Like a child learning to write, typography was not a paramount concern during the first ten years of the web: it was considered an achievement to simply get text onto a page. Only the emergence of CSS embedded fonts and browser support of OpenType have allowed typesetting on the web to mature, and made books like Carolina de Bartolo’s Explorations in Typography valuable for web designers.
While not explicitly designed for developers, Explorations In Typography uses a powerful form of presentation shared by one of the watershed sites of web design, CSS Zen Garden: take a single piece of body copy and use it as the basis of a variety of designs, showing how subtle choices can affect an entire document. In the case of the book, that text is an extract of “Type Builds Character” from Erik Spiekermann’s book Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works , set in a variety of typefaces and layouts.
Carolina originally designed the samples in the book as a “learn by looking” experience for her students: each exercise proceeds through dozens of typographic design examples, from the simple to the advanced. The book embraces the digital world with a companion app for iPad and iPhone that allows users to interactively adjust several examples from the text: you can get a taste of the app’s possibilities on the book’s companion site.
The book is an inspiration, both in terms of its sheer design quality and the lessons it imparts. Printed on rich, oversized stock with yellow trim, the examples offer plenty of room for the reader to add their own marginalia, while the author’s lessons are shared in sidenotes. I found the book’s layout so appealing that it became a strong influence in the design of this site; that same theme runs through the latest revision, currently in development.
This is not a book for absolute beginners in typography (that would be Spiekermann’s work, mentioned above). Neither, as I mentioned, is it a volume explicitly designed for web developers. Indeed, many of the advanced exercises cannot be achieved with current web technologies, although several upcoming CSS3 modules should make the challenge easier. If a metaphor is needed, Explorations In Typography is akin to a typographic atlas: a volume to pick up and trace over with a fingertip, to explore lands and possibilities previously undreamed of.
Over time you can expect to see attempts to recreate some of the more advanced layout exercises of Explorations in Typography here on the blog, along with revisions of previous articles in response to the excellent guidance provided in the book.
If you’re a typomaniac, or someone who seeks to discover the rich alternatives to left-aligned text set in Times New Roman, Explorations In Typography is for you. The book can be ordered from the companion website: there is currently an offer of free shipping, and accredited students receive a 20% discount on the cover price of the book, making it very affordable.