The curious shapes of Almost by Jérôme Knebusch caught my eye last week when I read Laura Meseguer’s review.
It’s a difficult question to answer, and it’s one I get pretty often (twice this week, in fact). But thankfully I have several Infinite-Jest-sized rants that I can pull out of my hat whenever someone asks me “why do you care so much about fonts?”
I might begin by bragging about how typography is useful and what problems different typefaces solve, or I could start a fight about how fonts are beautiful, and why that quality in and of itself makes them worthy of our curiosity. Finally, I usually wrap up my self-important screed by wistfully looking out of the nearest window, smoking a pipe, sipping a Scotch, and then (whilst coughing uncontrollably) loudly declare that “language makes us who we are.”
These are the go-to answers I have standing by, but after thinking about it over the weekend I realize now that these are not the most important answers. Or, for me, the most honest.
I care so much about typography and fonts and the art of lettering because it makes me feel safe. I love that there are people I’ve never met who care intimately about the smallest of details; people arguing with themselves in the middle of the night about the shape of a 4 or the bowl of a q (that’s the half-circle bit that connects to the straight line).
Just typing that, I love the thought that there are classifications for our letters (Stephen Coles has a great book about this called The Anatomy of Type that is very much worthy of your time). There’s even genres and histories, entire galaxies and genealogies for the typefaces we see everyday. There are remixes upon remixes, there are new mediums and formats and ten thousand different subsections of the field to learn about. Every letter in a book or on a poster or on a screen was built by someone, or a team of people over an awfully long stretch of time.
I imagine all that work and it makes me giddy.
All of this makes me feel safe though because it’s a very good reminder that we’re surrounded by careful, intelligent strangers who we’ll never meet. And that makes me want to be careful and intelligent, too.
I don’t mean to romanticize the field too much (there’s an awful lot of that)—and type designers most certainly aren’t heroic in any way—except, well, there is a form of heroism to be found in that degree of focus, that obsession with building something, anything, almost regardless of what it is. When I studied at Reading University I watched how type designers would hunch over their typeface proofs, pen in hand, before pinning them to the wall and critiquing them. I desperately wanted to care about something that much, too.
That sort of dedication to the smallest things—the semi-invisible objects that letters are—is nothing short of inspiring. And often when I need a kick to try harder/be better, I grab the nearest type specimen and put it on my desk. Right now I have a real clunker of a book called Tibetan typeforms by Jo De Baerdemaeker and it is intimidating, to say the least.
It’s a reminder that if I don’t care about this one small thing that I’m working on right now then perhaps no one will care about the next small thing, and that might be the one that counts.
Until next time,