Pedantry can be found everywhere and in all things, but especially in typography. Previously I’ve written about how our field is used to belittle people and how the subject is weaponized by a small band of rogue pillocks:
…typography is often mistaken for knowing about the right fonts and remembering the names or styles of typefaces. Subsequently typography is often the pedant’s weapon of choice for making people feel dumb. And just as design is not the art of having opinions and tweeting about them, typography is not the art of dunking on people that say “fonts” inside of “type”.
But a while ago I was working with someone who name-dropped the writer and designer Ellen Lupton and ummmm it was weird. After a beat I realized this chap was trying to win an argument by bullying me with a quasi-famous name. And I cannot underline how silly this argument was because I knew that this chap was misquoting her; I knew precisely the book, the page, and the dang ISBN number of what he was misquoting.
This makes me sound like a dork (oops, hello, you caught me) but it left me with a bitter taste in my mouth and wondering what it is about the field of typography and design that make folks behave this way. Where does all this ego come from? Do I do this, too? If so, why can’t we just work on making a good thing without trying to sound like the smartest chaps in the room?
On this note, and for reasons I can’t explain, this week I remembered an old blog post about just this very thing. A reader sent a letter to the Paris Review, asking how to get started with books:
I’m desperate to start some kind of grand reading plan that will educate me about the world but don’t know where to start. The classics? Which ones? Modern stuff? Should I alternate one classic with one recent book? How much should I read fiction? How much should I read nonfiction?
In his reply to all these bubbling questions, John Sullivan tried to put the reader’s mind at ease:
My only piece of advice before recommending some titles would be: don’t fall for the inferiority/superiority racket. We’re not on a ladder here. We’re on a web. Right now you’re experiencing a desire to become more aware of and sensitive to its other strands.
I feel like this is great advice for all things; to see ourselves in a vast web, rather than climbing each rung of a silly ladder. Whenever someone is a real jerk about typography I feel like they’re reinforcing the ladder stereotype and they’re hoping to see themselves above someone else looking up at them.
Typography really shouldn’t be like this. Instead, we should see it as an endless subject with infinite strands; this week I’m on this strand over here appreciating Riggs condensed by Typotheque…
…the week before I was just over there learning about variable fonts with Jason Pamental…
…and then before that I was scrolling through guide.books by Tânia Raposo, a seemingly endless repository of outstanding book design:
But next week where will I be? On which strand will I find myself perched? Who knows! That’s the exciting part about all this; there are multiverses stacked on top of multiverses, strands on strands. And by treating everything like this we can gently place all that ego in the trash where it belongs and instead learn to love the web that we’re all building together.
See you on the other strand,