When it comes to learning typography and refining your skills, there are plenty of excellent typography resources online, including articles provided by wtg.
But their are still numerous options offline that can provide a tangible feel and perhaps a more natural engagement via a handwritten book. In a fast-moving, increasingly digital world, it of course would help if they’re up-to-date.
With that in mind, we’ve brought together the best typography books that have been released this year, so far. All are both well-written and beautifully designed. So whether you’re a typography novice or a true veteran, you’re sure to find something here you like. If you do not currently own some of the typography books listed, we encourage you to purchase them and consider it as an investment towards your design related endeavors. Additionally, we of course have nothing against digital books and many of the books shown below are also available in Kindle format.
01. Typography: A Very Short Introduction, by Paul Luna
Author Paul Luna, a professor at the University of Reading, begins by looking at where the letters we use today originated, and what the principles are that underly their design.
He goes on to discuss topics such as layout, legibility, and picture language; the differences between type design for print and screen; the relationship between art and typography; and the reasons why key typographic decisions are made.
Usefully, he offers plenty of real-world examples to make his points clear. For instance, in the chapter ‘Presenting language’, he harnesses the Shipping Forecast as an example of how different typographic presentations can enhance a text, and allow for different kinds of reading.
Overall, this 176-page paperback takes a comprehensive and in-depth approach to the art and science of typography, and is written in a way that the ordinary person can easily follow. A great buy for typography beginners.
02. The Designer’s Dictionary of Type, by Sean Adams
The only two-term national president in AIGA’s history, designer and educator Sean Adams scored a big hit in 2017 with his Designer’s Dictionary of Color. Now comes his follow-up, The Designer’s Dictionary of Type, and it’s just as colorful, user-friendly and insightful.
The 256-page hardback focuses on 48 common fonts, from classic typefaces such as Garamond and Helvetica to modern-day digital fonts including OCR-A and Keedy Sans. Adams takes a deep dive into each, describing their history, analysing their stylistic traits, and examining what they’re best used for, with lots of eye-candy examples (mainly from the world of print) sprinkled throughout.
In short, this is an excellent foundational guide for any designer, and would be particularly useful for students looking to gain a understanding of the art, practice, and history of typography.
03. The Big Book of Font Combinations: Hundreds of Typeface Pairing Ideas for Graphic Design & Typography Enthusiasts, by Douglas N Bonneville
Whenever you start a new design, it’s natural to reach for the same tried-and-tested font pairings you know will work. But that’s hardly going to help you get to somewhere unique and original. So why not flick through The Big Book of Font Combinations, which contains hundreds of typeface combinations you probably wouldn’t have considered, to get some fresh perspective?
Best of all, most of the typefaces featured in this 370-page hardback will probably be ones you already own. Basically, author Douglas Bonneville, a graphic designer and developer, has researched the most popular typefaces and combined them amongst themselves, yielding over 350 typeface pairings. He describes the book as like: “A sketchbook with some ideas filled in for you; the final masterpiece is up to you.”
04. Typography Essentials Revised and Updated: 100 Design Principles for Working with Type, by Ina Saltz
One of the most popular typography books for designers, Typography Essentials has been completely refreshed to mark its 10th anniversary, with updated text, new graphics and new photos. The book’s mission, however, remains the same: to distill, organize and compartmentalize the complex issues surrounding the effective use of typography.
Written in an accessible style by Ina Saltz, an art director and former professor of design, this 208-page paperback is divided into four sections: The Letter, The Word, The Paragraph, and The Page. And as with all good reference books, it’s easy to dip in and out; you don’t have to read it from start to finish.
The 100 principles cover a range of practical issues surrounding designing with type, and each is accompanied by nice-looking visual examples, taken from international books, magazines, posters, and more.
In this 272-page paperback, author Paul Stirton, an associate professor of modern European design history, offers a fascinating account of the life and work of legendary designer Jan Tschichold and the role he played in the creation of modern graphic design in Weimar Germany.
Along the way, Stirton analyses his collections, including illustrations, advertisements and magazines, as well as books by well-known figures, such as Kurt Schwitters, El Lissitzky, Aleksandr Rodchenko and László Moholy-Nagy, and other lesser-known artist-designers.
And, as the title suggests, there’s a strong focus on the New Typography, a broad-based movement across Central Europe in which Tschichold played a crucial role, documenting its theory and practice in his 1928 book The New Typography, still regarded as a seminal text.
Whether or not you’re familiar with the historical period and its iconic design figures, this brilliantly researched and engaging book will grip you from the outset.
