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Designing with Type, Rev. 3rd Edition.

The electronic publishing revolution represents the most dramatic change in the field of information and visual communication since Johannes Gutenberg introduced handset type in the mid-fifteenth century. Typesetting methods have now evolved to computer-controlled systems capable of generating type at thousands of characters per second. James Craig believes that "although typesetting methods have changed over time, the criterion for judging good typography has not." He explains that the success of graphic designers (inevitably working with computers) is determined by how well they are trained to work with letterforms.

Designing with Type was first published over 20 years ago and is primarily a textbook used in art and design schools. In this third edition, new developments in desktop publishing and digital typesetting are included alongside the fundamentals of good typography. Craig emphasizes the importance of preparing the student for the electronic age by first laying down a solid foundation in typography. Students must augment their computer skills with an understanding and appreciation of type. The desktop system is only a tool, and proper knowledge and typographic skills are necessary in order to use this tool successfully. As a graphic designer, I agree strongly with Craig. To create this foundation, the book covers metal type, comping (tracing or simulating letterforms), copyfitting, copy preparation, and designing type in a layout.

Several chapters are valuable to the technical writer interested in creating documents that are comfortable to read and attractive. In the first of these, Craig presents five basic families of type, each representing a distinct stage in the evolution of type and each still commonly used today. Once you are familiar with the nuances and visual aspects of these typefaces and understand how seemingly minute changes can affect the appearance of text on the page, you will have a standard by which to judge all typefaces. Almost a third of the book is devoted to samples of the five typefaces shown in different sizes, including various settings of body text--an invaluable reference for both the technical writer who wants to explore a bit and the beginning student of typography.

In the next section Craig talks briefly about tools, presenting an overview rather than detailed specifics. The writer who has to do an occasional pasteup may pick up some tips here but will probably still have questions and will have to do further research. One important point regarding tools that Craig omits is the fact that many T-squares and triangles are not even and "true" when bought and must be checked for accuracy. For the unaware beginner, a brand-new lopsided triangle can cause extreme grief when things "just won't line up." This section seems to be mostly a primer of what the student will need to comp type, which is covered in the following chapter.

Once a designer learns the fine art of comping letterforms, which Craig covers in excellent detail, those hand skills are directly transferable to computer typesetting. Although desktop systems have reduced the need for comping type, it is still the best way for a student to learn the very important skills of letterspacing and wordspacing. Craig maintains that comping is a hand skill that one must learn before the computer can be used effectively and with sensitivity as a design tool.

The next two chapters are of great interest to the designers and technical writers who want to choose type that is easy to read and that won't give the reader "information anxiety." All of the points to be considered for creating comfortable, accessible, legible type are covered, including appropriateness of typeface, size, leading, alignment, spacing, and line length. The text here, as in most of the book, is accompanied by complete explanations and samples of what works and what doesn't.

The first of the two chapters on "display" type (type used in headings, etc.) starts by showing complete alphabets of five categories of display type as a reference for the beginning designer. The second chapter discusses mechanics, aesthetic considerations, and mistakes to avoid. A wide range of possibilities exists for creating display type, including traditional and electronic manipulation. The information presented here is only a starting point, as display type is a complex, challenging design problem, with thousands of solutions that can confuse and overwhelm the nondesigner.

Chapter 11 explains copyfitting in great detail--another one of those "old ways" essential to learn, even with computers around. There will still be instances when a designer is confronted with hard-copy text from a customer, or a complex or lengthy job, and will have to fall back on copy-fitting skills.

One of the last sections, "Preparing Copy for Type," is detailed and complete, with progressive samples for reference. There is something here for the student, the designer, and the editor. Current technology has altered the ordinary workflow. In some situations, the editor or writer prepares copy for typesetting, eliminating what the designer formerly did. Designers are now typesetters, and editors hand marked-up galleys back to the designers. This section illustrates how to prepare copy properly, making typesetting or input to a page layout system much easier and efficient for the designer.

The information on grids and layout is brief, with limited and not very interesting samples. Craig focuses on the combination and relationships of letterforms, rather than on where to place type on a page.

Overall, Designing with Type is an excellent foundation textbook for the typography student and will probably be around for a long time. Novice designers will want to keep this book close by. Young designers who got on the computer too soon, before learning all the basics, can benefit greatly from studying this book. It is also a valuable but limited reference for the editor or writer who wants to improve a final product, who works closely with designers, or who buys design from outside sources.

Adriane Jach Graphic Designer, Design Services Jet Propulsion Laboratory Pasadena, CA
COPYRIGHT 1993 Society for Technical Communication
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Jach, Adriane
Publication:Technical Communication
Article Type:Book Review
Date:May 1, 1993
Words:979
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