Monday, November 7, 2011


This is a book about fonts, not about personalities. I hope there MAY be one of my readers who thinks this is an interesting subject just like I do, but probably not. Nevertheless, fonts are what I am serving up today.

It seems like I have always been aware of fonts – or type styles – but I suspect it was really because in school I started typing early and focused my extracurricular efforts in working on school newspapers, where it was important to match size and style of letters to the needs of attractive and readable newspapers.

I think the average computer user, if they use a word-processing application at all, understands what fonts are. But there are lots of stories to tell about them – and Simon Garfield in this most interesting book has a knack in telling them, stories about

• Losing your job because of using the wrong font
• When to use a font with a sexual stereotype
• Dotting your “i” with a square
• The Third Reich outlawing Gothic script
• What your choice of font can say about you

And it goes on.

Some of his stories are instructional. I’ll quote one of them here:
“Upper and lower case?” The term comes from the position of the loose metal or wooden letters laid in front of the traditional compositor’s hands before they were used to form a word – the commonly used ones on an accessible lower level, the capitals above them, waiting their turn. (Did you have any idea that is why we call letters either upper case or lower case?) Even with this distinction, the compositor would still have to ‘mind their ps and qs’, so alike were they when each letter was dismantled from a block of type and then tossed back into the compartments of a tray. (And who even suspected this?)

Some of his stories are just plain funny:

He tells of Lexmark, the printing manufacturer, having some fun with a promotional exercise designed to get the company name in the paper. It was more or less an analysis of emotional connotations of those who used fonts in writing gleaned by the recipients of those writings. As an example, those who used the Courier font might be thought to be nerdy, and be a librarian or work in data entry. Those using the soft and curvy Shelley font might see themselves as a sex kitten and project that image via type style. Those using San Serif fonts seemed to like safety and anonymity, while the Comic Sans users tend to be self-confessed attention seekers.

Garfield reports that this was not scientific research but simply a PR tool to get some newpaper space! That made me feel good, because I LOVE the Comic Sans font!

This book is interesting, readable, instructive, funny, surprising, and worth reading at least twice, which I will do. The chapters are short and sweet. The book is one that can be picked up and put down, which is good for busy people.

All in all, this book is just my type! Let me know if it’s yours, too.

1 comment:

Olga said...

Fonts--kind of a sore subject with me. When I was teaching, I really got frustrated with those (many) students who spent inordinate amounts of time choosing the right font and no time at all in actually writing anything of substance. "Write!! Pick the font last!!!!"