Typography. When, Who, How
Review by Phan Nguyen
First off, the book is huge. It's almost as big as my copy of Webster's
Third New International Dictionary. That and the formatting of the book
attests to its intention as a typographical reference book. It's printed
in three languages--German, French, and English--the German occupying
the top of the pages, the English occupying the bottom, and the French
occupying the right and left sides of the recto and verso, respectively.
In the center of each page spread is a collection of full-color images.
The text is set in Rotis, which would not be anywhere in my list of
types for reference texts. Even if I was a fan of Rotis I could not
condone using the type at such small sizes, and for a reference book of
(There seems to be a disturbing trend these days of setting digital
types in smaller-than-intended sizes. As far as I know general
dictionaries have not yet succumbed to this, and they are still using
more appropriate types for setting cramped text in conservative sizes.)
The book is split into three sections:
When--a brief history of the development of type and its
progress in graphic design
Who--the movers and shakers in and around the type world. This
is the longest section and comprises the majority of the book.
How--an overview of type reproduction and implementation
The When section is practically useless (sorry, Wilhelm). If you already
know the general history of typography and graphic design, there's no
need to refer to this section. If you don't know the history of
typography, you're not going to absorb much from reading this. This book
is obviously not intended to be read from cover to cover. And the tiny
type setting doesn't facilitate extended reading. The reverse
chronology, reviewing the present and then going into the past, seems
awkward and makes little sense. Maybe such a concept is meant to provide
an alternate perspective of typographic history; to me at least, it does
For history one would do better to refer to Meggs's History of Graphic
Design, Richard Hollis's Graphic Design: A Concise History,
Blackwell's 20th Century Type, Anderson's The Art of Written Forms,
etc, as well as more specialized books concerning typographic and
The Who section lists typographers, type designers, graphic designers,
and type entities in alphabetical order. A typical entry includes the
name, date of birth and death, country of origin, educational history
with dates, achievements, and typefaces designed. And I think it
includes pictorial samples for every single entry!
Thus we get a relay of objective facts. What we don't get is a
subjective idea of what a listed person's contributions to history are.
For example, what differentiates Alvin Lustig from any other 'graphic
designer, teacher' listed?
In the listing for Beatrice Warde, it notes that she contributed to 'The
Fleuron,' but makes no mention of her Garamond article. It notes that
she published the book 'The Crystal Goblet' but makes no mention of the
essay of the same name. Who was Beatrice Warde, then, and what was her
Thus to some extent one should already be aware of the backgrounds of
the people listed prior to referring to their entries in this book.
Perhaps it should go hand-in-hand with Rookledge's International
Handbook of Type Designers, which however brief and incomplete itself,
provides a better overview of individual type designers. (The Rookledge
book is out of print though still commonly available and quite
As the Who section is not limited to type designers and typographers but
also extends to include general graphic designers and graphic design
commentators (mostly within the confines of the Roman alphabet, but with
a few Japanese), one can imagine what a formidable task such a
compilation would be. Amazingly the listing is quite comprehensive.
Still we are bound to find some neglected members of typographic scenes.
Some conspicuous absences include:
Father Edward Catich
Other notable persons who perhaps deserve a slot include:
Tadanori Yokoo (although there is a Tadanori Yokoo sample in the 'When'
It is interesting that the When and Who sections are heavily
illustrated, while the How section has no illustrations at all. What
does a Linotype look like, or a matrix? You would expect that in a book
about visual communication, you would find visual aids to describe
techniques. That is where the How section fails.
This book is not necessary for beginning typophiles. But as one becomes
more acquainted with typographic and graphic design history, the Who
section may serve as a valuable reference and as an impetus for research
into concentrated periods, movements, and concepts. The book is also
handy for associating certain posters, books, and types with certain
designers, although the sample illustrations aren't always so
Owning a copy is not a requirement, but for such a huge and heavy volume
the price is right and it does come in handy.
Now if it would only fit on my bookshelf.