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A typographer is not a type designer

Published

Earlier this summer, I got e-mail from Abebooks.com, promoting a bunch of books about type and typography that they had for sale. It was a nice set of books. (Happily, I already owned most of them.) But in the text of the e-mail, the writer seemed to be misinformed about just what a typographer was:

“The book world revolves around typefaces. You might not even notice them but they are right under your nose. Typographers like Claude Garamond, John Baskerville, Eric Gill, Giambattista Bodoni, Adrian Frutiger and Hermann Zapf define the style of the words we read.”

And if you click through to Abebooks’ page about type books, you find that the very first two sentences contradict each other: “Typography is the art of arranging type and that includes the selection of typefaces, the point size and the leading. A typographer is someone who designs typefaces.”

This confusion has been creeping into print over the last couple of years: people who are newly come to writing about fonts start calling type designers “typographers.”

That’s like calling someone who makes violins a “violinist.” Typography is the art and craft of using type; it’s not the art and craft of designing type. That’s done by type designers. The classic type designers named by Abebooks may also have been typographers – Bodoni and Baskerville were renowned for their book design and printing as well as for the types they designed for those books – but what this e-mail is talking about is type design. Please don’t mix them up.