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U&lc Online Issue: 28.2.1

Making Digital Type Look Good


By Bob Gordon


“Typography is entirely about the business of detailing,” writes Bob Gordon, and he practices what he preaches in this attractive and well-designed book. Its focus on “font fine-tuning” shows the reader how to take control of the hyphenation and justification of a text (whether short or book length), and includes a set of type specimens showing extensive variations of H&J settings.

The book is divided into three sections. The first gives a quick history of written communication and the basic characteristics of type, details current font technologies and explains how type is rendered on screen and paper. Topics such as Type 1 and TrueType font formats, Unicode, anti-aliasing, and OpenType are briefly covered.

The author notes that in the past, traditional compositors and typesetters took care of many details that today’s graphic designers (to whom the job of setting type has now fallen) often fail to recognize or appreciate. His laudable effort to redress this state of affairs is most notable in the section “Font Fine-Tuning.”

Here, Mr. Gordon clearly explains tracking, kerning, hyphenation, and justification. He takes us through the interrelationships between hyphenation and justification and their settings, namely, word and character space and hyphenation zone, particularly in QuarkXPress (the comparable Adobe InDesign settings are referenced briefly). A number of examples clearly illustrate his points. Most importantly, he lays out the general strategy of H&J software decision-making, and lists what the designer should keep in mind when deciding whether to alter the settings, and what to expect as a result.

The text specimen section shows thirty typefaces, from classic book faces to contemporary fonts like Bliss, Interstate and Enigma. Specimens showing various column widths and H&J settings illustrate points the author has made earlier. Alongside each two-page spread are interesting tidbits about the fonts shown, as well as tips for good usage.

The final section of the book briefly examines the font design programs Fontographer and FontLab. Also discussed are typography for the Web and for screen display, working with display type, and a survey of the major font foundries, along with profiles of a few notable type designers, like Neville Brody and Zuzanna Licko.

The page layout of the book is user-friendly and integrates color, varying column widths and overlaid graphics in a lively way. The most compelling reason to own this book, though, is the material on fine-tuning text layouts. The reader will be rewarded with increased clarity and self-assurance concerning an often confusing and rarely addressed subject.

Making Digital Type Look Good, by Bob Gordon. Graham Davis, designer. Published in the USA by Watson-Guptill, 2001. In the UK, published by The Ilex Press Limited.



Making Digital Type Look Good