True to type: how we fell in love with our letters by Simon Garfield in the Guardian

vinceconnare's picture

True to type: how we fell in love with our letters

Mat Lucas's picture

Great link/article.

Really interesting read.

vinceconnare's picture

pdf of the intro and Chapter 1

David Rault's picture

Yeah, where we learn that "font" comes from "fund" and that Oz Cooper copied Frederic Goudy... !

Am I the only one who actually did read this article?

dtw's picture

...I bought the book last weekend before most of these threads. Generally interesting, but I did wonder about a few bits ("font" etymology, as David says, being one of them. Not from Fr. fondre, to cast/melt, then?).

Nick Shinn's picture

Couldn't they have gotten someone to review the book, rather than boil it down?

One day there will be a newspaper article about typography in which it is not felt paramount to educate the hapless reader with an encyclopædic History of Type and Its Present Relevance. [Don't forget to mention Helvetica -- Ed.]

Nick Shinn's picture

David: noted, the Cooper Black/Pet Sounds factoidal meme.

vinceconnare's picture

Simon Garfield writes for the Guardian and the BBC so I guess he is really just publicizing his book. He also does some on screen documentaries. I got a call from his agent about the book so I wonder if he is spinning it into a TV thing too. Some tried that already but the BBC wasn't buying and said to sell the idea to BBC 4.

Nick Shinn's picture

I was reminded by the photo of Paul Shaw on the Type Americana home page what a great "The Story of Type" documentary presenter he'd make. If Chip Kidd isn't available, that is.

David Rault's picture

Simon Garfield doesn't know much about typography. I emailed him asking his sources to some weird statements (such as "fund", or Oz Cooper is a plagiarist, from the extract because I didnt read the book itself by now), and I didnt have an answer other than "different theories exist about the origin of "font"...!

No further comment needed.

vinceconnare's picture

Last summer I met with a producer in New York and I mentioned Paul Shaw as the Dwiggin's expert but the idea got rejected by the BBC.

Nick Shinn's picture

Simon Garfield doesn't know much about typography.

But he's a Writer!
And he's discovered Type!
And now he's making it interesting to Ordinary People!

Bert Vanderveen's picture

Yeah, and Ordinary People NEED TO KNOW. The Truth is Out There…

Stephen Coles's picture

Slow down, folks. I proofed most of the book and corrected any inaccuracies I found (there were few). I don't know where the "fund" and Goudy stuff came from (sorry I didn't catch those). It's a very good general interest book for those unfamiliar with typography and I learned some things. Simon is a fine writer.

Nick Shinn's picture

I don't have a beef with the book - if readers want more than a general introduction, there's Heller and beyond.

But I would like to see more articles in general interest periodicals that don't start at square one when it comes to type, that assume there is a prosumer reader with some background knowledge.
You'd think no-one had ever written an intro-to-fonts book, that there wasn't a large population of typographers in the workforce.
What if every movie article featured a history of film and name-checked Eisenstein, The Jazz Singer, Monroe and Avatar?

So the next challenge for Mr Garfield, once his book has educated a few Guardian readers on the basics, is to take journalistic type writing to the next level.

quadibloc's picture

@Nick Shinn:
What if every movie article featured a history of film and name-checked Eisenstein, The Jazz Singer, Monroe and Avatar?

Unfortunately, most members of the general public are completely ignorant of typography. Unless someone, say as a child, had enough of an interest in printing to pick up a book on the subject - or remembers stuff from junior high shop class - there's nothing much in popular culture to create an awareness of type.

That is, of course, until Windows 3.1 came along, though, I have to admit. (The Mac used funny names for all of its typefaces in the beginning.)

Here's just one example. Remember the book The Rule of Four, that came out shortly after The DaVinci Code? The author was able to go on an interview, and go on about how the Hypnerotomachia Poliphilii was this incredibly obscure book that he discovered in his research. When, of course, most introductory books on typography include photographs of a page or two of the first edition of that book, because it illustrates Jenson's roman type. (The French edition is also often used to illustrate Garamond.)

