Typography: A Very Short Introduction by Paul Luna

The Blurb On The Back:

We can never read the words in a book or on a web page without being influenced by their design.  Typography, the visual design of written language, can make communication more accessible, more significant, or more attractive.  We engage with typography not only as readers, but whenever we make decisions about fonts or layout as we write on computers, tablets and phones.

Paul Luna traces the history behind our modern-day letters, discussing type design, layout, legibility, and picture language.  He also explores the differences between design for print and screen, the relationship between art and typography, and the reasons why key typographic decisions are made.

You can order Typography: A Very Short Introduction by Paul Luna from Amazon USA, Amazon UK, Waterstone’s or Bookshop.org UK.  I earn commission on any purchases made through these links.

The Review (Cut For Spoilers):

Paul Luna is Emeritus Professor of Typography & Graphic Communication at Reading University and former Head of Corporate Design at Oxford University Press.  In this interesting, although quite technical book, whic, ironically, is hampered by a small typeface that makes it difficult to read, he sets out ideas about the development of typography, how to organise typographic material and the differences between printed and electronic typography.

I should begin by saying that I received this book from Amazon Vine by mistake, having originally requested a different book in Oxford University’s ‘Very Short Introduction’ series.  However, as an avid reader and blogger, I’ve always been interested in typography so I wasn’t disappointed to receive this instead.

Luna clearly knows his subject.  He moves confidently from the history of typographic letters to the development of typefaces in a fluid way but I have to say that at times I did find some of the technical language to be a little difficult to follow and personally, I could have done with more illustrations for some of the effects that he talks about (especially with regard to typefaces and proportions, which I found confusing).  For example, he talks about different fonts at times and while there are illustrations for some, there are not illustrations for all, which meant that I had a difficult time trying to visualise what he is talking about.  Similarly, when he talks about things such as em indents and px measurements, I genuinely couldn’t follow what the overall effect was.

It also doesn’t help that the book is printed in a fairly small font (not surprising given that the books are essentially designed as pocket guides) and as someone who wears glasses, there were times on my commute into work where I found myself squinting and having to re-read paragraphs to make sure I had taken everything in.  I am not suggesting that this is Luna’s fault at all – it was a choice made by Oxford University Press – but it is an ironic weakness of the book given its subject matter.

The most successful chapters for me related to the shift from printed words to pixelated words, where he discussed how the move to digital formatting was shaped by printed forms and the technological advantages and disadvantages that this brought in terms of spacing letters and words across the page.  Particularly good are the chapters on Presenting Language (where Luna runs through different ways of presenting language and ideas so as to ensure that it can be understood by the reader) and Genre and Layout (where he highlights the types of choice that layout designers can make and the influence they have).  I found that this genuinely made me think about how information can be presented and the choices made by designers.  Luna also made me think more about the contributions that designers make to the publishing process and how legibility influences accessibility.

In his preface, Luna says that his aim is for readers to “come away with a clearer understanding that typographic design is a series of rational choices, and they are inspired to learn more about (or even begin to practise!) the subject”.  I think he partially succeeds in this.  Certainly I came away from the book with a greater awareness of the subject than when I started it but while Luna does provide further reading suggestions, they all seem very academic and I would have preferred a more curated list targeted at people new to the topic.

Review copy from Amazon Vine.

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