Part 2: Research point – examples of typography and typesetting

‘Identify some examples of typography and typesetting that you find satisfying to read. Look at typography and typesetting from the point of view of legibility and your ability to engage with the reading of it, but also from the wider sense of reading a text. In terms of book typography, it would be very frustrating if a graphic designer’s choices or style got in the way of the reading the text, but does Beatrice Warde’s argument follow for other forms of text? How does Jonathan Barnbrook’s approach – and that of other postmodernist designers – change how we read a text? Reflect on your chosen examples in your learning log.’

Beatrice Warde (1900-1969) was an American writer, and expert on typography. She’s best known for her essay ‘The Crystal Goblet’. She firmly believed that print should be legible, and that the reader be able to read comfortably without being consciously aware of the layout.

In a 1959 radio interview, whilst in Australia, she stated:

“The great thing about printing is it should be invisible. You should know what the author or the writer is saying, and not be adversely affected by any show-off-ism or ugliness or sloppy look about the medium through which his words are being conveyed”.

Sensible woman.

Graphic designer, typographer and film maker Jonathan Barnbrook (b.1966) trained at St Martins, and has (as you might guess) a more modern outlook.

His work is pretty well known – I particularly like his typeface Mason.


Maximum points for designing album covers and custom typography for David Bowie.


As a typeface designer, he enjoys not only designing type, but giving his work dodgy names for shock value: Moron, Bastard, Exocet, False Idol, Infidel, Olympukes. Can you tell he likes hanging out with Damien Hirst?! OK. To be fair, names such as ‘Infidel’ are directed at American foreign policy.

Jonathan Barnbrook believes in “design as a weapon for social change”. The ethics of design is an important and interesting debate….Um, I must be getting horribly cynical though, because I’d like to think his stance means he designs giant Greenpeace posters for free….But I’m not sure he does. I’m not saying everyone can or should work for free, but I don’t find political statements that moving or inspiring in isolation.


Anyway. Back to the point. Here’s some examples of ‘typography and typesetting that [I] find satisfying to read…’

Actually, first is some examples that I find uncomfortable to read.

Firstly an OS map. They have a lot of text to fit in, consequently its too small for my taste!


Its all centred, but its scattered about, with more capital letters than is strictly necessary?


Justified text with great big holes in it.


An awful lot of characters per line… Wiki always has a sprawling measure, I sometimes actually plant my finger on the line so I don’t get lost. Not good for my computer screen!


What about illegible text? I would argue its all about context. For example, the writing on the David Bowie artwork is clearly not intended to be legible – I think it looks great. BUT sometimes designers put arrange all the lyrics in a way that is barely legible, and that drives me crazy! If you include them, please make them readable. Some of us want to sing along (yes, even very tunelessly)

I love generous margins! (And the type on the right is bold enough to show clearly against the blue background)


Really clear chapter headings with plenty of white space


HUGE headings! And nice bite sized columns – but not too narrow.



You can’t get type clearer than this!


Obviously I’m not mad enough to actually spend money on Farrow & Ball paint. But they do have lovely design work. The point size is quite small, but the leading is generous so I can read it!


Again with the nice clear headings, and comfy leading.


Clearly marked text and images. Not cluttered.


Not the prettiest book on the inside, but a practical manual about digital layout. Based on the idea of keeping things simple and clear. A viewer wants to view information with no annoying visual distraction or confusing layouts and its the designers job to make life easier, not harder!


This layout by Andi Lozano is great – the body text is perfectly readable, which is the part that needs to be clear!


Not so keen on Balkan Sans. It looks cool, but I wasn’t sure it was in English at first. As a reader I don’t like typography where I’m asking myself am I supposed to be reading this? Sometimes my response as a reader is the opposite to my ‘baby designer’ opinion.


Again, design wise it looks great, but am I mean to read it? No idea.


Stop it now. I’m pretty sure Beatrice Warde would not be happy. I’m not either. What do you want me to do with this page? I feel ripped off if I pay for print that look like this!!! Yeah, yeah, its typographic Jackson Pollock. Its still just texture that takes up space in some sort of publication where I want actual words or image please. (Yes I am a grumpy reader)


Conversely, I like these and I don’t care I can’t read them!




Calligraphy thats elegant and actually still readable


I think we can safely conclude I’m not that down with the Post Modern grunge posse.

I feel legibility is the Most Important Thing…Except when its not.

This letter from my friends daughter has pride of place on my fridge. And its wonderful.













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