A New Edition of an Old Classic

In early October John Wiley & Sons published the 6th edition of Typographic Design: Form and Communication with two additional authors, Sandra Maxa and Mark Sanders. Originally published by Van Nostrand Reinhold in 1985, for over twenty-five years this textbook has guided students and teachers alike through the journey of their typographic education. The book’s original authors, Rob Carter and the late Ben Day and Philip Meggs, created a text that was both accessible to young students as well as functional in the classroom for the design educator.

I remember holding the book in my hands for the first time while a sophomore in design school. Utterly cool and sophisticated, the pages were filled with amazing examples of how type can best function, look, act and feel. Like a kid in a candy store, I was enthralled with the multiple layers of information, both visual and written–I just couldn’t get enough!

Terms like points, picas, interletter spacing, kerning, legibility, ABA form, Typographic Space and Syntax sprang from the pages. It was the first time I would run across names like Wolfgang Weingart, Dan Friedman, Frank Armstrong, Willi Kunz, Warren Lehrer, Paula Scher and noted historical figures such as Filippo Marinetti, Theo van Doesburg and El Lissitzky. I was made aware of the design process, a complex series of moves and decisions that designers made when creating messages, books, posters and logos. This design process warranted careful attention to every detail and every typographic choice. This tour of the typographic landscape was guided and made possible through this complete resource that included the evolution, anatomy, syntax and legibility of typography.

To help observe the release of the 6th edition I asked Sandra and Mark, the new authors, some questions about how the current edition has progressed and what future editions will explore.

Sandra and Mark founded the interdisciplinary design firm Q Collective in 2001 and are both currently teaching at MICA where Sandra is the Graphic Design Post Baccalaureate program director and Mark teaches various graphic design and interactive design courses. Both are graduates from the MFA design program at VCU and have taught at Rutgers University-Newark, Parsons and in the MFA program at Pratt.

Q1: Can you explain how you became involved and ultimately took over the Typographic Design?

A: Rob Carter and Sandy Wheeler asked us to consider writing the 6th edition at lunch. They told us that they had decided it was time for TD to take a different direction and they thought that new authors would be the best. A year earlier, Rob and Sandy were visiting critics in our classes at Pratt and, although we didn’t know it at the time, they said they were seeing if we were right for the project.

We thought about the offer for a week and then enthusiastically accepted. Rob wrote a letter to the editor at Wiley recommending us and then we wrote a proposal outlining our thoughts for the new edition and it was approved. That proposal became the foundation for the changes and additions we made to the 6th edition.

Q2: Were there any surprises or larger issues that you didn’t foresee at the beginning with this project?

A: A lot of them came from the first-time experience of authoring a book. The process of writing, editing, gathering examples, securing permissions and even designing was much more rigid than we expected. This became even more difficult when our assumption that legacy text would remain the same proved wrong and was subjected to editing. We had other logistical problems like acquiring permissions for contributed content and images.

Like other teachers we continue to find it difficult to put our fingers on what exactly today’s students need to know to build a career that includes constantly changing processes and technology for interactive and kinetic media.

Another big challenge is knowing that the book’s main focus is typography, but wanting to include related topics. If we didn’t maintain that focus the book would have been 600 pages!

Q3: Were there any particular additions or subtractions that were important to your vision? Did any of these prove to be too difficult to add or remove?

A: A goal of ours was to add more information and samples of on-screen typography, both in interaction and in type in time and motion. We also wanted to revise the Design Education chapter to present projects that reflect how designers are currently working with traditional and new media. The same was true for the Typographic Process chapter.

We weren’t able to add as many new images and content as we would have liked due to the page count limit and the time it took to secure new contributions. As we was working on the Type in Time and Motion chapter, we also found it difficult to find examples of kinetic work that would communicate well as printed stills.

It was important to us to restructure the chapters a bit. For example, in the 5th edition, Chapters 3 (Syntax & Communication) and 5 (The Typographic Grid) both discuss grids but were not consecutive. Since the Design Education chapter had grown organically, we re-ordered the projects from basic to advanced. Another change we made was to the glossary. Some words were obsolete or now so common that we didn’t feel they needed to be defined: Downloading, Fax Machine, Floppy Disk, Mouse, World Wide Web, etc.

Q4: Can you speak about your approach to the redesign of the textbook?

A: We prefer to say we refreshed the design. We both marvel at the economy of the typographic system that guided the first 5 editions of TD. There are only 3 typefaces! With few parts, the design effortlessly presents a wide array of illustrations, charts, images and type samples.

By subtly adjusting the proportions of the grid and margins in the new edition, as well as preserving white space at the top of each page via a flow line, we intended a strong resemblance to previous editions. Vertical and horizontal rules build a skeleton for text and image but also illustrate the rigidity and flexibility of grids.

While Univers remains an anchor of the refreshed design, we hunted for another type family that would be a proper complement. We settled on Melior, by Hermann Zapf. It was originally designed as a newspaper text face that allowed for a greater density of letterforms per page while preserving legibility, and appearing light in typographic color. A noticeable but minimal stroke variation enhances the contrast between body text set in Melior, and headings, subheads and figures set in Univers 75.

One final important goal of the refreshed design is to present a greater visual distinction between headings, body text, captions and figures. Grouping images on the inside of pages allows the design to have more predictable white space and further articulates the difference between text and image. This also helps construct a stronger connection between the text and the referenced figures.

Q5: How does the grid system work in the book and what did you want to do with the cover?

A: We think a large part of the design identity of the book comes from its 5-column grid and the prominent flow line from page to page. We carefully added a column to the grid to accommodate more content without adding pages and to give us more flexibility with layout.

Like the covers for the previous editions, the cover for TD6 is designed as an introduction to the grid and type system. We did, however, want the design to be distinct from the previous editions to communicate the change of authors. The cover was definitely the hardest piece of the book design.

Q6: What do you see as the long-term goals of the book and where would you ultimately like to take it?

A: We have always thought of TD as a life-long resource for typography. As a new student you can learn the fundamentals and as you grow as a designer return to the book for inspiration and deeper knowledge. We also see it as an important record of where typography is right now.

We also hope that someone who is not a design student, but who is interested in learning more about typography can use it to develop a deep understanding of the discipline.

We want this book to show the why behind decisions designers make with type, not just the how. Important to this is the information on legibility, visual perception and defining terms like “denotative” and “connotative”.

Q7: How do you use TD:F&C in your classrooms? What projects fit best with your current students?

A: The typographic education chapter is very helpful. The typographic process and case study chapters are a great way to relate what students are learning now about type with the way designers actually work. The samples and illustrations throughout the book are an invaluable resource for demonstrating the fundamentals of typography as well as how those principles and methodologies can be creatively explored and communicatively ignored.

Sandra uses the book as a reference when working with post baccalaureate students, many of whom are new to graphic design but have broad experience in other visual disciplines like art, photography or architecture. They want to see reference materials for how grids work, or quickly clarify which classification a particular typeface belongs to. We also use the book to show examples of experimentation and process.

Q8: Do you see design education and specifically typographic design education changing? If so, where do you think it is going and how can the book help facilitate this?

A: Yes, it is changing. Although for me it’s more helpful to identify what hasn’t changed. Change is a moving target. Establishing what fundamentals apply to all typographic media is a necessary constraint that at least allows a point of entry. Then you can leverage these fundamentals into new ways of thinking. In the book we try to show many ways of applying type, demonstrating the flexibility and communication opportunities with each medium.

Also, typographic systems that utilize modularity are very common. The scope and range of design systems are ever expanding. And with dynamic content, typographic design must now embrace fluidity and variability as fundamental principles.

The students we work with come to class with expectations and preconceived notions about working with type and media. Some of our teaching focuses on getting them to look critically at what they are seeing in their immediate physical and digital environments. We think it’s important for them to evaluate what they see, how it works, and whether it’s communicating.

Q9: How does “User Experience Design”, or “User Interface Design” and or “User Generated Content Design” play a role in typographic design education.

A: These categories of design all require a fundamental understanding of how type functions. A majority of new designers will only be working with type on screen, so in the future we don’t see a need to distinguish between type presented in different media or environments. Good type is good type.

I’ve been teaching type hierarchy through mark up and style sheets. Principles like hierarchy, composition, grid, contrast, margin and flow can be quickly prototyped and modified. The student’s choices are spelled out right in front of me, which allows me to compare intention and actual output.

We really enjoy taking fundamental typography exercises and adapting them to new media. Sometimes the effect is even clearer when seen on screen and the student has had a direct hand in creation through code.

Q10: How might this or other streams of research be reflected in subsequent editions?

A: We have lots of ideas. One example is that movement is now tightly integrated with interaction. Almost all feedback consists of some form of animation. Typographers in interactive environments must be comfortable working with type in motion. While in the current edition of TD these two areas are distinct, there has to be much greater crossover in the next edition.

As more designers work almost exclusively on screen, learning through physical engagement will become our focus because it is more stimulating and possibly retained better. However, there are modern ways we can work with old technologies like 3D printing typefaces for letterpress which we could address in future editions.

We’re interested in expanding the content to dive much deeper into how we use motion and kinetic typography to communicate in apps, websites, etc. Small movements are key to providing feedback to users and can enhance the delivery of information, or provoke a response.

Q11: I know that the 4th edition has a digital companion piece designed by Chris Malven http://www.typographicdesign4e.com … will there be a digital component to the 6th edition or future iterations of the book?

A: Wiley is preparing an on-line resource guide for the book. Since a lot of our professional work is interaction design we’re thinking of creating other online or interactive ways of exploring the book. Nothing specific right now, but as we move to future editions, we’d like to further/better engage the community of designers interested in the book and in typography.

As design education moves forward thorough and genuine resources such as Typographic Design and others become even more vital to the health and prosperity of our discipline. Ultimately, our collective future depends on how we continue to best educate forthcoming generations and instill in them the importance of typography and typographic excellence.

Thank you to Robert Gonzalez and Tiffany Hale for their comments and suggestion.


Ned Drew is a Professor at Rutgers University-Newark where he heads the Graphic Design Program and is a Visiting Professor at Pratt Institute within the GradComD MFA Program. Drew is the co-editor of Design Education in Progress: Process and Methodology, Volumes 1, 2 and 3, and co-author of BY ITS COVER: Modern American Book Cover Design and Purity of Aim: The Book Jacket Designs of Alvin Lustig. Drew is also a founding partner of the multi-disciplinary design firm, BRED based in New York City (www.brednation.com) and the Director of The Design Consortium, a student/teacher run design studio that focuses on non-profit, community-based projects.

By Ned Drew
Published October 19, 2014
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