Be bold with Bodoni
Giambattista Bodoni is my man. The elegant and dignified late-eighteenth-century serif* typeface that bears his name, with sharp contrasts between bold and thin strokes, like calligraphy, was the headline typeface at The Cincinnati Enquirer when I first worked there in the 1980s. It still looks elegant and dignified to me, and I regret that publications have drifted away from it.
But it is only one of a multitude of fonts in Simon Garfield’s entertaining book about typography, Just My Type (Gotham Books, 356 pages, $27.50). Well worth your time and attention.
This blog, for example, is in Arial, a highly readable sans-serif typeface that is nevertheless scorned by many in the trade** who see it as a Microsoft rip-off of the modern classic Helvetica (the only typeface about which, to date, a film has been made). I chose Matthew Carter’s Georgia, a variant of Times New Roman, as the font for You Don’t Say during the [cough] hiatus [cough] because it’s a highly readable serif typeface on a computer screen and coincidentally bears my older sister’s first name.
Mr. Garfield covers the technical aspects of typography—stonecutting, calligraphy, metal punches and casting, up to and including contemporary computer-generated design—clearly and succinctly. He also, in the course of describing the technological changes, sums up the styles that prevailed during historical periods and supplies information about creators of the more notable typefaces.
But his is also a book about aesthetics, the individual tastes and judgments that influence the choices of one font typeface over the other options, tastes and judgments that can be highly variable, and sometimes unfortunate. Now that anyone with access to a computer also has access to a multitude of typefaces allows those judgments to run riot. And the continuing development of new fonts suggests that nothing will soon limit the range of choices.
If you want to examine variations of typefaces before choosing, type them in the word Handgloves. That will highlight the distinctive qualities. Mr. Garfield quotes Stephen Coles of FontShop: “It’s got the straights in the h, it’s got the a and the g, which are the most distinctive part of any typeface, it shows the way a curve meets a straight in the n and the d, and it’s got the round with the o and the diagonals with the v. It’s got ascenders, descenders and it feels good as a shape.”
Just, as you make your choice, stay away from Comic Sans, and, hey, it wouldn’t kill you to give Bodoni a look.
*A serif, if you’re unacquainted with the terminology, is a finishing stroke on the tip or foot of a letter. The typeface called Trajan, named after the carved letters on Trajan’s Column in Rome, indicates how old the serif tradition is.
**Though nothing like the scorn heaped daily on Vincent Connare’s Comic Sans.