Category Archives: Typography

I Know She Should Be an Inspiration But, Damn, on Some Level She Really Makes You Want to Quit. Not Quit to Reinvent Yourself, But Just Quit Designing Altogether and Go Work as a Desk Clerk at a Sleazy Motel or Something.


Let’s begin with a bio lifted outright from the credit line of an article Bantjes wrote for the AIGA website (which, in the nature of these things, we will assume is autobiographical):

Marian Bantjes is a designer, artist and writer working internationally from her base on a small island off the west coast of Canada, near Vancouver. She was trained as a book typesetter (1984–1994) and was a straight-up graphic designer from 1994–2003. But it is her more recent, highly personal, obsessive and sometimes strange graphic work that has since brought her international recognition.

If you know her work already then you’ll know what you think of it and whether you want to buy this wonderful little book or not. If you don’t know her work, check out her web-site. Take your time. When you’re done then pop back here (if you can even remember where you started from). We’ll just insert all the price and bibliographic information here in the meantime.

Designer and Design 066: Marian Bantjes
? 2008: Marian Bantjes cdnmapleleaf, Émilie Lamy & Debbie Millman

Marian Bantjes beautiful work integrates calligraphic typography and illustration with astounding originality. So idiosyncratic that it brings to mind everything from the gestural calligraphy of Martin Andersch to Ernst Haeckel’s Kunstformen der Natur to the work of contemporary Iranian designers like Mehdi Saeedi. (2008: Pyramyd Editions; ISBN 9782350171265)


Eye Magazine 72
? 2009: John Walters


OK, so, she’s insanely talented, obviously highly committed to her craft and uncompromising … and has a career vector so extraordinary* that it flies in the face of virtually all design industry convention (and possibly, if you’re a struggling Canadian designer, your assumptions about the nature of the universe). Reading what Sagmeister, Bierut, Millman, and all have to say about her, it seems like it couldn’t have happened to a nicer person. And yes, Bantjes is always very thankful for the support she has received from colleagues and rightly calls attention to her hard work and an undeniably brave decision to give up her traditional design practice to pursue her passion. Seriously though, looking at her website it’s hard not to want to pinch her to see if she is dreaming (and, by extension, that we are all just figments of her nocturnal imagination). A $77,000 Chopard diamond pendant? Really?

Bantjes mentions in her cover story in the current issue of Eye Magazine (oh, did we forget to mention that she has the cover story in the current issue of Eye Magazine?) her regret at not having given up her design practice sooner, but, six months earlier, or later and who knows what might have happened? Chaos theory posits that, when initial conditions are just right, the beating of a butterfly’s wing can start a hurricane. More commonly, however, the butterfly barely succeeds in ruffling a ladybug’s hair. Congratulations Marian but, for everyone’s sake, please don’t pinch yourself.

* I just read the Eye interview and discovered Walters begins with an almost identical observation (he uses “trajectory” rather than vector – which is the word I was looking for in the first place). Damned if I’m going to rewrite now, though it occurs to me that Bantjes is likely pretty sick of the how surprised everyone seems to be by her success. – David


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… simply the decent setting of type and the intelligent layout of pictures based on a rigorous study of content – DB

Much has been made of Jan Tschichold’s time at Penguin and his influence on post-war British book design. However, modernist ideas and asymmetric layout only gradually supplanted Victorian and Edwardian design principles (typified by the inexpensive Collins Classic or the prestige editions of A. & C. Black) and did so through the efforts of many British designers and educators. Of particular importance was a group associated with the Central School of Art and Design in London, chief among them was Anthony Froshaug, who, alongside Herbert Spencer and Edward Wright, shifted the focus of the school’s curriculum away from the lettering tradition toward typography in the modern sense, focusing on legibility and a more austere approach, eschewing ornamentation in favour of clarity and subservience to content.


Notes on Book Design

? 2004: Derek Birdsall

Among the most noteworthy of the Central School’s graduates of this period, Birdsall’s dedication to asymmetric layout, sympathetic use of grids, and flawless integration of text and image provide the clearest expression to the ideals of purity and structure inherent in Tschichold’s new conception of the book. Notes on Book Design presents 360 spreads from some 50 books, designed over a span of 40 years, ranging in scale from Penguin paperbacks to brilliant catalogues raisonné for the Yale Univeristy Press and recently, the complete redesign of The Church of England’s book of Common Worship. This is, quite simply, the most useful and inspiring book on non-fiction book design we have ever stocked. (2004: Yale University; ISBN 0300103476)

Derek Birdsall is also one of the coauthors of the lovely illustrated study Paul Rand: Modernist Designer.

