Book Reviews / Comptes Rendus de Livres - Fawcett-Tang, Roger. 2007. New Typographic Design -

Fawcett-Tang, Roger. 2007. New Typographic Design

Jonathan Aitken
Ryerson University

Review of Fawcett-Tang, Roger. 2007. New Typographic Design. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Introduction and essays by David Jury.
Pp. 192, colour illus. Paper $35.00, ISBN 13: 978-0-300-11775-2.

1 A topical and ambitious book, New Typographic Design tackles the ever-changing field of contemporary typography. Author Roger Fawcett-Tang is uniquely qualified for such a project. A founding partner of Struktur Design in the U.K., he is also its creative director. As well, he is the author of several books, such as Experimental Formats & Packaging, Mapping and New Book Design. His eye for design is evident in the book’s immense collection of examples of contemporary typographic design, most from this century. Wisely, Fawcett-Tang delegated the introduction and essays to David Jury, noted typographer and author of several books, including What is Typography? Jury’s musings place the visual work into context, helping to make some sense out of such an enormous collection.

2 An introductory essay gives an interesting, though brief, sense of the history of contemporary typography and its roots with the “jobbing printer” (6) of the early 19th century. Arising out of a commercial need for posters and promotional flyers, the jobbing printer took over from traditional printers who were reluctant to embrace the flashy new work designed simply to attract attention. They saw such work as crass and threatening to their long-established tradition of quiet and legible typographic design that included a long period of apprenticeship. Jury makes quite a convincing case that current graphic design has evolved from these early pioneers of radical typography.

3 Four other essays introduce the book’s various sections: type as form; type as image; type as experiment; and type in motion. In each, Jury describes a theme for the section. The first, type as form, discusses how designers work creatively within a more traditional sense of typography. He titles this essay “the pleasure of silence” (14) and it is an apt metaphor for quiet type that serves primarily to convey information. Here, Fawcett-Tang’s choice of images are slightly at odds with Jury’s theme. These images show common typefaces applied in often unusual and creative ways—more focused on type as abstract form in some cases, than in simple conveyance of information. In type as image, both the essay and visual examples share a passion for the often noisy, chaotic and even amateurish type found in unusual, often urban settings. Here type is often hand shaped and manipulated letters mingle with professional, yet eclectic, fonts. This section celebrates the blurred boundary between type and image.

4 The third section—type as experiment, shows exactly that. Jury considers how type can contribute to a sense of “culture shock” (122)—where type intentionally challenges a reader and demands much more effort to decipher a message. Examples shown depict everything from three dimensional bug-like object/letters to more purely conceptual pieces. Here Fawcett-Tang’s captions offer invaluable insight into the designers’ thought processes. The final section, type in motion, is perhaps the least well considered. (Though this may reflect my own personal interest in kinetic typography rather than an objective shortcoming.) Certainly it is much shorter than the other sections. Jury’s essay does not neatly introduce us to the theme as well as the essays in the other sections. There is scant mention of the internet, for example, where moving type is becoming commonplace; nor of titling in films. Instead, Jury focuses on the “pursuit of order” (164), examining how structure in typography aids comprehension—an interesting topic, but only tangentially related to motion. Fawcett-Tang shows some interesting examples, but the static nature of a book necessitates showing frames in sequence. Here a CD would have shown this work more effectively. Interested readers might prefer insead to consult the book Moving Type, Designing for Time and Space, by Matt Woolman and Jeff Bellatoni.

5 Despite this one section, the book provides an excellent visual overview of contemporary typographic design. For this reason it will be of primary interest to practitioners of graphic design: students, educator and professionals, rather than historians. The examples will serve to stimulate visual thinking as well as provide a record of design in the early 21st century.

References

Fawcett-Tang, Roger. 2005. Mapping: An Illustrated Guide to Graphic Navigational Systems. U.K.: Rotovision.

Fawcett-Tang, Roger and Caroline Roberts. 2004. New Book Design. U.K.: Laurence King Publishing.

Fawcett-Tang, Roger and Daniel Mason. 2004. Experimental Formats & Packaging. U.K.: Rotovision.

Jury, David. 2006. What is Typography? U.K.: Rotovision.

Woolman, Matt and Jeff Bellatoni. 2000. Moving Type, Designing for Time and Space. U.K.: Rotovision.