The Reading Corner is a place where books of all genres are examined and reviewed. Comments, questions and disagreement are welcomed. Grab some coffee and a comfy chair and make yourself at home.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Showing a little restraint

I don't like this. This is a "font." Read on to find out why it has earned my derision.

It's morning, and this is the first morning this week in which, not having an early class, I have not almost been walked in on by the maintenance guy while showering. He is very round -at least my impression of him is one of roundness, since I usually go scurrying by, head down and bathrobe wrapped around me in an attempt not to pull (or flop, I guess) a Janet -and comes to clean the bathroom every day at the same time. That means, essentially, that our repeated encounters are really my fault (although I don't understand why, when I announce that I am in fact in the bathroom he just stands outside and waits for me to finish instead of going and cleaning the other one...). So I'm waiting. I can hear him out there and I haven't yet left my room -even for water with which to make coffee.

I've also not written this week about an item of popular terminology that bothers me considerably (nor will I at this juncture). I'll tell you it has to do with weight. That's all.

I've also made an effort to get books that I haven't read before in order to talk about them. That in itself has been a good time. I watched, if you recall, the documentary Helvetica, which is all about that lovely typeface and it's effects on graphic design. People get quite passionate about Helvetica -both for and against -due to the exact same qualities: its streamlined uniformity seems to either make people extremely happy (Modernists) or they despise it as a representation of slick, charming but ultimately misleading consumer commercialism (what I would hesitantly call post-Modernists despite the fact that I loathe the whole postmodern oeuvre as it stands today).

Personally, I like Helvetica -to a point. I wouldn't want it tattooed on my body (I'd prefer having the words Habent sua fata libelli in Monotype Fournier in italics and in white ink on my right wrist instead, as seen in Alberto Manguel's Library at Night. Not that I've been giving that any thought), but I like it. Its simplicity makes it attractive to me, while its versatility makes it practical. The outcry against it, however, is something with which I can also identify. When everyone uses something because of how simple, useful and practical it is, it begins to lose its clarity and its functionality. Original creation is difficult in something that is used everywhere by everyone.

So I checked out some books on typeface from the wonderful library here on campus. The first one was disappointing. Despite my complaints about Helvetica's ubiquity and lack of originality, there is a point at which originality becomes unreadability. If the point of typeface is to make readable, communicative fonts, then what are these jumbled up curlicues trying to tell me? If I can't read it, aesthetic communication is also lost; despite the beauty of an alphabet being that you can make anything with it...if what you're making does not even resemble letters at the most basic level, then you have failed as a designer.

There was also very little explanation of any aesthetic message within the book. It was just a lot of pictures of design -of which many, I will grant, were interesting and piqued my curiosity. However, there were many more which left me wrinkling up my nose in some distaste. On top of the amount of poor design, the lack of any organization (artificially imposed, organic, alphabetical, I don't care -but something needs to have order) was also frustrating.

I'm not saying I want the designs presented in rank and file, army style, but to just scatter designs through a book with obviously no effort at finding commonality or theme smacks of laziness, not creative disorganization. That in itself was enough to detract from the reading experience.

The second one I picked up, however, I only put down because my eyes would no longer stay open. It's fun to read. It's called Letterforms Bawdy, Bad & Beautiful, and it's great. The examples they chose are stylistically relevant and modern enough to be recognizable even to me (the Rent book cover, for instance) and the organization imposed is beautiful. Each (artificial -their word this time) section covers one method or product of a design process. A moderate introduction explains to readers the general track that the section will take, covers why certain types of design were included and encourages readers not only to pay attention to what they chose, but to question it in terms of our own aesthetic tastes.

I've been very impressed. If you have even the most passing of interests in the design and application of fonts, check it out.


  1. I see no reason to use fonts other than Comic Sans and Papyrus.

  2. I love experimenting with fonts (especially because I'm publishing a book this quarter as part of a class), but the amount of experimentation that's out there goes a little too overboard for my taste a good amount of the time. If no one can read your writing, what are you communicating?