Anthony Froshaug: Typography and Texts, Documents of a Life

? 2001: Robin Kinross, Editor

After Anthony Froshaug’s death in 1984 Robin Kinross was asked to help organize his archive, launching a project that would take Kinross more than 15 years to complete. Froshaug is renowned both as a designer and as an educator, first at the Central School, then at the storied Hochschule für Gestaltung Ulm with Otl Aicher and finally at the Royal College of Art with John Lewis. An innovative approach to biography, this two volume book traces the life and work of England’s most passionate advocate of modernism in graphic design by presenting nearly 500 pages of original source documents, annotated by the editor. The first volume covers Froshaug’s work as a designer and printer and contains many of his writings on typography, the second volume provides day-to-day documents, from correspondence and personal notes to course outlines. (2001: Hyphen Press; ISBN 090725909x)

Pioneers of Modern Typography, Revised Edition

? 1969 (2004): Herbert Spencer & Rick Poynor

Originally published in 1969, Pioneers remains the only comprehensive English-language study of the multitude of twentieth-century avant-garde art movements in relation to the development of modern graphic design and typography. In the introduction Spencer describes the rationale for the work as follows:

Modern typography does not have its origins in the conventional printing industry. Its roots are entwined with those of twentieth-century painting, poetry and architecture, and it flowered quite suddenly and dramatically in the twenty years following the publication of Marinetti’s Futurist manifesto in 1909. – HS

Interestingly, in a review of Spencer’s work, reproduced in volume 2 of Anthony Froshaug: Typography and Texts, Documents of a Life, his Central School colleague seems less convinced of the influence of these movements:

What is not true, is to suggest that the random placing of letterforms, not ranged in lines, has anything to do with the proper business of typesetting, which is the arrangement of characters of constant body dimension from crown to sole of shoes, in words and sentences and phrases, divided according to the mode of their time – using the punctuation and syntax then accepted. – AF

(2004: MIT Press; ISBN 0262693038)

Unfortunately out-of-print is The Liberated Page, an anthology of articles drawn from Spencer’s ground-breaking journal Typographica.

Notes on Book Design: $64.95, now: $34.95
Anthony Froshaug: Typography and Texts, Documents of a Life: $92.95
Pioneers of Modern Typography, Revised Edition: $41.95


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A Forgotten Alchemy: Pencil + Paper = Letterform

Doyald Young has taught lettering at the Art Center College of Design since 1955. Yup, 1955. So, a question that suggests itself: how can any graphic designer be anything more than an historical figure, or worse a nostalgic curiosity, after more than 50 years in the field? In Young’s case, by doing the kind of unique work that elegantly demonstrates exactly what has been lost in the successive waves of mechanization that have characterized the industry. Young’s logotypes and typeface designs are generated by a process of sketching that, while once commonplace, is now an almost complete lost art. Too often today logotype design consists of selecting a font from a three-screen Adobe Illustrator™ menu and then rationalizing the choice with a load of fatuous ‘brand-speak’. Young’s work reminds us that graphic art can be, well, an art.


Dangerous Curves

? 2009: Doyald Young

With an introduction by Herman Zapf, this book offers a foundation course in font and logo design. We almost never cut-and-paste on this blog but, in this case, Young describes his work so nicely:

In Dangerous Curves I have attempted to show both emerging and expert designers how, in an age of computer-dominated design, the designer can turn to their very own hands for both inspiration and solution. The only way to create a logotype that is truly unique is for the designer to transcend the limitations of the available fonts and typefaces on the market. Dangerous Curves provides a roadmap for that very worthy endeavor. – DY (2008: Delphi Press; ISBN 9780967331621

Logotypes and Letterforms

? 1993: Doyald Young

In this beautifully produced volume dedicated to the form and design of logotypes, Young examines the development of 169 logos by reproducing some 300 pencil sketches. The highlight of the book, however, is a chapter which analyses the internal geometric relationships of the italic alphabet, using Young’s own Home Run Script as the example. This information is absolutely unavailable elsewhere and could reasonably be regarded as the philosopher’s stone of font family development. (1993: Design Press; ISBN 083063956X)

Fonts and Logos

? 2000: Doyald Young

A tremendously valuable reference, this overview of type design categorizes 377 fonts, analysing the structure, appropriate use and potential for customization of each category. An additional detailed chapter lays out Young’s own design process step-by-step. (2000: Delphi Press; ISBN 0967331609)

Dangerous Curves: $139.95
Logotypes and Letterforms: $99.95
Fonts and Logos: $112.95


To purchase any of the products or titles mentioned here, please visit our downtown Toronto location, call us toll-free at 1-800-56-swipe or e-mail us at:

Tehran Calling (the Clash of Civilizations Reconsidered)

Whether embraced as a valid political paradigm or derided as shallow, anachronistic reductionism, the “clash of civilizations” has received a great deal of attention over the past decade. Yet, despite obvious historical precedent, one aspect of the process has been consistently ignored: the potential for positive cultural exchange of the type that helped pull Europe out of the dark ages the last time these cultures clashed.