If you want more Typography info, check out our Typography guides.
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It’s easy to become bored with the ordinary – longing for something original and one-of-a-kind. That’s why common hero areas are bursting with eccentric ideas. They are aimed to not just impress, but also satisfy a user’s craving for creativity and originality.
However, animations and grandiose solutions are not the only things that can do the trick. Going off the beaten path with even the most trivial things can achieve the same effect. And vertical lettering is vivid proof of that. Becoming quite popular these days, it has grown into a tiny trend with some aces in the hole.
We do not see much use of vertical orientation in web design. Traditionally, it is a place where horizontal rhythm rules the roost, though this doesn’t mean that everything should revolve around it. As a rule, developers stick to the traditional models. However, diversity and deviation in habitual reading flow can be beneficial. What’s more, you do not need to take extreme measures. Small doses of vertical orientation are more than enough to produce a proper impact.
Here, the creative team has twisted the basic navigation by rotating it 90 degrees and reflecting it horizontally. You should read it from bottom to top – that is quite unusual, but intriguing. As a result, the welcome screen has got a zest without all of those overwhelming centerpieces. Also, note the top header: it feels incredibly spacious, and the logotype gets the overall attention by looking prominent without much effort. That is a smart approach.
There are some other exceptional examples where vertical lettering is like icing on the cake. Consider Lydia Amaruch and her online portfolio.
Much like in the case of Archi Graphi, here the usage of vertical rhythm is episodic but well-thought-out. There is a traditional streamlined horizontal navigation, but it includes just the essentials. All the rest has been pulled to sides – literally. They echo with vertical stripes on the back, creating a harmonious aesthetic.
Yo:Ha adopts the same approach. Whereas the main navigation is hidden behind the hamburger button, links to the homepage and social media stay on the surface. Again, notice the overall theme. Here, vertical rhythm can be seen in various details, such as the slider that is broken into three semi-transparent panels and elongated symbols. Consistency marks the design of this website.
Ivan Ibanez and the team behind Gothamsiti show us how to apply vertical orientation to the entire navigation. As it turns out, it is handy to use – to say nothing about its attention-grabbing look. Note, these two examples have different themes, moods, and atmospheres. But, vertical navigation fits like a glove in both cases.
The personal portfolio of Ivan Ibanez has a boxy vibe. There are hollow blocks, split layout, ultra-thin lines and lots of white space. The vertical navigation beautifully finishes off the design.
The creatives behind Gothamsiti’s design have positioned links around the perimeter of the hero area – placing each one in a corner. In this way, nothing distracts the attention from the mysterious and creepy welcome screen. At the same time, all the gateways are exposed, making users feel comfortable.
Let’s step away from navigation and explore examples of vertical lettering that is a part of the content.
Since vertical orientation looks a bit strange to the majority of us, it can be used to put an extra emphasis on the crucial things like, for example, a tagline. The idea can be seen in Prime Park Sessions. Here the nameplate of the agency is directed leftwards, just where we usually start to read. It also mirrors the vertical navigation on the right. As a result, the design feels complete and visually-interesting.
The team behind the design of Luxury Villas uses a vertical orientation for displaying the tagline. The latter is also provided with a relatively wide background so that it looks like a sidebar. Though it is not just an ordinary sidebar, it is a sidebar with zest. That is clever.
Another way of benefiting from the trend is to use it for headings. Consider Kitamura Makura and Canatal.
When it comes to telling a story, both teams prefer to focus the users’ attention on the vital things, such as content, rather than captions. Therefore, the headlines were moved to the right and rotated in 90 degrees, thereby naturally giving way to the text.
In the case of Kitamura Makura the caption has been pushed to the right edge, making it feel like a part of navigation. With Canatal, however, the caption is still a part of the block and overall design.
Protec and Building the Future have made things a bit more interesting by making vertical text a part of the entourage.
Protec features huge captions that stretch from top to bottom. They are carefully set aside and shown on the left side, giving the content top priority.
In the case of Building the Future, the vertical lettering is even bigger. However, here it plays merely a decorative role, strengthening the traditional caption featured at the top of the text block.
Regarding SEO, it is not a good practice since headlines should be a part of document hierarchy and enclosed in corresponding tags. However, sometimes you can go off the beaten path and win over customers with design rather than search ranking.
While for the western world, vertical rhythm feels like something extraordinary and a viable trick to add zest to conventional designs, for our friends in the east it is the most natural thing. Let’s take a look at Kwok Yin Mak.
