I Love Typography

Made With FontFont

BOOK REVIEW

Made With FontFont: Type for Independent Minds is a celebration of 15 years of the FontFont type library. The low-down (why do we never say “the high-up”?): it’s big, it’s yellow, has 351 pages and it’s divided into an introduction and five sections.

Introduction

A brief history of the founding of type distributor FontShop by Spiekermann in 1989; the beginnings of the FontFont type library and of FontShop International (FSI), the font publisher.

1 Thinking FontFont

An anthology of essays and type critiques.

2 Talking FontFont

Interviews with five FontFont designers. My personal favourite is Christopher Burke on Type (pages 132–145), the type designer behind faces like FF Celeste and FF Parable, and author of Paul Renner: The Art of Typography.

3 Making FF

Type designers visualise their motives, methods and sources. Includes a short and entertaining piece by Nick Shinn on A Brief History of Fontesque.

4 Showing FontFont

A collection of contemporary type specimens. Too many to list here; and anyway that would spoil it for you. Some of my favourites are in there: Scala, Eureka (I always think of Eureka as the typeface that punches you in the face, then throws water over you to rouse you from your knuckle-induced stupor). Eureka Serif is in my opinion the French Madam of serifs. Use it; you’ll fall in love with it—the face, not the French Madam, that is.

5 Made With FontFont

FontFont Fonts in use in the ethereal and prosaic worlds. An essential section. Type specimens are great, but it’s not until one sees a typeface in use—in the real world—surrounded by noise and nonsense that it really earns its keep.


I have recently finished re-reading this bright yellow type tome, and have concluded that it’s one of the very best books on type. Initially, I was reluctant to buy this title because it’s a book about a single type library, However, the FontFont library is pretty big.

I also thought that perhaps it’s nothing more than a big ad for FontShop aimed at flogging more fonts. Sell more fonts it will undoubtedly do, but reading this book will reveal its true intentions.

Behind this book, and woven through its pages is a passion for type—I guess that comes as no surprise when one sees Spiekermann’s name on the cover. If enthusiasm for type were hard currency, then he’d be the richest man in the world.

If you were to quickly flick through this book, then you might easily mistake it for yet another one of those insipid follies, those coffee table adornments, the kind of books you could put together from the ad pages of Vogue, and other flotsam. Made With FontFont is different, and is worth spending your money on.

My only criticism is the cover. Don’t get me wrong, I love yellow—and it’s very yellow; but I hate the cover design and the silly paint dribble nonsense on the spine. However, behind the awful cover (you may love it) is a 350-page type feast, so go on gorge yourselves. You’ll find that you’ll just want to lick some of the pages (I hope I’m not the only one suffering from such urges).

Made With FontFont is many Things: it’s a history of the founding of the FontFont library; it’s an inspiration with its numerous examples in as many faces and design styles; and you’ll come away from it with a greater appreciation for type and typography.

From a personal perspective, some of the examples of type use have helped to dispel some of my own type prejudices; and brought me to look at some long-disdained typefaces in a completely new light.

And Finally…

Perhaps it’s a small thing, but I think it’s important: you all know dummy text or filler text, that lorem ipsum and other equally unintelligible nonsense?

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetuer adipiscing elit. Etiam id mauris. Phasellus hendrerit. Vivamus egestas mi in nisi. Quisque nibh. Aenean ipsum nulla, fringilla ut, rutrum in, feugiat ultrices, ante. Nunc nec diam quis odio laoreet tristique. Mauris tempor venenatis neque.—Anonymous

Well, this book’s dummy text is not a dummy at all. Most of it makes for interesting reading; some of it contains some real gems:

Advertising and design serve to amplify the value of useful things.—originally from Ellen Lupton’s Mechanical Brides.

So rather than the dummy text being a brazen waste of good white space, instead it’s filled with readable and informative copy. That’s the crux really—it’s readable. How many of you read the lorem ipsum paragraph above? My guess is that none of you read it (unless you’re insane or very bored or both, in which case you’ll need to flick through another yellow book until you reach the 0800 SHRINK section).

