non-Designers Design Book," by Robin Williams but I'm looking for things like the Bringhurst rather than the more general advice in Williams's books.
posted by Grod to Media & Arts (8 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I would recommend Stop Stealing Sheep and The New Typography: A Handbook for Modern Designers. I've heard good things about The Complete Manual of Typography but haven't yet checked it out.
posted by dobbs at 3:43 PM on June 12, 2004

I realize that Williams's book is almost entirely about page layout in one way or another, but I'm looking for something with more of a historical overview. Something more indepth. Bringhurst has an entire chapter devoted to page dimensions, placement and dimensions of text blocks within each, proper positioning of asides, the use of running heads, etc. He does a nice overview of typefaces, he also has a great deal to say on ISO and the proper way to use non-english characters. Plus, the book is gorgeous.
posted by Grod at 3:43 PM on June 12, 2004

dobbs as in, a man who would letter-space lowercase would steal sheep?
Good suggestions, I haven't run across the second two.
posted by Grod at 3:45 PM on June 12, 2004

Bringhurst is excellent, but I disagree with him on a few (very minor) points.

Any study of Tschichold's New Typography needs to be counter-balanced with his later essays. The Form of the Book: Essays on the Morality of Good Design is the best collection in English, but is, unfortunately, out-of-print. Used copies can be found but are often spendy. Most of Tschichold's rules are echoed in Bringhurst's book, so you don't really need this unless you're specificially interested in Tschichold. I do have to admire a man who can write a five page essay on "Why the Beginnings of Paragraphs Must be Indented".

I love Fred Smeijer's Counterpunch, a book about the methods of early metal type design and production. Mr. Smeijer taught himself to carve and cast type. It's an entertaining book, unlike Updike's Printing Types, with its dead prose and continual reference to specimens not reproduced in the book.
posted by D.C. at 4:52 PM on June 12, 2004

I thought the beginnings of paragraphs should be indented except for the first paragraph after a heading. It certainly looks better.
Counterpunch looks cool, I've always wanted to learn the art of type casting and manual type setting.
posted by Grod at 5:02 PM on June 12, 2004

First lines of paragraphs are indented only if there is no intervening blank line.

If there is a blank line, like I just used, then you do not indent: the break is the paragraph indicator. Indentation would be superfluous.

You might like Shriver's Dynamics in Document Design. It's a research-based overview of what best layout practices.
posted by five fresh fish at 6:45 PM on June 12, 2004 [1 favorite]

Tschichold is interesting because he was one of the radical, young advocates of the "new typography" (generally flush left, asymmetric, Bauhaus-style, heavy use of sans serif) who, as he matured, came to understand and use the traditional rules.

When paragraphs are always flush left, ambiguity can occur when the first line of a new page starts with a new sentence. If the last line on the previous page is not short (indicating an end of paragraph) then it may be difficult or impossible to tell if you're dealing with one paragraph or two. But, a paragraph beginning a chapter or after a subhead should usually be flush left.

Space between paragraphs will increase the page count (thus printing costs) of a book and fracture the page visually. Some of the worst designed books I've seen have both indented paragraphs and space between paragraphs -- this is both silly and ugly. Excessively wide indents is another beginner's mistake; one em will be enough for most texts.

To keep this post somewhat on-topic, here's Typophile's section on design books.
posted by D.C. at 12:42 AM on June 13, 2004

Adrian Wilson's The Design of Books is nearer the Bringhurst model than the Williams. It was written in 1967 and provides a historical survey of book layout and typographic design up until then. Some of the examples seem outdated now, but it provides a good base.
posted by Jeff Howard at 10:30 AM on June 13, 2004

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