Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Elements of Typograhic Style

Within a short time after completing my formal education and entering my profession, I became rather painfully aware that my training in the art and craft of typography had been sorely lacking in many respects. There is an incredibly rich history and a fascinating set of accepted principles and rules which govern typography, the skillful use of letterforms and typeset matter which is a very important sub-discipline of graphic design. These were practically occult to me early in my career. I had some vague sense that they were floating around out there and that others were aware of them and made good use of them, but they were as yet undiscovered by me. After I languished for a couple of years or so in this state, a helpful co-worker (eternal thanks, Jade!) recommended this book. My well-worn paperback first edition copy of Bringhurst’s respected manual still sits within easy reach on my shelf and I refer to it – sometimes out of necessity and sometimes out of sheer delight – on probably a weekly basis, at least. I would say that its contribution to my career has been inestimable, though I have by no means begun to exhaust the vast store of knowledge on the subject and am always captivated to learn more.

There are those who will assert that rules have nothing whatever to do with aesthetic enterprises, to which I say Hogwash! Of course I will grant that the rules have to be employed with a rather loose grip and a free hand, especially when it comes to aesthetics. But even one intent upon bending or breaking the rules (which is appropriate and even obligatory from time to time) must understand them thoroughly if it is to be done with thoughtfulness and effectiveness. (This is true, incidentally, with respect to literature, poetry, music and any other art form as much as it is within the visual arts.)

For all its value, Bringhurst’s book is not without its flaws. In my opinion, these have more to do with what is left unsaid than what is said. (Some of the reviews on, while overwhelmingly positive, do highlight this fact. I would particularly Amen! virtually every critique offered by Erik Fleischer.) Hopefully the author can address these in a future edition. That said, I would consider this a must-have book for every graphic designer and a handsome edition to the library of anyone who has even a casual interest in typography.


  1. Hi Abe!
    welcome to the blog world - great posts here. I've added your blog to my recommended link list on my blog. Check in sometime and take a look -

    good to see you again (in the cyber, artificial sense). speaking of which, are you on facebook?


  2. Great blog, Abe! Thanks for including us in your email.

    Robin Dillard

  3. Abe, I see you have found an outlet for your wonderful writing and analyzing skills. I love the overall theme and content. Thanks for letting me know about it. -Jade

  4. I recall seeing this on your desk for years.