Choosing Type in Book Design

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.

Entry Filed under: book design,typefaces

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