Bringhurst, R. (2004). The Elements of Typographic Style. Point Roberts, WA : Hartley & Marks

Bringhurst’s “the Elements of Typographic Style” is a hugely famous book in design circles. Full of information about how and why to organise and use your type, it is easy to see why it has become so popular.

With regards to what I’m looking at for my major project, it served to re-emphasise the importance of typeface selection and added an excellent reminder of why I got interested in the subject in the first place. Are we saying what we think we’re saying?

“Chose a typeface or a group of faces that will honor and elucidate the character of the text.

This is the beginning, middle and end of the practice of typography; choose and use the type with sensitivity and intelligence. Aspects of this principle are explored throughout this book and considered in detail in chapters 6, 7 and 11.

Letterforms have tone, timbre, character, just as words and sentences do. The moment a text and a typeface are chosen, two streams of thought, two rhythmical systems, two sets of habits, or if you like, two personalities, intersect. They need not live together contentedly forever, but they must not as a rule collide.” (p.22)

It is easy to see why non-designers sometimes make horrendous typeface choices (see my posts/research about Comic Sans). The way in which they’re making the selection is not the way typefaces were supposed to be selected – they’re chosen based on whether or not that person likes them, without any consideration of the message. Bringhurst describes the way type should work extremely well and explains what it is that goes wrong. As a rule typeface choice should be invisible to the reader, it should become so much a part of the message, a reinforcement, that they don’t notice the typeface is even there. If they do notice it, something is wrong with the rhythm. The type and the message are colliding.

“Typography exists to honor content

Like oratory, music, dance, calligraphy – like anything that lends its grace to language – typography is an art that can be deliberately misused. It is a craft by which the meanings of a text (or its absence of meaning) can be clarified, honored and shared, or knowingly disguised.” (p.17)

The form follows function follows content argument has been raging on for years. With typeface selection, I believe it is form follows content. It is a rare occasion when you want the vehicle for the message to speak louder than the words it’s describing.

“Letterforms have character, spirit and personality. Typographers learn to discern these features through years of working first-hand with the forms, and through studying and comparing the work of other designers, present and past.” (p.99)

A clue here from Bringhurst as to how I can begin to understand letterforms. I may not have years to carry out this project, however I have been working with type for as long as I’ve been a designer (10 years, although only four and a half of those have been “professionally”). I am also constantly aware of other designers’ work. I haven’t however, spent much time thinking about what it is that gives the letterforms their character, the subtle details, and this is something I will have to look at to continue with this project.