Type only comes to life when we read it. Our “reading” eyes do to type what Jesus did for Lazarus—they resurrect it. Lorem Ipsum is the dead fish of type—it’s useless and it smells. Now you know why it’s really called “dummy text”. (for some alternatives see Dummy Generators, or use copy from public domain books.)

And finally, finally, if you want a great type book, buy Made With FontFont. If you don’t like it, I’ll give you your money back (did I really say that?).

Have you read it? What do you think?

Coming soon we have the second part in our hugely popular So You Want to Create a Font, by iLT’s US correspondent Alec Julien; and lots, lots more type goodness. If you haven’t already done so, then Subscribe to I Love Tyography and fill your RSS reader with typographical loveliness.


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  1. Hmmmm, so many books. So little money.

    I’m with you on the cover Johno. Just because the foundry has a massive library of fonts, doesn’t mean they can show 30% of them on the cover. Haha.

  2. Cody (definitely from Tokyo and not Osaka)

    Haha! These type and design books are not cheap, though if you could manage to go without food for 3 or 4 days…. ;)

  3. Haha! Well, I could always eat at Yoshinoya or Matsuya for 3 weeks (oh god, the thought).

    PS - あの時来たぞ!MR. ILTのタイポグラフィ見たいからさぁ。もし時間があるならメールで見せて。

  4. I’m really glad you reviewed this, as I never would’ve considered buying it otherwise. LIke you, my first thought would’ve been “uh oh — giant, yellow advertisement!” Unlike you, I wouldn’t have had a second thought.

    My obsession of the day is Scala. What a strange, beautiful font! At first glance, it’s just a lovely serif face:

    But notice the seemingly arbitrary decision to leave some lobes open while closing others. And look at the slab serif on some characters and the traditional serif on others. Somehow it all works together.

  5. Alec

    Yes, Scala is lovely; it’s funny you mention those “open counters”. When I see it at large point sizes, I always have an urge to fill in the gaps with my pencil.

    I was trying to think of other faces like that; the only other ones that immediately spring to mind are something like Garamond and Goudy Old Style—their P-cap’s have open counters.

    Off the top of my head, I can’t think of other faces that have these open counters in the lowercase….I might introduce some into my own serif :)

    BTW, there’s a great article My Type Design Philosophy by Scala’s designer Martin Majoor.

  6. Very nice book indeed. But as Cody said: “Too many books, too little money”.
    However, I am currently eating cereal without anything, because my fridge is empty. If I continue in this tradition I might just buy a book or two…;-)
    Oh, and johno: do you still want an illustration? We could do a test on one of your articles…

  7. Squawk
    Is that a violin I hear playing in the background? ;)

    I think I need to offer one of these as a prize (if FontFont donate one ;) )

    I’ve just sent you a mail about the illustrations. Love that Nuts and Bolts piece.

  8. Masud

    Are you sure you meant to put this youtube link. Because that one’s a mock video of Steve Jobs…

    And mmm tasty Helvetica in the comments form.

  9. A violin? Strange thought or am I missing out on any English idioms. Thanks for the comment on Nuts and Bolts.

    A note on the prizes: You also might want to check this out: http://www.typoart-freunde.de/
    (The site is in German, but the book that they have produced is universally applicable;-) I heard that it was supposed to be very nice to look at.

  10. Masud
    Yes, that’s the right link. It also shows BG running (that’s why I linked to it). Thanks for stopping by.

    Squawk
    I was referencing those sad, heart-rending films, with the violin playing in the background. Thanks for the link. That book looks interesting; like the packaging too. I’ll take a closer look.

  11. Ugh, Scala! That seemingly arbitrary use of open lobes drives me crazy. It distracts the hell out of me, has me staring at the letters more than reading the words they form. The larger issue would seem to me to be why liking tuff like that is arbitrary. I mean, I could talk about symmetry and uniformity, but the truth is, the first time I notice a Scala “b” and a “d” near each other, I involuntarily said, “Yech!” before any intelligible words came to me. Now there’s something I’ll wonder about all day long. Like a song you can’t get out of your head. Thanks a lot! Heh heh.

