Juxtaposing Old and Contemporary in a Book's Design

Steve Tiano's picture

Of course, this is not a new subject to typographers, much less type designers. But it's the first time in a long time that I've consciously given thought to it. I'm presented with a book that gives me the opportunity to play off the "oldness" of its subjects with the contemporary nature of its presentation: photos, computer typesetting, an ages-old issue discussed anew.

So, without asking for specific recommendations--I'm not--what about the avenues I might use to demonstrate this. For instance, there's the page size and dimension: the classic proportion: the golden pean, for the text area. But a big square page which lots of negative space, as is modern day preference. Old types and new types is obvious, I guess.

And also, possibly, the reversal of display and body text type--sans for text and serif for display. Now, about the latter: I am acutely aware--I rail about it often-how sans type for long stretches of body text is irritating to the eye and done to death these days. Still, I'm considering it.

What other areas of the page design offer the opportunity for this kind of contrast?

jupiterboy's picture

Although you say square pages with much negative space are contemporary, I also see a variety of page sizes with smaller margins and a great deal of modularity. By saying juxtapose I think contrast rather than complement. Not knowing the subject I would consider approaching it by including a classic golden page within a larger page, and look to type that conflates and or updates features associated with the period you are considering. Maybe keep the type rigidly authentic, and let the page geometry unfold in a way that has a wink.

Florian Hardwig's picture

Justified text vs. ragged margin.
Hans Andree called the former ‘the last relic of Gutenberg’; see his article in Mittelweg 36, 3/2002 [German].

Quincunx's picture

>> I am acutely aware—I rail about it often-how sans type for long stretches of body text is irritating to the eye and done to death these days. Still, I’m considering it.

Go for it. I think the claim that sans serifs aren't as legible as serifs is based on nothing. Especially with the evolvement of the concept sans serif typeface. There are tons of very legible sans serifs specifically designed for longer stretches of body text. Like FF Milo and FF Kievit, to name two from the top of my head. I've set whole books with those, and it works fine.

And then theres always the typefaces that sit somewhere in between, like the excellent Versa (used very succesfully in the book Dutch Type, for example. Which is a book with quite hefty pieces of text).

I wouldn't let myself be restrained by such conventions, as long as you use a typeface that is designed for text.

charles ellertson's picture

I have a lot of trouble with "juxtaposing the old with the new." A look at Art of the Printed Book should show the reasons I think this . . .

Or maybe you mean post-2000 as "the new," which would leave me out of it. I think of Richard Eckersley as "new" & "modern," but he liked a longer, skinny page, while still preserving somewhat classical margins. Still, I suppose he's a 1990s designer.
. . .

I will say that there are a few sans fonts that hold up for text even to my old-fashioned eyes. One is TheSans, which oddly enough pairs nicely with TheSerif, unlike many of the other serif/sans pairs (Quadraat & Scala to mention two where either the sans or the serif is quite nice, but somehow don't pair all that well).


Quincunx's picture

Ah, I forgot those. Quadraat Sans works really well for longer stretches of text. Scala Sans as well, but in my opinion to a lesser extent.

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