7/25/2013 - Leave Playing with Type atop a coffee table or vacant desk and it’s almost certain that someone will pick it up.
It happened when author Lara McCormick’s brother plopped it on a table at his workplace shortly after the book’s February publication (he’s a stockbroker), and it also happened in the Hippo office last week. Folks commented on it, flipped through it, and they even asked to borrow it, in person and through yellow sticky notes.
Of course, that was the point of the design.
“I wanted the cover to be super sexy and juicy, something enticing, so that people would want to pick it up,” McCormick said in a phone interview.
An artist and chair of the New Hampshire Institute of Art graphic design department, she knows a thing or two about creating typeface eye candy.
Her book, Playing with Type: 50 graphic experiments for exploring typographic design principles, is like an encyclopedia for typography projects. Typography, for those unfamiliar with the term, is the art and technique of arranging type. This involves selecting typefaces, point sizes, line length, space adjustment and various other elements of type that the average person probably doesn’t think a whole lot about.
The idea for the book began to form when McCormick started teaching. She was looking for exercise ideas to teach her students. She looked on blogs and websites and did some extensive Googling.
“I thought that surely, somewhere on the Internet, there has to be a place like that … I found a bit here and there, and at the same time, I talked to peers and other educators,” she said.
But there was nothing substantial.
So when one of her mentors in New York, Steven Heller (an art director at The New York Times for 33 years), recommended that she write a book on this idea, she jumped at the chance.
“In the back of my mind, I was thinking it would make a great tool for educators,” she said.
The book was initially meant for people who knew and loved typography (those people, she said, are often called “typophiles”).
Some of the 50 hands-on projects (all of which are accompanied by examples by New Hampshire Institute of Art students and professional artists) are those she developed herself when she began teaching. Others she collected, online, from peers and from other educators.
But the book turned into an informal guide that anyone can appreciate.
“The audience for whom the book was intended is very broad. … I think that sometimes, design books can come off a bit difficult to understand. They can alienate people, especially those that assume that the person reading it knows a lot about typography,” she said. “But this book is both for beginners and for people who have been working with type.”
Why typography is important, or at least is interesting to know, is explained not literally but through these images and designs plotted among the pages. The fact that the book is catchy enough to pick up (multiple times, and in a stockbroker’s office) also illustrates this idea.
“It’s helpful [to know about] because if you know a little bit about typefaces and their history and which ones go together, which ones don’t, people will pay attention to a letter you’re writing or a flier you’re designing,” McCormick said.
You’ve probably seen some of these concepts illustrated in posters, signs, invitations, because, as she explained, they’re the ones you pay attention to. One of McCormick’s favorite exercises is playing with chalkboard type, as illustrated on p. 114. Chalk, she said, is accessible, reminds viewers of childhood and it’s especially popular right now.
“Lots of storefronts are using chalk lettering on their signs,” she said.
This is especially trendy in coffee and sandwich shops — many of these shops actually hire trained letterers to design these boards, she said.
The exercises go on; p. 39 encourages readers to manipulate type by inserting gaps within and connecting letters, while p. 52 shows readers how combining contrasting typefaces “prevents redundancy, offers texture and gives each a different role.” Hand lettering is described on p. 104 (good typography is meant to be clear and easy to read, while lettering has some wiggle room), and on p. 158, you get giant cross-stitch type.
More than anything, she hopes the book encourages people to have fun with type.
“For artists, the hardest part is starting a project. Hopefully, the book will be incentive for people to just play with type.”