Saturday, 21 March 2009

Finer points in the spacing and arrangement of type

Geoffrey Dowding
Hartley & Marks

This book has been my bible in all things typographic for as long as I have been practicing graphic design. Dowding’s care and attention to typographic detail is very much of its time. First published in 1966 it was a time when typography under the care of the ‘compositor’ or ‘typesetter’ was a time consuming and mechanical affair – using metal type set ‘backward’ – and bore little or no relation to the working methods of today’s designers. Nevertheless, you might be forgiven for thinking – save for the language and description of typographic tasks – that the book was written today, such are the similarities of concern over typographic standards.

Finer points covers questions of setting reading text and display text with the consideration of a master craftsman who’s career included both publishing and teaching – at the London College of Printing for over 20 years.

On the question of typographic standards Dowding reminds us that it is the minutia that deserves our attention for if we care little for the finer points it will infect our work throughout and therefore the finished product. My own experience in arguing that it is necessary to find the time to kern display matter or set small caps or indeed copy-shape reading text has often met with, no doubt familiar to most designers, ‘we just don’t have the time, no one will notice anyway’.

Dowding’s Finer points has considered all things typographic and takes great care in explaining, and showing through illustration, the reasons why setting text in the correct manner matters. It is a book that all graphic designers should both read and refer to continually as it is a book where both answers and inspiration can be found.

As was the case when Finer points was first published so today it remains the case that typographic standards must be aspired to, practiced and defended – constantly! The move from the mechanical setting of type through to digital typesetting is not responsible for the decline in typographic standards. The digital age has brought with it more control and sped-up the production process such, that we have fewer reasons for not attending to the finer points of typography. Unfortunately other forces are eating into the craft. Now like then it is up to the individual designer to stand up for what is right and what is in the best interest of the reader and the craft. Dowding’s Finer points is a good ally in this fight.

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