Book Review: How to Create Typefaces

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Tipo e’s How to Create Typefaces: from sketch to screen is an excellent primer on type design, albeit a little primer. Unlike other books on type and type design, this title is compact at 150 pages—a count that includes its bibliography. Its short length definitely makes it a “modest book”—to use the words found in the foreword by associate professor of typography Gerry Leonidas—but it has plenty of substance, packing a lot into a little package. By the end of the first chapter, not only did I know I’d enjoy the book, but I knew once I finished it that I’d want to go back and reread it—again and again.

For the novice type designer, or the experienced one, it can be challenging to find just the right book covering process, principles, technique, technology, and philosophy. Considering all of the books available on type design, diamond in the rough is a suitable way to describe How to Create Typefaces. Type designers, or those looking to become type designers, will see the book’s value once they dive into chapter 1. Calligraphers and lettering artists won’t necessarily get the same out of the book, but in reading it they’d learn plenty about type design that they could very well apply to their lettering projects.

[Related: A Guide to Font Formats and Type Design Tools]

Originally published in Spanish in 2012 as Cómo Crear Tipografías, the English version of the book—reviewed here—was released in May 2017. The English version was translated by Christopher Burke and Patricia Córdoba. Written by three authors, Cristóbal Henestrosa, Laura Meseguer, and José Scaglione, each of them are talented and award-winning Spanish and Latin American type designers in their own right. And you get all three of them in one book. Chapters work best when you have all three of their voices present, as is the case with chapter 1 Motives, chapter 3 Process and Methods, and chapter 9 Perspective. In those instances, you feel as if you’re in a master class with three instructors sharing their point of view, with each one’s expertise building on top of the other.

The remaining chapters, such as Digitization and Spacing, among others, have one author tackling the subject matter independently. Chapters such as these are more technical in nature, so it makes sense to have one author own that content, covering it deeply in one way and their own way. It’s possible that each author would approach the content in those solo chapters in same way, and having one author there makes sense. Nevertheless, having all three of them and all three voices in chapter 1 made me long for all of their voices in subsequent chapters.

But even though I didn’t get that wish, by the end of the book I got everything else I had hoped for—and more. But not every reader will feel the same. The rigorous amount of work—and it is very very rigorous—that goes into planning and designing type, fine tuning it, revising it, spacing it properly, and releasing it as a font might overwhelm some readers. This labor becomes immediately evident once you get to chapter 3, Processes and Methods. And by chapter 5, Spacing, the intricacies of kerning can befuddle the type design neophyte so much that they might decide to give up on the book and on type design altogether. But if you press on, and digest every morsel the book offers, you’ll see that the reward is in the work. And that’s why How to Create Typefaces is catnip for the true type designer—it’s also why the remotely curious designer should pick it up and read it from cover to cover.

Experienced and novice type designers will appreciate the authors’ depth of knowledge and will find the book rewarding. But if there’s one demographic who should really read the book, it’s graphic designers. At 150-pages, it’s short in length, but deep in content. Having even a remote grasp of the issues covered in this book could very well make a graphic designer who uses type into a better graphic designer who uses type. And since graphic designers see and use type on a daily basis, they should definitely carve out time in their day to read this gem.

Book imagery courtesy of Tipo e.