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Wayne State University

Aim Higher

Jan 22 / Arielle Nabors

The Elements of Typographic Style

Notes from the first chapter of Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style, pages 17-24.

I read this chapter backwards. It started out so dry & confusing that I had to wonder, “does this guy have a point? He’s talking about durable typography taking the name ‘joy’ and ‘liveliness.’ I don’t get it.” After reading his summary, I was able to go back with a foundation of understanding and get more out of the reading. Here are some things I enjoyed.


Originally (like, when the printing press was the hottest item on the market), typographers were employed as copiers. Prior to the printing press, people had to hand write documents. Can you imagine writing out the entire Bible? People did it. Still, the earliest typographers had to make their books & documents worth reading. They couldn’t throw a bunch of letters and words together and call it a day. They had to spend time considering how the document would look to the reader and make the best composition possible.


With a good composition in mind, typographers were tasked with communicating the message of the text visually. I imagine Bringhurst meant something like this, if you’re going to write a horror story, you probably aren’t going to set the text in the Joker typeface. Not that the typeface had to match the message exactly, but the letters on the page have a job to do in pulling the reader in. The choice of typeface blends with the composition of the page to create a visually appealing document that goes along with whatever message the type is giving.


According to Bringhurst, typographers must also consider non-type elements. How should type wrap around an image on the page? What kind of leading or spacing or separate paging is needed? In addition, Bringhurst goes on to remind his readers to consider the text and other elements as a whole. A typographer may have a great typeface or layout or image, but if there isn’t a blending of those things, the project may go to waste. It is our responsibility as typographers to create text that speaks and draws the eye. I especially like this quote from Bringhurst (p. 23, par 3):

When the type is poorly chosen, what the words say linguistically and what the letters imply visually are disharmonious, dishonest, out of tune.



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