Last fall I went with my class to the Design Thinkers Conference at the Sony Centre in downtown Toronto. Between main stage speakers, there was a panel discussion about typography. One of the presenters was a man named Erik Spiekermann, whom I was told was a famous typographer. When he answered questions, he seemed abrupt. He said he didn’t care if his students used auto-leading. His stance on handwritten typefaces was this: don’t use them. I was intimidated by this no-nonsense titan of type.
So when I picked up a used copy of the book Spiekermann wrote in 1993 with E.M. Ginger, I was expecting to read something clinical and inaccessible. However, I soon found that Stop Stealing Sheep (& find out how type works) is a practical little guide for any layperson who wants to learn how to use type properly. The preface says,”Familiar images are used in this book to show that typography is not an art for the chosen few, but a powerful tool for anyone who has something to say and needs to say it in print.”
The book has nine chapters, beginning with “Type is Everywhere,” which guides the reader to think about the printed word they interact with every day. One thing that I appreciated about this book is the way that the authors set the reader up for success by exploring the “why” of type before getting to the “how.” The tone is witty and friendly and every chapter begins with a pithy quote that keeps the reader interested. The layout is clear and engaging with good rhythm.
Another thing that this book does well is the use of metaphor to convey information. Typographic mood is discussed beside full bleed photos of a woman with a corresponding facial expression. The appropriate use for different categories of type is made clear by comparing each to an outfit (e.g. Snell Roundhand and a tuxedo, or Lithos and a rock concert costume). Layout is ingeniously explained through the metaphor of architecture.
Although I had learned about many of the ideas discussed in this book in Typography class, I also found several new ideas that will be useful to me in my assignments. I learned about multiple master typefaces, about proper word spacing and leading in relation to line length, and even picked up some tricks for designing pleasing forms.
If you’re a teacher or an experienced working designer, this book probably won’t tell you anything new. But if you’re a design student or especially if you’re just someone who wants to know more about type, I highly recommend this manual.
P.S. Do you like my cute little gourd paperweights? We grew them in my family’s vegetable garden!
What is your favourite book on type? Recommend something for me to review next!