The design looks refreshing. The traditional black and white color scheme, lots of white space, logographs and of course vertical orientation make this interface look so special. The trend feels at home. However, even though we expect it to be here, the team behind the website has managed to save it from looking trivial.
A Pleasant Surprise
Vertical lettering is a rare guest, yet a welcome one. It is safe to say, that in the universe of everything horizontal, it is a little light that makes us smile. It pleases the eye with an unexpected twist in reading flow and effortlessly brings the essential things into focus.
It is a simple way to make things interesting without reinventing the wheel and going the extra mile.
Why these numbers? What relationships do they hold with one another? Is there some mythical secret held by the casters of the fonts of old? Why is it that when you combine 8, 10, 14 and 36 points of the font’s height, something beautiful happens? In an effort to better understand this list of numbers I did that which excites any warm-blooded designer – I played with typography.
In its infancy, typesetting was much less an avenue for creative expression than it is today. That isn’t to say there was no beauty in the work done, it was more a case of limitations of technology. Which is an odd thing to say, as it was because of this technology that the rules could exist in such a defined manner. The typesetting was deliberately strict because it was now possible for it to be so. When our letters went from being written by scribes to being moved by the typesetter, the creativity in the hand-crafting turned into an element to be held by a different group of hands.
The Typographic Scale
With this new ability to set size, spacing and layout in stone (or metal), it is no surprise that some habits became ruling and some rules became habit.
While we are now able to set our text size at whatever we please, in the time of the true font (metal type in one face at one size of one weight), a number of predefined sizes were the norm.
I pondered the meaning of the sizes included in this historic scale that is now routinely found in virtually all applications that you let work with type. I wondered their relationships to one another. I tried to understand the increments and if a formula was used to get to these numbers. I wanted to figure out the secret in this list of points.
Then the obvious hit me
It hit me hard. It isn’t in the sizes of the fonts that relationships of hierarchy solely exists – that’s something for the aesthetic sensibilities of the typesetter to decide upon, not something to be spelled out by a list of numbers. No, the sizes were chosen because of convenience as much as they were because of some special, fancy-pants relationship they shared. The scale is more of a guide. A way of saying ‘if you stick with these sizes you’re given a hint to develop beautiful typography’.
Read almost anything on the typographic scale and it’s juxtaposed with the notes of music and it’s easy to see why. Imagine someone sitting down at a piano, having never played, but knowing that if they stick their finger on a key at one end and run it up to the opposite end, it’ll make a little bit of noise that may be considered musical. But really, it’s bit of a cop-out, isn’t it? Now imagine someone who knows how to handle those keys, those notes, sitting down and playing something befitting to a king. They play with the notes, they have them dance and swing together. The same can be said with the notes of the typographic scale handled by an artist whom knows their instrument.
While you might be able to go, bam! 8pt for body, 10pt for headings and 14pt for title, you’re really just emulating the amateur pianist’s fingering of the keys from one end to the other. Much like the musician who has the notes dance, it’s the time around those notes, the space around your text, that will make a real difference. This is where the scale gives you some more hints.
The notes of the typographic scale serve as a guide, as options that one can use, and if used properly, can create some beautiful music.
Of course, the other reason predetermined sizes would have become the norm is because it makes it easier for printers and typesetters and publishers to work. Much like all the printers of today work with Pantone colours, having most printers carry the same, or close to the same, fonts meant that things were easier for everyone from the typesetter who may have apprenticed at the print shop in another town, to the metalworker who could cast multiples of the same font and sell them to different clients, all of whom are safe in the knowledge that these fonts work because they’ve worked before, for that other printer. But I digress.
I thought we’ll start with the body and work our ways up towards the title.
For the most part, a font-size of 8pt for body copy will suffice. Of course, it depends on the typeface chosen and how much text there needs to be on a page (especially in relation to page size and margins), but 8pt-10pt is a great range for body type.
Another safe bet is to set your leading to 10pt, or using the standard short-hand of 8/10pt. Leading is a delicate thing when it comes to large bodies of text, so you wouldn’t want to loosen it too much – 8/10pt, 9/11pt, 11/13, 12/15 (notice how it starts to get slightly bigger the larger the font? Knowing what size to set will come from experience with the font you’re using – some will need more, some less, but go with 120% and rounding up to the next whole number is another nice starting point) are all good pairs.
Most applications automatically set your leading to 120% of your font-size. While there is nothing wrong with this most of the time, working in whole numbers is something I prefer and it makes the next few rules about spacing a little easier to work out on the fly.
