Designing Type — book review

Reviews by Peter Biľak
270 words2 min read

As a teacher of type design and typography I have always wished to have a book, which I could recommend to my students without hesitation, and so I was excited to receive Karen Cheng’s Designing Type. As the author remarks in her introduction, there are simply very few books that comprehensively explain the type design process.


In the blurb, the 232 page book promises to focus on ‘processes and issues of designing type,’ but the design process is summarized in two pages, while the remaining 230 pages provide a detailed analysis of individual letters. Those isolated characters are measured, dissected and superimposed, creating a useful comparison of the possibilities of the Latin character set, but there is little discussion of how the individual letters relate to each other in combination. In fact, despite the fact that book is extensively illustrated, there are no illustrations of the complete character sets. Cheng focuses on terminology and the miniscule details of type but there is no suggestion of the fundamentals of type creation such as the difference between written and printed type, or more general principles of letter construction. Cursive (italic) construction of letters is entirely omitted, as are the influences of various generating tools. If Cheng’s book had been called A Micro-Analysis of Popular Latin Fonts, then I would have expected the useful educational reference book that it is. But if its ambition is to reveal principles of typeface construction, the book ought to present methodology for creating type, which it does not. In the meantime, I’ll keep hoping for a type design book to recommend to the students.

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    Peter Biľak works in the field of editorial, graphic, and type design. In 1999 he started Typotheque type foundry, in 2000, together with Stuart Bailey he co-founded art & design journal Dot Dot Dot, in 2012 he started Works That Work, a magazine of unexpected creativity, in 2015 together with Andrej Krátky he co-founded, a font rental platform. He collaborates with the choreographer Lukas Timulak on creation of modern dance performances, and together they started, a foundation for interdisciplinary artistic collaborations. Peter is teaching at the Type & Media, postgraduate course at the Royal Academy of Arts, The Hague. Member of AGI (Alliance Graphique Internationale).