Ever hopeful, we look to several recently published English language books on Arabic and Persian graphic design and typography as evidence of the way in which popular commercial culture can pull an end-run on political or religious authority.



Arabesque: Graphic Design from the Arab World and Persia

? 2008: Ben Wittner, Sascha Thoma & Nicolas Bourquin

This is the most important book on a graphic design subject published in the past year. The work and the tradition from which it springs is astounding, as, in retrospect, was our complete ignorance of its existence. Maybe you already know all about the scene in Tehran (in which case you’ll almost certainly want this book) otherwise prepare to have any presumptions you may have about contemporary Arabic typography and design utterly obliterated. (2008: Die Gestalten Verlag; ISBN 9783899552065)

Iranian Typography: 50 Years of Calligraphy and Typography in Iranian Graphic Design

? 2007: Peter Thomas-Hill

Documenting an exhibition held at the Basel School of Design in 2007 and remounted last year at York University by Borzu Talaie and Behrouz Hariri (here is Behrouz’s article on modern Iranian typography for Ping Magazine), this catalogue focuses primarily on poster and logotype work produced, despite the title, in the past five years. The poster work is particularly interesting and recalls Max Bill or Müller Brockman on the one hand and the great Japanese poster designers of the 1980s, Tanaka, Matsunaga, Toda and Katsui on the other. More interesting than the similarities, however, are the profound differences. As Michael Renner, head of the School states in his introduction, there is clearly no need to fear the advent of a globalized monoculture in graphic design just yet. (2007: Nazar Research and Culture Institute; ISBN 9789646994584)

Arabic for Designers

? 2006: Mourad Boutros

A visual showcase of contemporary Arabic commercial graphics, selected by London-based pioneer Boutros. Along with some lovely successes the books offers several illuminating stories of major cultural mishaps by global corporations. (2006: Mark Batty Publishers; ISBN 0976224550)

Dot Font: Talking About Arabic

? 2009: Mourad Boutros

Arabic calligraphic traditions are intimately linked to the sacred text, consequently any discussion of how to adapt this tradition to the computer age inevitably invokes religious and nationalistic sentiment. In this follow-up to Arabic for Designers, Boutros offers a series of themed essays by a variety of expert contributors which examine the cultural, religious and aesthetic issues raised by digitized Arabic typography. (2009: Mark Batty Publisher; ISBN 9780979554667)

Urban Iran

? 2008: Salar Abdoh & Charlotte Noruzi

An odd and personal piece from novelist Salar Abdoh and Tehran-based photographer and designer Karan Reshad, this collection of photography, graffiti and essays taken from the contemporary Iranian cultural magazine Bidoun, provide unique insight into how young urban Iranians view themselves and their culture. (2008: Mark Batty Publications; ISBN 9780979966613)

Typographic Matchmaking: Building Cultural Bridges with Typeface Design

? 2007: Huda Smitshuijzen Abifares

One of the most ambitious (and controversial) projects in Arabic typography, the Khatt Foundation has paired Dutch and Arabic type designers with an eye to extending recently designed Latin typefaces through the addition of the Arabic Unicode character set. Each of the five collaborations is documented and the broader aesthetic, technical and political issues surrounding the creation of Arabic equivalents to Latin ones are discussed. Additionally the book comes with a cd-rom containing 10 Arabic font developed by the project, licensed for non-commercial use. (2007: BIS Publishers; ISBN 9789063691240)

Arabesque: Graphic Design from the Arab World and Persia: $89.95
Iranian Typography: 50 Years of Calligraphy and Typography in Iranian Graphic Design: $54.95
Arabic for Designers: $43.50
Dot Font: Talking About Arabic: $23.95 (not yet published)
Urban Iran: $32.95
Typographic Matchmaking: Building Cultural Bridges with Typeface Design: $49.95


To purchase any of the products or titles mentioned here, please visit our downtown Toronto location, call us toll-free at 1-800-56-swipe or e-mail us at: