on June 8, 2000
As a designer, I am always looking to hone my skills. I thought I was adept at setting type until I found this gem. Bringhurst's study of type covers the obvious to the arcane. Beautifully designed, it illustrates type and their families, page geometry, philosophies of design, and typesetting rules. Master Craftsman, Hermann Zapf (you know -- his faces are in your computer) said himself that "he wishes to see this book become the Typographers Bible". This book is a must for the writer, publisher, designer, and editor because it covers a multitude of topics and rules vital and common to each sector. This is the "Manual of Style" for typesetting. It requires us to think more carefully about the setting of words and its impact on writing: "Typography is to literature what musical performance is to composition -- full of endless opportunity for insight OR obtuseness." I recommend this for anyone even remotely interested in the artform of letters. I highly recommend it for writers considering designing their own books.
on December 8, 1999
This book should be required reading for every graphic designer, book designer, typographer and certainly anyone directly or indirectly responsible for unleashing the current wave of awful typography on an unsuspecting public. Bringhurst covers everything from the basics of type styles to advanced kerning principles to the finer points of page proportions, all in a succint yet engaging way.
Bringhurst does an excellent job of laying out a series of rules and guidelines, while making it clear that these are a starting point, a foundation for good type design, not a set of limitations. He is a poet as well as a typographer, and his eloquence pays tribute to the field as no one else has.
The book features a good deal on the evolution of typography and includes great side-by-side comparisons of typefaces to illustrate specific points. He also deals extensively with punctuation marks, diacritics and the duty/joy of designing type with languages other than English in mind. I find myself returning again and again to the section on the subtleties of page proportions. He also achieves the nearly impossible balance of singing the praises of the old masters while not being afraid of the best of what's new and experimental.
If you were allowed only one book on typography, it should be this one. Bringhurst is a poet. He loves language, written language, and all its parts. That love comes through in the text and the visual presentation of every page.
Bringhurst advocates a subdued typographic style. This makes good sense in the vast majority of cases, since typography is the servant of the text that it carries. Like any good servant, it should be unobtrusive, well dressed, and competent to handle every task it is given, quietly and promptly. Bringhurst demonstrates nearly everything he says, starting first with this book itself.
The book is a beautiful artifact, with an elegant and informative page layout. Body text, side- and foot-notes, references, running titles, and more - they all fit together well on the page. Each kind of information is set off only slightly, but clearly and predictably. The content is well organized: prose in the early chapters, reference material in the later chapters and appendices, and all the intermediates in the middle of the book. Diagrams and tables are minimalist and communicative.
The text spans centuries, from ancient Egyptian page layouts to the rationale behind Unicode. Bringhurst is passionate about typography's history, and insists that it inform every modern decision about print and printing. He embraces the new just as much, and is careful to note the strengths and weaknesses of each typographic technology.
Bringhurst discusses far too many topics to touch on here. In every case, though, he brings his poet's sense to all of the writing, using witty, descriptive language for even the most mundane of technical issues. The one weakness I saw was in the geometry of page layouts. I like his mathematical rigor and esthetic practicality. Still, I think that the number of different constructions was more a tribute to what can be done than to what serves a real need.
This is the best, most complete text I know on book design. As Bringhurst points out, there are lots of other uses for type than books, but he chose books as his subject - I have no problem with that limitation. The only problem I saw, and not really a problem with the book itself, is its subtlety. The nuances (well, most of the nuances) he discusses are important. Beginners, however, may not see the significance of small matters. Once a reader's eye it tuned to the fine detail, however, this book is the most helpful I know.
on April 5, 2001
Good craft teachers are able to teach their students all the skills it takes for their professional life. Great teachers go beyond that: they try to make their students Understand the craft. By telling them about its historical development, by developing their taste instead of just giving good recipes, by showing the inside. In The Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst puts the why before the how. His work is a mix of a very elaborate history of typography, a wealth of discussions on all kinds of big and little subjects any typographer wants or forgets to consider - and yes, also practical advice. For instance, Bringhurst first makes clear why with some fonts, it is inappropriate to use bold - and then he goes on showing how to create up to six visually different levels of subheads without using bold once. Even in such cases, Bringhurst stays far away from soothing his readers with quick and dirty advices. As he explained after finishing the book, he wanted nothing more or less than simply to write a book about typography as good as he could - a truly genuine approach in an age where customer orientation is often taken to the extremes. No wonder Bringhurst values timeless typographical virtues higher than the fashions of the day. Some readers may find the result of this approach a bit too academical or lyrical. For them, other excellent books on typography are waiting on the shelf. For me, Bringhurst is a great teacher.
on March 17, 2001
I work at a typesetting house where we do annual reports for several major corporations- and gosh, it's amazing to see how much Bringhurst's rules apply (or don't) when the too-trendy-for-words designs come in to us.
I bought this book and realized that Bringhurst had put into words what I had vaguely perceived about the drawbacks of putting typographical tools in the hands of people with no training- thus the onslaught of terribly designed self-published books and magazines, poorly kerned commercial signage, and common typographical mistakes ending up in daily newspapers. While some of these are ephemeral, some, like signs, stay around for years, and become part of the visual clutter we have to put up with in our cities.
If I have one complaint about the book, it's that the section on'Shaping The Page' is long on theory and math but short on practical examples. I realize he doesn't want to date the book by pointing out real-world examples (as layouts change with art directors) - but instead of mathematical formulas, perhaps a tutorial CD-ROM, with Quark / InDesign templates and examples, would help designers by giving them something 'real' to dissect and experiment with.
on November 27, 2000
This book is amazing. Whether a newspaper copyfitter or a web graphic designer, this text contains useful and informative information that will help the serious designer firmly root themselves in this oft-overlooked science.
To be fair, this is not a quick, to the point text-- it was written with the serious professional/enthusiast as the target audience. There is no list of rules to follow within. Bringhurst instead explains with detail and enthusiasm the very purpose and history of typesetting, all the while furthering the reader's appreciation and style.
A must buy for anyone who ever has or ever will deal with the printed (on paper or the web) page.
on July 27, 1998
In this book, Robert Bringhurst welcomes us into his world of typography, gently showing us how to approach typesetting problems, how to select fonts, how to conceive of a page and the like. He also describes how historical reality should be taken into account in the design, as well as giving a detailed description of the history and style of many, many typefaces. The book is written with great passion, and contains very sound advice. This book is a must for anyone seriously trying to create a beautiful, readable book.
on April 15, 1998
From the elegant black cover and quality paper to the superbly clean and balanced layout, the book itself stands as physical proof of Bringhurst's skill and credibility in all matters typographical. The content is interesting, highly informative, and extremely comprehensive. It focuses primarily, but not exclusively, on classical typographic style, but the reader is given the reasoning behind everything, and given the knowledge needed to make informed decisions and conscious departures from the 'rules'. This book has done more for my web design skills than any number of 'web design' manuals. I cannot recommend it enough to anyone working with any form of text in any medium.
Serious designers who are beginning their trade, or old hats who might need to be refreshed in typography can benefit from Robert Bringhurst's "The Elements of Typographic Style."
Bringhurst has brought us a thrifty tome of typography. Succinct, he isn't bound to entertain the reader, but educate him.
His glossary of typographic terms will bring you into the know about apertures, dot leaders, nuts and muttons.
Just as useful is his thorough appendix of sorts and characters. With an image of the characters, he explains in a few sentences what characters is when it is to be used properly. He distinguishes acutes from graves from primes from hois from apostrophes. Adjacent to this lexicon is a quick visual index of alphabetic character. This section alone was worth the price for me.
The real science of "The Elements of Typographic Style" is in Bringhurst's bulk of explanations of letter construction, page composition, defining and given shorts histories of classic fonts as seen in specimen books, a great chapter on analphabetic symbols.
I fully recommend this book. Artists, designers, illustrators all should have a copy of this. It reads easier than you might suspect, and would serve as a fine textbook. Writers should read it for no other reason than it is interesting, but to also have pity on our poor designers who must make our words look nice.
on January 31, 2003
Actually, I think the audience for this book is the layman with interest in good typography. I think this book might be a little lacking for a graphics/type professional, but I it fills a void for the layman with an interest in the layout & typography of the printed word.
Bringhust deals with the classic elements of typography, so you will find no mention of poster typography, "modern" movements & the like... He gives great detail in laying out pages, dimensions of pages & font selection. His review of fonts (Prowling the Specimen Books) is worth the price of the book alone.
I really appreciated the "grammar for typographers" he covers (using dashes, etc.) I would love to see a full grammar book written from the book designer/typographers point of view.