Archive for February, 2010

Choosing Type in Book Design

Add comment February 21st, 2010

The use of type in books—choosing and combining it with other typefaces—brings the art vs. craft of book design, compared to typography, right to the fore.

Joel Friedlander writes a thoughtful piece, 3 Great Typeface Combinations You Can Use in Your Book, on the subject, from the matching perspective, it seems to me. I take another look here, from the contrasting end.

Starting with the premise that main body type has been chosen—perhaps by period and/or place, by the look of the typeface simply seeming somehow representative of the subject, or by the type’s appearance running counter to what the book is about—the very next thing is to choose a second face for display and all other non-body text uses.

For instance, last year I did interior and cover design and layout on a book named The Sutton-Taylor Feud: The Deadliest Blood Feud in Texas. It told the story of an epic family feud that began shortly after the Civil War ended and lasted past into the last decade of the nineteenth century. When I first began talking to the publisher about this book the expression “of biblical proportion” came to mind. From that, it was easy for me to start looking at old style serif types. But also cognizant that the time period wasn’t truly back to the old style era, from about 1495 through about 1725, I wanted something that was a more contemporary turn on an old style. Sabon fits the bill, as it is old style but was created by one of the masters, Jan Tschichold, “in the period 1964–1967,” according to Wikipedia.

Given that this book has Texas roots, I decided to go with a typeface that had a Western feel to it for the only non-body text elements of this book that require a display face. In the sample below, that would be the large initial cap, in Rosewood Standard Regular.

Coincidentally, I recently finished another book with historical overtones, and—again, coincidentally—though from a different publishing client, the client was another college press in Texas. This book had a whole different tone from the first. Lust, Violence, Religion: Life in Historic Waco is a sometimes bawdy, always a good read. And I did my best to make it a good- and interesting-looking book.

I chose a typeface for body text that again went with the notion of historical import—a small wink at the aforementioned bawdy character of the essays—Adobe Jenson Pro. When researching this face, the word “elegant” comes up again and again. Jenson is simply beautiful, a revival of Renaissance lines and curves. It gives weight to the subject matter it presents and, again, this seemed to fit nicely with the unexpectedly irreverent storyline (for, history or not, the book reads as entertainingly as any great story).

For the accompanying sans serif—to be used in titles, display heads, and captions—I selected Optima. Not strictly a sans, of course, Optima’s hint of serifs, tapered strokes, and slightly larger x-height than the Jenson all keep with the elegant look I had in mind for this book. Below is a page Lust, Violence, Religion.

These are just two ways to go about pairing, but not exactly matching, type.

I Like What I Like

4 comments February 10th, 2010

I came upon an interesting article the other day, Know your type: Cheltenham. The article describes the history of the typeface family Cheltenham. It reminded me of an exchange I had on one of the typeface aficionados’ forums a year or two ago. I mentioned that I liked ITC Cheltenham and had decided to use it on a book design I was doing at the time.

I must admit right off that I am partial to Old Style type—Did you know “Garalde” comes from bringing together the names “Garamond” and “Aldus”? A few of my favorites are Bembo, Adobe Garamond, Jenson, and, of course, Cheltenham. I especially like that the contrast between thick and thin strokes is not extreme with Old Style typefaces.

When I mentioned hw much I liked Cheltenham on that forum, I heard a chorus of “boos” in pretty short order. Indeed, I don’t remember anything in the way of approval for my choice. This puzzled me.

I made clear I intended to use Cheltenham for body text of the book I had in mind. And as the idsgn piece makes clear, the original Cheltenham font was designed to be “a book type in which legibility would be the dominant element.” As that is the point of good typography, and book design—to make lines of legible and pages of readable type—I still feel very good about the choice. The unique kind of look that stops readers in their tracks might be a good thing for advertising, movie posters, and even book covers; but on book interior pages, it’s just an unwanted and unadvisable distraction.

The extended ascenders and shortened descenders are, in fact, odd-looking in an interesting way; and it was good enough for the New York Times. But that was the original Cheltenham, also known as “Chelt.” By the time of ITC’s digitized Cheltenham, the x-height was increased noticeably to make a most readable type. A classic was adapted and made far better for book interiors.


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