Just My Type: A Book about Fonts
by Simon Garfield (London: Profile Books, 2010): 352pp, £8.24 (pbk), ISBN 978 1 846 68301 5
Reviewed by Jean Rollinson
In some ways this is a history of type and printing, but it is so much more, with bare facts being enhanced by stories about the designers behind the fonts and how the use of fonts in advertising and publishing have affected people's perceptions. It even tells of a woman who lost her job for sending an email in all capitals.
The body of the book covers subjects such as legibility and readability, why some fonts have become so ubiquitous, examples of bad and overused fonts, and discussions on what a font says about the user. Interspersed between these chapters are 'Font breaks' that focus on a specific font, the history behind it and a bit about the typographer. It is interesting to note how many fonts are named after their designer: Bodoni, Bauhaus, Garamond, Caslon, Gill Sans, Cooper Black and Frutiger, to name but a few.
Although it is very informative, the tone of the book is light and informal. Simon Garfield is a natural communicator who is obviously fascinated by the subject, and passes on his enthusiasm to the reader, but tempered with recognition that many attitudes towards fonts and their use are just opinion. For example, the first chapter is devoted to Comic Sans – a font that has been much vilified – looking at why it was developed and showing that it has its place in the world of design. He goes on to explain that the problem with Comic Sans lies in its overuse and inappropriate use and not in the font itself.
I read this book like a novel, from cover to cover in less than a week, but it is equally good to dip into to find out about a particular font, or to find examples of good and bad uses of fonts. I wouldn't say it is an essential reference for editors and proofreaders, as we rarely need to decide on fonts to use in our work, but the chances are that most of us do produce documents on a computer, and we may even design booklets, posters and programmes for amateur groups, so it is useful to know that some fonts are overused, while others give an old-fashioned air or are illegible at small sizes.