Word for Word: the right type to hold on to readers

Design is part of a book’s form, and a well-made book is always a harmonious marriage of form and content

A font is defined by typeface and point size, and readers can tune out if a publisher chooses a font poorly

A font is defined by typeface and point size, and readers can tune out if a publisher chooses a font poorly

Fri, Feb 7, 2014, 16:35

One of the key decisions in the design of a book is the choice of typeface for its text. Publishers want their books to be as legible as possible. Design is part of a book’s form, and a well-made book is always a harmonious marriage of form and content.

Books vary hugely in their design, and maximising readability and word-for-word accuracy is best publishing practice.

Reviews tend not to mention typefaces unless the choice of face for a book appears to be inappropriate. Even then, reference to books as material objects is limited, as though books differ from each other in content only. A font is defined by typeface and point size, and readers can tune out if a publisher chooses a font poorly.

Home Fires by Elizabeth Day, which was published by Bloomsbury and was favourably reviewed in this newspaper last October, was described in a review in the Guardian as “an elegant, addictive portrayal of a family at war with its past”. The elegance of Day’s fiction is reinforced by Bloomsbury’s choice of typeface, to which there is a lengthy reference at the back of the book.

According to the note on the type, the text was set in Linotype Sabon, named after the French typefounder Jacques Sabon, who was born in 1535 and is associated with forms of Roman type developed by Claude Garamond and others.

The Sabon typeface, designed in the 1960s by Jan Tschichold, is based on a specimen produced by a Frankfurt printer, Konrad Berner, who married Sabon’s widow after the typefounder’s death.

The typeface is legible and readable, precisely appropriate for a novel such as Day’s, which is about disorientation and loss, subjects that require clear and careful presentation.

Most books mention type, usually as one of the preliminaries after the title page, but extended information about the typefaces in books is becoming rarer. It is gratifying that some publishers still acknowledge readers’ appetite for clarity and for a typeface that optimises the reading experience.

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