Effectively working with type is a craft in and of itself. Having the ability to use typography to solidify a design is something I hold in high regard as an admirable talent. There is a rich history behind the art of type and Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton goes to great lengths to describe much of that history.
Thinking with Type is definitely not a book about fonts. Instead it is, as stated on the cover, a critical guide for designers, writers, editors & students. The book is rich in information and examples which extensively help to visualize the various styles, theories, and methods discussed throughout.
The book helps you to answer questions about the kind of font to use, how big it should be, alignment details (down to letters, words, and paragraphs) as well as taking into consideration the order, spacing, and shape of the text. There are sporadic details about specific type faces throughout the book, but they’re used to support the surrounding ideas. You learn more about character design as opposed to font face design.
Organization of Thinking with Type
The book is very well organized, separating content into three main sections: Letter, Text, & Grid. Beyond that, an extensive appendix is provided which includes information about punctuation, editing, and proofreading.
There wasn’t a page in this book I didn’t learn something from. As stated in the introduction, it was written to act as a textbook for Luptons students, but doesn’t read like one in the least. There are pages full of visual examples with snippets explaining not only the designer, but the era the work was associated with and the significance the work holds in typographic history.
If I had to choose a favorite section
I would have to say that out of the three main sections, I found the Grid to be the most fascinating. Grid based design is a solid foundation for supreme work, and reading about its evolution through history was quite interesting to me.
The only thing I didn’t care for
While typography on the Web was not a main focus of this book, Lupton took the time to include details where appropriate. One of those times was when she wrote about the Grid. Tabular based designs were directly compared to the Grid, and spoke of in fair light. Lupton explained both sides of the story when working with tabular layouts and explained the accessibility troubles associated with such a technique. My only issue was that at the end of the day it was left that using tabular layouts was acceptable if your data was more or less linear.
While not disastrous (this is a book about type) some Web designers could be swayed from reading those few sentences. What counts is that the author raised the associated negative issues with using a tabular design, leaving it up to the reader to make an educated decision about what to use.
A highly recommended read
Overall, I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who has an interest in typography. It is very important to keep in mind, however, that it is not a book about fonts. Instead it is a resource for information regarding the history of type.