Another general rule is to use half to a whole line of your leading for space-after a paragraph, that is, if you aren’t indenting your first lines and avoiding space-after altogether. So 8/10pt will result in 5pt for space-after. Let’s see how that turns out.
What is a body without a well proportioned head on its shoulders? If not treated correctly, it’s easy to end up with a monster befitting the labs of Frankenstein.
For this article, we’ll discuss two ways of setting subheads – setting in the same size as the body text, or setting it in a larger font-size.
If a subhead is to be set at the same size as the body text then it is up to spacing above and below to give it strength (plus a little flare if you’re daring, but we’ll get to that).
The space above and below works best when it is equal to that of a line of text (the leading value), or a clean multiple of it.
The options being along the lines (see what I did there? Ha for me!) of:
5pt above and 5pt below – equalling one extra line
10pt above and 10pt below – equalling two extra lines
8pt above and 2pt below – one extra line
22pt above and 8pt below – three extra lines baby!
The first option is almost a last resort as 5pt is the same as our space after or body text, but
if you’re dying for space, this plus some styling is an option, but our third option of 8pt above, 2pt below is probably a better space saver. It’s just worth mentioning as a starting point of how spacing can work.
Don’t forget that our subhead belongs on the shoulders of our body – don’t put more space after it than before unless you’ve thought it through a smidge and are doing something more. It’s often also nice to have a little space after our subhead, but not much, just something of a chin.
The other option is to set the subhead at a larger size and, for arguments sake in this case, giving it some styling. Looking back at our scale, let’s try two options.
We’ll start simple and subtle. Like our leading did, let’s jump two steps up on the scale for our subhead – 10/12pt.
As for styling? There are an infinite list of options really, but it’s always best to keep it simple. Typographers craft their fonts and a lot of work has gone into them before we load up our copy of InDesign. More work than we could ever imagine. They are strong as they are if you’ve chosen right and don’t need to have layers and layers of make-up on them. Treat them gingerly and with a little respect.
A few simple, respectful, options:
Small Caps, spaced generously at 75 (elegant)
U&LC, Italic (delicate)
U&LC Red (subtle)
U&LC, Bold, Red (strong)
Small Caps, spaced generously at 75, Red (confident)
The same rules as the above work here—make sure that your heads are stronger than your subs and body through generous spacing, an increase in size or stronger styling. This is probably starting to get to be obvious so I’ll keep it brief at this point – keep following some rules of the scale and you’ll do just fine.
Head – 10/12 36pt above, 12pt below U&LC bold, Red.
Subhead – 10/12 8pt above, 4pt below, U&LC Italic.
Body – 8/10 0pt above, 5pt below.
In this example it is the spacing that gives strength as much as it is the red skin we’ve applied to our text. Even though our head is the same size/leading as our subhead, the red and spacing above and below give the line of text some extra strength.
Head – 14/14pt, 36pt Above, 10ppt below, Small Caps, spaced at 75.
Subhead – 10/12pt, 8pt Above, 4pt below, U&LC Italic.
Body – 8/10pt, 0pt above, 5pt below.
You’ll notice that example two is 14/14 rather than, say, 14/18. The reason for this lies in the Small Caps styling. Having our text as solid lines makes the space a lot less dynamic and the space looks very large. 14/14 gives a nicer look. Beautiful type without the use of colour. You’re client and printer will love you for this.
Ohhhhhhh yeah, 36-points-high. Big. Beautiful. Strong. That’s some sexy type right there.
At 36 points, our title is strong enough that no extra styling is required. U&LC, black. Simply stunning? To add too much styling, too much flare, will turn a piece of typography from strong to obnoxious.
Something worth keeping an eye on is the text that follows the title. In this case it is our heading, so I’ve left the before-spacing of the this line of text to do the work. However, should you run straight into body text (subhead will never come up), then consider adding extra space after.
A part of your kit
As I mentioned early in this article, the typographic scale is only part of your kit. On it’s own, you’ll get somewhere. But when you learn to use this instrument, you’ll do something beautiful. Whatever the reasoning behind the numbers chosen is beyond me (aside from aesthetics and the benefits of having defined sizes when metal type was a bigger industry), it serves as something closer to a map that outlines giant pieces of fruit and men with beards of bees. It makes for an interesting trip.
The values I outlined here are what works for me at this point in time. My tastes will no doubt change. I might prefer to go up a point here or there in a few months. I wasn’t trying to write a canon on the usage of the typographic scale. I’m only want to show an application or two of this scale and see what we can learn through a little exploration. You could of course make changes to this historic scale to suit your tastes and needs. But have reason for your decisions, whether they are strict or anything but.
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