  12. Cody
    今めっちゃ忙しくて時間がないねん。。。ブログ書くので精一杯で自分のタイポグラフィーやる時間がつくられへんのよ。。。でも時間が出来たらメールするわ!

  13. Thanks for the review, John. I was actually somewhat interested in this book when I saw it on the FF site, but I probably put it off for the same reason as many others — you think it’s just a big ad. It’s nice to hear that there’s more too it.

    Also, I love your idea of putting away Lorem ipsum dolar… as the standard filler text. There are hundreds of great public domain books available online, only a copy & paste away.

  14. @Johno — I did a little snooping around on MyFonts.com. Here’s one other font with open lobes: Fedra Serif.

    @Steve — Sorry to raise the spectre of Scala and open lobes. I wonder if there’s some sort of support group you could join… ;) Seriously, I get what you mean about the visceral reaction to Scala. Certainly the open lobes could be a distraction for a body text font. On the other hand, without people pushing some boundaries on these body fonts, we’d be stuck with a few variations on the classics, and what fun would that be?

  15. Well it looks like I’m going to have to check this one out. Who says you can’t have to many type books. What interest me is that the dummy text is turned into quotes. I look forward reading some of them.

  16. Weren’t you going to give this one away? Or perhaps it past and I missed that contest, too. Grr. I need a t-shirt consolation prize.

  17. It’s not the open lobes per se. It’s the uneven use of them. Surely the d and p ought to have one. Perhaps the g. I’d love to know the thinking behind the changeable design.

  18. I was wondering the same thing LaurenMarie

  19. Hamish
    Thanks for that better link.

    Alec
    Yes, of course. I bet I’ll be seeing them everywhere now.

    Stephen
    I couldn’t find any info on that partucular feature. Would be interesting to know the rationale behind it—if there is one, that is.

    LaurenMarie & Robert
    Yes, I was going to, but my prize “fund” is almost empty. I do, however, have two other books and a magazine, still in their wrappers, that are just waiting to be given away:

    The Elements of Typographic Style
    Typography Today
    Special typography issue of Idea Mag

    That reminds me, I must chase the winners of the two Thinking With Type books for their photos—classic cheesy grin with book shot.

  20. Okay, so I finally followed the link above and read “My Type Design Philosophy” by Scala’s designer Martin Majoor. It prompted me to leave the following comment, five years after the article was written.

    It will be interesting to see whether I can raise Mr. Majoor and get any knd of answer. What I wrote was …

    “Well, okay, maybe type design philosophy is a bit much. I’ve been a freelance book designer, page compositor and layout artist for about 15 years. From there, I’ve backed into an interest in designing types. I’ve come to your article five years late after making a comment about Scala on a typography website, but I read it eagerly.

    “If I can get my thoughts straight and actually overcome my inability to draw, I might just design a typeface family of my own, containing both a serif and serif for use in a book project. But that is certainly a long-term issue.

    “What I would like to ask you concerns the sometimes open lobes and sometimes not in Scala. I find it a little jarring, and wondered why you wouldn't do them all one way or the other. I find it distracting—it interferes with my reading of something set in Scala, because I stop and compare the letterforms—that “b” and “q,” for instance, have the open lobes, but their virtual mirrors, “d” and “p,” do not. How did that come about, and—more importantly—why?

    “Thank you.”

    Whattaya think my chances are of getting an answer?

  21. やっぱ忙しいんだ!しょうがないなー
    最近は忙しくなちゃった!今いいプロジェクト探してるわ。

    You speak such Kansai / Kyushuu dialect. Kind of wasn’t expecting that! Haha.

  22. Ah! Speaking of Scala. Someone brought up the point of classic serif and slab serif used.

    I remember in typography class when I was making a slab serif my teacher said, “Many serif fonts use an alternate serif for the bottom of a few letters. Mostly p, q, y and sometimes letter with high ascenders t, f, h, b, d, and k.” Apparently it’s not uncommon to see a slab serifs and traditional serifs used for readability and balance of the letter form.

