Typography was long relegated to the sidelines within the study of graphic design. But now we’re surrounded by a rapidly growing interest in the subject that can finally stand on its own. With so many resources suddenly available, how do you know where to start learning more about type? Which books should you read? What sites should you visit? What people should you know about? What typefaces should you buy? Here, you’ll find a carefully curated selection of resources to help you get started.
Perhaps the most visited typographic blog today is I Love Typography (www.ilovetypography.com), which receives more than half a million visitors a month. It covers new typeface releases, independent research and typographic events. It’s informative, entertaining and remarkably extensive. ILT is also the maker of the Font Game app (fontgameapp.com).
Ellen Lupton’s book “Thinking with Type” has an excellent companion website (www.thinkingwithtype.com). The site is bursting with explanations, projects and examples, both historical and modern. All typography students and instructors should be well-acquainted with this informative site.
Typedia (www.typedia.com), a shared encyclopedia of typefaces, is multifaceted. You can find type foundries, classifications and, perhaps most helpful, specimens. Both Typedia and I Love Typography feature “the week in type,” which can be a helpful distiller for those trying to sift through the bombardment of new font announcements and breaking typographic news.
One of my favorite new typographic sites is Fonts In Use (www.fontsinuse.com) a collaboration of three prolific typographers: Stephen Coles (www.typographica.org), Nick Sherman (www.woodtyper.com) and Sam Berlow (www.fontbureau.com). It’s wonderful to see them apply their differing typespotting skills to the abundant examples in our ephemeral world. This project also proves that there are still new directions to be discovered in the flourishing realm of typographic communication.
Another pioneer in the typographic blog scene is Typographica (www.typographica.org), which has evolved into a leader in reviews of the year’s best typefaces, technical developments, books and other commentary.
One of the more unusual industry resources is Type Radio (www.typeradio.org), where hosts Donald Beekman and Liza Enebeis have been interviewing typographers and designers who work with type since 2004. Their range is extensive and their interviews entertaining. Their archive is predominantly European and is a novel place to access the wisdom of those whom you admire.
One of the oldest typographic forums is the wildly popular Typophile (www.typophile.com) where you can find lengthy (and often exceedingly pedantic) discussions that cover innovative industry news, precise points of debate, type identification, historical referencing or technological fixes. Over the past 10 years, it’s become an invaluable resource for the type world, welcoming any and all to participate. Thankfully, there’s no obligation to comment, as lurking is equally rewarding. It’s never a concern whether your question will get answered, but rather, how quickly.
All of the aforementioned resources are contributing to the conversation that was historically dominated by the type foundries. However, today there are copious foundries, thanks in part to the graduates of typographic programs worldwide and also to the pervasiveness of type design software and the self-taught designers using it.
The Boston-based Font Bureau (www.fontbureau.com) is one of the premier foundries in the U.S. with a strong library of newspaper and publication-related fonts. Its type designers are active in the industry and are frequent lecturers, teachers and authors. Both the Type 101 and FontTalk sections of the website feature a variety of articles on technological and historical aspects of typography.
FontBureau offers more than just typefaces for print design. With www.webtype.com, it’s also one of the leaders in the web font options that have recently emerged. FontBureau actively educates its clients and the public, and its recent foray into the web fonts realm is no exception.
Font Shop International (www.fontshop.com) has long been one of the most visible foundries in the industry. Its numerous tips and guides for typographers and educators at all levels are truly indispensable. My favorite of the extras is the popular www.fontstruct.com. Upon its release several years ago, I immediately incorporated it into my typography classes and have been astounded by the impressive results from students. Thanks to this invaluable tool, many more people (not just graphic design and typography students) are able to learn about and experiment with letterforms firsthand. In addition, Font Shop’s education area (www.fontshop.com/education) is filled with useful downloads of type selection tips and more, making it a necessary bookmark.
As a typography instructor, I often use articles from Font Shop’s www.fontfeed.com as a basis for short discussions in my classes. The company describes the blog as “a daily dispatch of recommended fonts, typography techniques and inspirational examples of digital type at work in the real world.” The topics are relevant, the illustrations plentiful and the writing accessible and informative. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the blog is the “Fonts in Use” section where the authors highlight the most recent crop of album art or movie poster typography (and no, not all of them use the ubiquitous Trajan). With such current and intriguing topics, it can be hard to pull yourself away.
The European foundry Typotheque (www.typotheque.com) is another resource that can assist typography instructors and novices in the typographic research arena. Its typefaces are exquisite, and its featured articles are beneficial to anyone wanting to access typographic and design criticism in either a casual or an academic capacity.
An additional academic resource, and an extensive one at that, is Type Culture (www.typeculture.com). It features numerous articles, resources and research directions, all within the typographic realm.
House Industries (www.houseind.com) is the ultimate destination for typefaces with character and a retro vibe. The company continuously produces the coolest typographic products and specimens that can inspire even the most burned-out designer.
And don’t forget, the major foundries from history are still in existence today. Monotype (www.fonts.com) and Linotype (www.linotype.com) maintain large back catalogs of original type classics. Although they don’t feature as many of the educational resources as other smaller foundries, their font search tools can be helpful.
While not necessarily a foundry, Typekit (www.typekit.com) is becoming a notable source for locating and hosting web fonts from a variety of foundries. The fonts it features range from larger catalogs such as FontFont, P22 and Veer, to selections from smaller firms such as Underware.
