dot-font: Stop Stealing Sheep -- Again
"Anyone who would letterspace lower case would steal sheep." That's the quote attributed to Frederic Goudy, the most prolific and well-known American type designer of the 20th century, and it provides the title to this witty guidebook by Erik Spiekermann and E.M. Ginger. Ten years ago, the first edition of "Stop Stealing Sheep" (Peachpit Press) appeared, with its small subtitle, "& find out how type works," as an attempt at a popular guide to using type, for the thousands of people who had fonts on their computers but had no training at all in how to use them.
Now, in an updated Second Edition, the familiar bright-blue cover has been turned into a mostly white one, the subtitle has been blown up to the same size as the title (and printed in eye-catching orange), and a small, discreet drawing of a sheep, looking like an enlarged type ornament, has made an appearance. The new edition aims to continue the work of the old, updated for the 2000s.
Old & Improved!
This edition is a little longer than the first, but no bulkier, and it's structured the same way the first edition was: in two-page spreads, with an illustration on the left-hand page (usually filling the page), the main text running down the inside of the right-hand page, a smaller column of secondary text running down the outside, and examples at the bottom of that page (see figure ). So it's a multi-track book, highly visual, easy to browse and rewarding the reader with amusing examples, lively writing, and wonderfully odd photographs. (It's a pattern that Spiekermann has used since his 1987 book "Rhyme & reason: a typographic novel," although that one had only a single track of text.) This edition is more colorful, since it's printed on a four-color press, but despite a few full-color photos, the design still uses color sparingly, in duotones and restrained spot colors, to keep the focus on type.
Figure 1: The only thing that's changed here since the first edition is the number of typefaces.
The page spreads are mostly the same as they were in the first edition, except where new technical developments have made it necessary to add new information or give new examples, or where the authors have found new illustrations to replace the old (see figure 2).
Figure 2: Several new page spreads have been added to the new edition, to show changes in type technology.
For instance, the first edition shows a table (p. 79) of the numbered styles and weights of Adrian Frutiger's typeface Univers -- the first type family to be designed as a consistent system -- but the new edition shows a table (p. 85, Second Edition) of the new, expanded numbering system of Linotype's updated version, Linotype Univers.
The evocative photograph of a 1940s typing pool (p. 142 of the first edition; p. 152 of the second) still illustrates the authors' argument against cluttering up price lists and timetables and the like with excessive boxes and rules, but in the new edition this page spread is followed by a new one (pp. 154-55) about online forms (with another swipe at boxes and rules, just for good luck). Incidentally, one small improvement in the page design of this book is that the page numbers are now at the top of the right-hand page, rather than at the bottom; in the first edition, too often there was an illustration where the page number should be, and it was hard to be sure what page you were on.
Each page spread makes a particular point, but on two levels: first through the main text and one large, metaphorical image, then through the sidebar text and the small illustrations. I've always felt that the balance between the book's main text and its secondary text was a bit too even, both visually and in the content itself, and this is still true in the new edition. Ostensibly, the main text is for continuous reading and for the beginning user; it approaches the subject in the most informal, colloquial, non-technical way. It reflects the kind of lively metaphor and pithy statements that Spiekermann peppers his talks with, and it's a great way to draw in the reluctant reader, making what could otherwise be an obscure subject come alive.
The secondary text is the "fine print," a running commentary on the margins of the main text, where more specific suggestions and more technical points can be made. But there's a lot of metaphor and verbal tap-dancing in the sidebars, and there are plenty of specific suggestions in the main text. You can read either one straight through, from page to page, without consulting the other, but they work best together. A lot of information gets packed into these pages, in a very entertaining form, but the hierarchy of that information doesn't seem very clear.
Despite that quibble, I would unhesitatingly give this book to anyone who wants to find out about type, especially someone with no design training. "Stop Stealing Sheep" is part of the ongoing, necessary effort by the type world to educate the wider public about type. It's liable to whet their appetite for more, rather than put them off.
But What About the Sheep?
That Fred Goudy quote? It's been corrupted; it originally referred to anyone who would letterspace blackletter, not lowercase -- but both practices are ones that Goudy abominated. Spiekermann and Ginger show, in example after example, what makes certain ways of setting type work and others not work. As they demonstrate convincingly, we need an understanding of how we read type before we can set it well. In a society where practically everybody is using digital fonts -- i.e., setting their own type, whether they know it or not -- this kind of practical guidance is always needed.
Read more by John D. Berry.
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