    I think this is similar to what he said. It was a few years ago now.

  23. Sounds good John, keep us in the loop. :)

  24. Masud

    Oh, I get it. Sorry for being slow!

  25. Stephen
    Not sure, but if you do receive one, then be sure to let us know.

    Cody
    …with a little help from my friends ;) Very interesting what you say about that serif mix. I’m not sure that that rationale stands up; I’ll have to take a closer look.

    Masud
    No problem. I’ve be known to be slower :)

  26. I guess it’s become obvious I’m not going to get an answer from Mr. Majoor. But that leads me to wondering whether you couldn’t invite in for a session on ILT—perhaps for a guest stint or an interview—any for-real, serious pro type designers. God knows how much we could all learn from even a few lines from the likes of them.

  27. Stephen
    That’s a very good idea. It’s worth a try. I’ll mail him.

  28. You know, I’d almost be willing to conduct the interview with Mr. Majoor myself. I mean, by written questions-and-answer, if you could get it arranged, and—of course—to appear on ILT. Tho’ I’m not sure you’d see that as beneficial to you or not.

    Since I’m having major server problems with my website, I can’t do anything there yet anyway. I’m getting close to looking for a new, inexpensive but more reliable host.

  29. Bálint Magyar

    I don’t understand your opinions about Lorem Ipsum. Forgive me, if I’m being ignorant, I’ve only started getting into typography and design a couple of years ago. As I understand it, Lorem Ipsum is just that: dummy text. It’s incomprehensible for the sole purpose of just LOOKING like comprehensible text. It does not let the mind wander about the content, it allows the observer to concentrate on nothing but the layout.

    To me, this seems logical and practical.

  30. Balint
    You have been a typographer for a few years now and you aren’t sick of looking at Lorem Ipsum? Also, in a book like this, would you want to see Lorem Ipsum as dummy text? No. I personally would not pay for a book with a word of Lorem Ipsum in it.

  31. Bálint
    You’re certainly not being ignorant; but this is the point:

    Text serves one sole purpose—and that is to be read. When layout becomes more important than the text it is intended to support, then something is wrong.

    There is, of course, nothing wrong with “dummy text” per se; but it must be remembered why it is we use a layout (a grid) in the first place—simply to enhance or say to the reader, “here I am, read me!” The layout is the supporting act; the copy, the text is the star attraction. Dummy text that can actually be read, then is more realistic; it’s not until we can actually read the text that we can begin to form objective opinions about the entire page. And often times, it’s not until we actually READ the text, that we see problems with the layout.

    With a book like Made With FontFont—by its very nature—if it were to employ “dumb dummy text”, then it might as well be called, Made With Lorem Ipsum. And on that point, I’m with Cody.

    I’d be interested to know what others think about this particular topic. Perhaps it’s high time we start a “Banish Lorem Ipsum” campaign. Let the revolution begin! “You can take our families, you can take our homes. But you can’t take our text! Into the fray, comrades!”

    Thanks, Bálint.

  32. ConTeXt has a meaningful dummy text (nice oxymoron)

    \starttext
    \input tufte
    \stoptext

    We thrive in information—thick worlds because of our marvelous and
    everyday capacity to select, edit, single out, structure, highlight, group,
    pair, merge, harmonize, synthesize, focus, organize, condense, reduce,
    boil down, choose, categorize, catalog, classify, list, abstract, scan, look
    into, idealize, isolate, discriminate, distinguish, screen, pigeonhole, pick
    over, sort, integrate, blend, inspect, filter, lump, skip, smooth, chunk,
    average, approximate, cluster, aggregate, outline, summarize, itemize,
    review, dip into, flip through, browse, glance into, leaf through, skim, refine,
    enumerate, glean, synopsize, winnow the wheat from the chaff and
    separate the sheep from the goats.

    althought i personally like lorem ipsum. it is a traditional part of the
    mysticism surrounding typography :)

  33. Bálint Magyar

    Cody and johno, thank you for your insightful replies.

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