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Funny shapes

Published

At TypeCon in Milwaukee at the beginning of this month, Cyrus Highsmith gave a witty, illustrated talk about spacing in text typography, which served as an introduction to his new book, Inside paragraphs: typographic fundamentals (published by Font Bureau). It startled me, because I hadn’t been aware that he’d been working on such a book, and because it dovetails with what I’ve been talking and writing about for quite some time: that typography is all about space. Appropriately enough, though without any planning on my part, my former colleagues at Microsoft had brought stacks of one of my little typography booklets, Arranging fonts: it’s all about space, which is about exactly that.

Cyrus focused on the paragraph as the basic unit of text typography, which is a sensible way of looking at it; that neatly separates what Jost Hochuli calls “microtypography” from the “macrotypography” of the page. And Cyrus can draw a lot better than I can, so his illustrations – both in the book and in his talk – make his points brilliantly and lucidly.

The book itself is small, light, and oblong – very easy to carry around and read, with long paper flaps that you can use to mark your place. Cyrus wrote it because he wanted it for the typography classes that he teaches at RISD; and because he wished that he’d had it when he was studying design. It’s probably a good introduction to the subject for graphic-design students, but even more than that, it’s a basic explanation for anyone who uses type and wonders why it sometimes looks right and sometimes doesn’t.

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