Wednesday, November 30, 2011

I Went Through My Comic Sans Phase, but an Intervention Got Me Back on The Right Path--a Meditation on Simon Garfield's Just my Type.

When we opened Boswell, we had several discussions about branding. I decided, to follow up on the department store discussion of yesterday, that I wasn't going to have a distinctive color, much as I love the old forest green of Marshall Field's or the cornflower blue of L.S. Ayres. That said, I did want a somewhat unified look for our signage. I turned to Sarah, my now Oklahoma librarian colleague, and asked her for a suggestion.

"Century" was her immediate thought. Bookish but not staid. Free on our computer but not totally a cliche. Or maybe just a little cliche.

I am one of those people who when they got a personal computer, started sending my memos out in a different typeface every week.  It goes back further. When I first started working in publishing in the 1980s and got use of an IBM Selectric, I went out and bought additional golf balls with my own money so I could vary my type. And before that (as seen in the accompanying photo of my old music charts lauding the talents of the Carpenters and Gloria Gaynor when I was 14), I would copy typefaces out of a typeface book that I borrowed from the library.

And I can remember the day when I walked into the Palette Shop and discovered Letraset letter transfers. Where had you been all my life? Instead of copying out typefaces, now I could just rub. If I remember correctly, even Oriental Drugs had a spinner of these transfers, though perhaps not the professional brand. No, these were making things like zines.

So you would have thought I would have read Simon Garfield's Just My Type: A book About Fonts (the UK version pictured at right) months ago. And yes, I had done that thing where you dip in and out of it. We featured the book in one of our email newsletters, and I would have to say it was our more successful email sales pop of the year. People would come in and discuss their own font memories. I learned about the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum in Two Rivers. But I still can't spot the difference between Helvetica and Arial.

When I realized that I wanted Just my Type featured in the front of our store for the holidays, I decided that it was my obligation to read every word. Why was I putting this off; I knew I'd be fascinated. But every new revelation led to questions. How come I didn't notice when Ikea changed their font from Futura to Verdana? And how could I have not seen the documentary "Helvetica"? Yes, our friend Tom, browsing graphic novels, wondered the same thing when I told him how much I liked the book. How? How?

On the other hand, so many questions have been answered by Mr. Garfield (pictured at left). I now know why the default typefaces changed on the new versions of Word and Excel. I feel comfortable with my choice of Garamond for the email newsletter.  And I have no idea what I am using for the blog--it shows up as something like Times New Roman, but I think it actually turns into Arial Black. I learned here how to change a font to something not standard, but I also learned that if the font is not installed on your recipient's computer, he or she won't see it.

Great! I can now display my blog in the much-maligned Comic Sans typeface. Is it better or worse than Brush Script? I'm going to have to go with worse. And why? Because we used Brush Script in our holiday newsletter.

Being an amateur, I don't seem to get incensed by the use of some now-clich├ęd typeface like Cooper Black or Souvenir. But I am sad about the slow homogenization of typeface use around the world, even though I never go anyplace. Thank goodness for heavy metal, beer, and tattoos, so German Gothic had someplace to go.

Oh, there is so much to enjoy about Just my Type. I got to meet the interroband. I've fallen back in love with the ampersand. I'll always pay a little more attention to the lower case g and the capital Q. And Helvetica? We were like two people introduced at a party who started off with a bad conversation. But by pointing out to me the square dot on the i*, I've come to understand that typeface just a little bit better. Though we've sold Mr. Garfield's book very well, I know there are more folks out there who would like this book as I did. And now here's your chance to buy it for them. More on Just my Type here. And here's a great blog called Font Bureau that is written by our friend John's childhood friend.

*Oddly enough, the Wikipedia article on Century claims that it also has a square dot over the i, but at least on Microsoft type packages, it is clearly round. Goudy Old Style, however, clearly has a diamond-shaped dot.

1 comment:

Sam Sieger said...

Another fact for you to enjoy: The dot over the lowercase i is called a "tittle."