Assignment 8b

The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst

This reading offered an insight into the world of typography with the author, Bringhurst, laying out the essential first principles of typography—a grammar of good taste based on the relationship between form and content of textual matter. He introduces the essence of typography in very poetic statements in his first chapter.

" [Typography] takes various forms and goes by various names, including serenity, liveliness, laughter, grace, and joy...."

"...[in a badly designed book] the letters mill and stand like starving horses in a field...."

"...[in a book designed by rote], they sit like stale bread and mutton on the page...."

"...[in a well designed book] the letters are alive. They dance in their seats. Sometimes they rise and dance in the margins and aisles...."

He then goes on to detail the rules for the visual and geometric arrangement of typography in later chapters.

The Grand Design

In this chapter Bringhurst starts off by discussing why Typography is needed and how it can enhance the written text subtly yet effectively. He says Typography can be used to draw attention to a piece of text before it is read and then relinquish the attention so drawn for the text to be read. Some of the key features associated with good Typography are durability – superiority to fashion without being immune to change, the ability to link timelessness and time, legibility and the ability to make even a banal page of text come alive.

He then moves on to some key points that should be kept in mind while doing typography. How one should always associate a specific typographic style to a specific text and not to any text. Thus before even beginning to design a typographic layout for a text one should read and thoroughly understand the meaning conveyed by it so that the inner composition can be effectively revealed using typography. Also, how the relations between text and other elements (photographs, notes, etc.) associated with it should be exposed ant not under or over exposed. While choosing a font for a text one needs to make sure that no disharmony is injected into the text between what the text says linguistically and what it appears to say visually. The two should well go hand in hand. Along with choosing a font goes shaping the page style and both should aim to bring out the nuances and relations between the various elements of the text without hindering the flow of the text or getting in the way of the structure and order of it.

Rhythm and Proportion

Here, Bringhurst gives emphasis to the horizontal motion and vertical motion of typography – the design principles behind spacing of letters, words, sentences, lines and paragraphs. He also touches upon the principles behind designing Blocks and Paragraphs, and a few mannerisms for hyphenation.

He begins by comparing a good typesetting to a cloth that has been weaved and can be torn apart if the spacing of letters, lines and words is done carelessly. Firstly, the word space should commiserate with the font size and color. It should also consider the language itself where inflected languages Latin need smaller word space as compared to uninflected languages like English. Next, the number of words that go on a single horizontal line for a single column page should be high enough to remove any anorexia and low enough to not hamper continuous reading.

He suggests various rules like the horizontal typesetting should be ragged if it goes well with the text and the page, only a single word space is usually enough between sentences, on the one hand almost negligible space is just about right for strings of initials whereas on the other all strings of capitals and digits should be letter-spaced, if kerning is employed it should be done consistently and modestly or not at all though as a general rule too less kerning is preferred over too much, etc.

Bringhurst then moves on to discuss rules for vertical motion like choosing an appropriate leading suiting the typeface, text and measure, maintaining a consistent tempo between vertical space but moving away from this uniformity if the text so demands, and letting the page breathe by giving it just enough number of lines and just enough words in a line. He also specifies certain rules for blocks & paragraphs and hyphenation& pagination like the opening paragraph should be set left and the following paragraphs should be indented, to add an extra lead before and after block quotations which should ideally be indented or center versed, to avoid more than 3 consecutive hyphenated lines, avoiding hyphenation of proper names, to never begin a page with the last line of a multi-line paragraph, etc.

Structural Forms and Devices

In this chapter, the author describes more rules, this time for the typographic styling of Openings, Headings, Notes, Tables & Lists and Front & Back Matter. He lists out the rules and gives justification for each with examples and sample text. He also points of situations and cases where the rules might not apply. This chapter follows the same pattern as the previous one.


" [typography] is a craft by which the meanings of a text (or its absence of meaning) can be clarified, honoured and shared, or knowingly disguised..."

With the power to convey meaning subtly, yet effectively through channels that hit a user's mind directly (without them having to undertsand the context or meaning of a piece of text by actually reading it, but just be seeing it), typography is one of the most important tools in a designer's toolkit. It has the capability to make or break a user interface. I can imagine it as the glue that brings the different components of the user interface together in harmony.