Weeks 3 & 4:Typography–The Thing and the Making of the Thing


Taking the 5 books we chose from the previous week, we were to comment on the aesthetic and practical considerations of our choices. After writing a short piece about each of the five, we selected one as our overall choice.

51kmofq9wvl-_sx330_bo1204203200_I chose The Children’s Blizzard by David Laskin. The book recounts the Great Blizzard of 1888, which swept across the Plains just as children were heading home from school. The morning of the storm had been unseasonably warm and many children did not wear coats, boots, hats, or mittens to school that day. This fine non-fiction book gives a wealth of background information and first hand accounts of this tragic event. The designer, along with the author, eases us into the story.

The design elements of this book are consistent on a micro and macro level.  For the sample text, I used the opening chapter. The heading is in small caps. The chapter title, Deaprtures and Arrivals, is large and italicized; there is an urgency to the italics. To begin the chapter, there is an ornament where a drop cap would be placed. The angle of the ornament matches the path of the storm, pointing from northwest to southeast. The typeface is fairly heavy, serif, but also conveys a sense of space typical of the Great Plains. These ornaments, doubled, are also incorporated as section breaks.

The book, a trade paperback with an elaborate cutaway cover, is a very nice package. The Children’s Blizzard, though a rather grim slice of history, is a very attractive book with an evocative title. The design elements do not detract in any way and enhance the telling of the story.

The text and design felt the most integrated in this book. There is a sense of direction and progression in both text and design. The ornamentation is both attractive and relevant. In an age where much of design is an attempt to make objects disappear into their function, this book partners design and function as equals. The experience of reading is enriched by the balance.

You can see The Children’s Blizzard here, using Amazon’s Look Inside! feature.

Our next assignment will explore typography and typefaces in more detail. Typography is an ancient art. If you look it up in the dictionary, you’ll find that it is both the appearance, style, or arrangement of words on a page and the act of creating the page. It is the thing and the making of the thing both. The immediate image that comes to mind is Escher’s drawing of the hands drawing the hands.

In the assignment we will use a double page spread from The House of Yorke and conduct a font test. Each student will select five different five typefaces, render the text in those typefaces, and print the samples. When we meet after winter break next week, we will create a gallery of our samples and select a typeface for the book. (We may select several typefaces and use different ones for the body of the book, headings, and other material.)

To get a sense of what a font test is like, visit TypeTester, where you can plug in sample text and select three typefaces to compare how they look. TypeTester has more than 2200 typefaces available.

I chose classic, old-style readable book typefaces like Palatino and Zapf Elliptical, both designed by the legendary typographer, Hermann Zapf. Palatino was Zapf’s first popular typeface and was based on his own calligraphy. There is a delightful video of Zapf demonstrating calligraphic technique:

Zapf Elliptical was developed by Zapf for Bitstream, one of the first foundries devoted to making digital fonts. Zapf also designed Optima, which was used to inscribe the names on the Vietnam Memorial.

photo: Evan Bench, Vietnam Memorial


Editing the copy of The House of Yorke is well underway.  The “Comma Team” has been giving it a close read and offering suggestions, from the large questions: should we expand the introductory material to include more background, to fact checking footnotes, and pointing out typos.  We have been working with a Google doc, which has made the task difficult at times. The ms has more than 500 pages but the Google doc has no chapter or section breaks.  For my own sanity, I finally started bookmarking the chapters and the contents to help with moving around in the document. There have been some weird formatting things going on in the document as well. Some of the footnotes have adopted a 36 point space after the paragraph. Footnotes do not have the “select all” function, so each one will have to be edited separately.  Also, a chunk of text went missing.  Fortunately, this is not the only copy of the ms.

When the editing is complete, the ms will go back to the editorial committee which will accept or reject our suggestions. Once this phase of the process is complete, The House of Yorke will move to the typography and art units.


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