These days, most people can tell you what Times Roman is, because they've seen it in the drop-down menu on Microsoft Word. And they may even know that there are 72 points in an inch.

But, no, they don't have a clue who Frederic W. Goudy was, or Morris Fuller Benton, or even Hermann Zapf. Never mind Sumner Stone. And they're not likely to any time soon.

Nick Shinn's picture

John, you haven't addressed my two main points.

"Most" people don't read every article in every periodical.

The constituency of those who know a bit about type is not solely the professional hard core of graphic designers and their ilk.
It also includes "graphic artists" as Pamela Pfiffner terms them in her Adobe book, numbering the increase in their ranks wrought by Adobe graphics software as 25-fold.
As well as those who may use type in their professional work with more than a passing interest, there are those who use it recreationally, and amateurs.
There is a mixed bag at Typophile. You describe yourself as a computer programmer, for instance.

Secondly to such users, there is the general reader of inquiring mind. Such readers can piece together a story from bits of information -- I'm rather like that when I read the business section of the paper: I don't invest or follows stocks or have a great knowledge of management theory and business personalities, but I have a general sense of what's happening in the business world. It's not like every article in the business section needs to explain what the prime rate is -- although they do go on a lot about Keynes (the Bodoni of economics, I assume).

quadibloc's picture

It's true that an article about type in a general-interest periodical is more likely to be read by someone with a knowledge or interest in type.

What I am claiming, though, is that the writers of articles like the one under discussion are probably correct in assuming that the accessibility of an article would be too limited if even the most basic background of knowledge about type were to be assumed.

The basic background that an introductory book on the subject would supply - like the distinction between "oldstyle", "transitional", and "modern" serif faces - isn't something people need to know to use Microsoft Word.

And, on top of that, because typography is a specialized topic of limited interest, a general-interest magazine has to assume that an article on that subject might be the first one many of its readers have seen. With the stock market - well, the business section of the paper is designed for businessmen. And the ups and downs of the stock market affect most people's jobs. So they can assume that people have heard of mercantilism and Adam Smith and John Maynard Keynes - in fact, they probably learned about mercantilism versus Adam Smith in school, when they were being taught about the causes of the American Revolution.

We live in a world ruled by money and not by art.

And Adam Smith might well be the Bodoni - or the Steinitz - of economics; Keynes would be its Nimzovitch (its Zapf?).

Nick Shinn's picture

...the distinction between "oldstyle", "transitional", and "modern" serif faces

The technicalities are irrelevant.
Movie reviews don't go on about f-stops, depth of field and cutting techniques.
Book reviews don't deconstruct the grammatical devices of authors.
Interviews with celebrities are about them and how they deal with their work, not the work per se.

Most general media coverage concerns the meta-world of the subject, leaving the technicalities to trade media.

90% of the stroies in the arts section of a periodical could be rewritten with a typographer as subject, without changing the format.

Take the piece in today's Globe about a new release of Psycho, with a "newly reconstituted soundtrack".
Of course, the article doesn't tell you a damn thing about how the sound has been reconstituted! (That would indeed be mere technicality!)
It's just a plot spoiler, with a few Hitchcock tidbits and comments from name critics.
This kind of press-release coverage could be easily written about a type revival.

Every time one accesses a memory, one changes it, an act of subtle refreshment which explains the function of such articles in reaffirming the the cultural canon.

quadibloc's picture

I guess I misunderstood you, then. Basically, you are not advocating that they assume background, but that they bypass the need for it.

AFAIK, even Felicia Day doesn't have paparazzi following her. Should some latter-day Beatrice Warde succumb to the charms of a seducer, it's unlikely to make the gossip columns. I know, this sort of thing isn't what you meant. Yes, they can do human interest stories about Joe Typographer and the years he spent on a design and the music he likes. I can think of the Neutraface music video as something that made it to the radar screen in this way. And, of course, there's that Helvetica movie. Or the fact that a Papyrus joke made it to xkcd.

Good luck, but like fish don't notice water, readers can't see the crystal goblet sitting in front of them... the perception, I fear, is that not enough people care about type to spend much time reading about type designers. It may be changing, but progress will be slow.

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