I’m constantly receiving requests for the title of the book that will make sense of typography. However, there’s not just one. Here are a selected few:
The book that I most frequently suggest for beginners is the aforementioned Ellen Lupton’s “Thinking with Type.” Since its first printing, I’ve used it for all of my beginning level typography classes. It also works well for non-designers wanting to understand more about the subject. This inexpensive paperback has wonderful illustrations and is written to be understandable, and the “type crimes” section alone is worth the price.
“The Elements of Typographic Style” by Robert Bringhurst is perhaps the loveliest book on typography, in both typographic design and writing style. Some beginners might find the writing difficult to comprehend, but those further along in the profession should be able to appreciate the poetic tone and context. Bringhurst’s points on multilingual aspects of typography and page proportion are especially notable. This is required reading for anyone in the discipline.
Horst Moser’s editorial design book “Surprise Me” is one of my favorite suggestions for people looking to pursue publication design. It’s lively and comprehensive and an excellent book for professionals, students and teachers.
While not specifically a typography book, I find “Universal Principles of Design,” edited by William Lidwell, Kristina Holden and Jill Butler, equally helpful when discussing typographic issues. It’s intended for human factors and usability design students, yet I find it an excellent starting point for designing functional typographic solutions to complex problems.
When you feel burned out or tired of the computer, publications on historical typography such as Nicolete Gray’s “Lettering as Drawing” can be a powerful remedy, as typography is as much about the past as it is about the present. Although the book is 40 years old and features black-and-white plates, it’s still packed with dynamic examples of the blurred line between letters and their illustration.
Although the design is (inexcusably) horrific and the typography utterly dreadful, “Texts on Type: Critical Writings on Typography,” edited by Steven Heller and Phillip Meggs, is a respectable collection of diverse typographic essays from historic times to modern day.
I believe all typophiles should own the recently published “Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles,” edited by Cees W. de Jong, Alston W. Purvis and Jan Tholenaar. There are two spectacular volumes, 1628–1900 and 1901–1938, (and I am fervently hoping for a third volume). I mention these stunning, large-format, beautifully produced books and their accompanying CD because it can be difficult to obtain visuals for inspiration or slide images for the classroom. I’ve only owned these books for two months and I can’t imagine teaching typography without them.
If you’re looking for a more scholarly approach to typography, there are several publications, all originating from people associated with the U.K.-based University of Reading’s Typography and Graphic Communication Department. The journal “TypographyPapers” features specialists writing about ideas and theories, both historical and present-day. Each issue is packed with information and even more resources for further investigation.
Another book from the Reading typographic community is the very useful “Printing 1770–1970” by the gifted Michael Twyman, retired head of the program. It charts the connection between printing and typography and explains how progressing technologies influenced the typographic results. I find myself referring to this book often in graphic design history discussions.
Robin Kinross’ “Modern Typography” is another scholarly look at typography, but more focused on the 20th century. This fascinating and brilliant book is for those who wish to explore the relationship between history and theory and for anyone wishing to classify themselves a typographer.
The typography book that most influenced me, before I even knew that I was destined to be a typographer, is “Typography Now: The Next Wave,” edited by Rick Poynor and Edward Booth-Clibborn. When it was released in 1991, I was in my second year of design school and had never seen anything like it. It opened my eyes to what was possible, which was crucial for a design student in her early days. And while it strongly speaks for the post-modernist era in which it was produced, its vibrant illustrations still inspire me as a professional typographer 20 years later.
The Association Typographique Internationale’s (www.atypi.org) annual conference has been gathering typophiles for more than 50 years. Based in Europe, the organization attracts speakers and attendees on a global scale. Here you’ll meet all the big names and hear all the big ideas. You could say that this is where the big things get discussed before they get big.
An equally popular annual conference, filled with equally big ideas, is the North America-based Typecon (www.typecon.com) produced by the Society of Typographic Aficionados (www.typesociety.org). SOTA is also on the cutting edge of the profession and is enormously important as a generator for collaborative efforts and new ideas.
Every year, my organization, Type Camp (www.typecamp.org), runs typographic studios throughout the world for people of all levels in the industry, as well as customized workshops at schools and businesses.
Argentina and Chile have strong typographic histories, but the Latin American typographic scene is more than the singular contribution from individual countries, and Tipos Latinos (www.tiposlatinos.com) is proving this to be true. It’s a collaborative organization with an extensive reach that brings together designers and typographers from North, Central and South America (Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Ecuador, Guatemala, Mexico, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela).
The Type Directors Club (www.tdc.org) is one of the more active type associations in the U.S., with numerous gatherings, lectures and popular traveling exhibitions. New York City typographers are fortunate to have such a dynamic and enthusiastic group in their city.
This commentary is only a brief foray into the realm of typographic resources. There are numerous magazines, exhibitions and other publications on the subject. Investigate these resources, whether as a source of inspiration, a search for a new typeface, or an opportunity to read up on the latest technological advances.
You most certainly don’t have to pass a test or win an award in order to join with others who share an interest in typography. You just have to discover the irresistible power of letters and all you can do with them.
Twitter is bustling these days with typographic tweets. There are scores of Twitter lists and Tweeters that focus on typography, and nearly all typographic publications, blogs, foundries and fans have their own Twitter accounts.
You can follow a foundry, a type designer, a school, a conference or a magazine and have direct access to all of them.
Some of the most prolific tweeters are the most connected ones: Tiffany Wardle (@typegirl) with nearly 6,000 followers, the review blog (@typographica) with more than 14,000, the popular type blog (@ilovetypography) with more than 61,000, “typomaniac” Erik Spiekermann (@espiekermann) with more than 115,000, and the foundry Hoefler & Frere-Jones (@H_FJ) with a staggering 121,000+ followers.