By Doyald Young
Reviewed by Brian Allen
Doyald Young, lettering and logo artist, type designer and educator, recently published Fonts & Logos, a rich, engaging and multifaceted book on the letter arts. Drawing on his long career at the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, Calif., Young's book is both an instructional work of singular achievement and a paean to the western Latin alphabet. Graphic design professionals will be as amply rewarded as neophytes when plumbing the depths of this nearly 400-page book. The discussion, comparison of fonts, and enlargements of individual letterforms not only bring back to mind one's initial attraction to the profession, but they also renew both creativity and critical thinking.
Young first sets the historical context by briefly introducing the various typeface classification systems and a chronology of typography in the European tradition. His taxonomy of letter parts establishes the vocabulary for the ensuing discussions. The function of a logo is also defined.
In the middle sections of the book, Young presents an exhaustive dissection of the forms of serif, sans serif, and script letters, in addition to selected logos from his own work. The comps of these logos, all lettered by hand, are truly a tour de force, recalling a time before computers when a keen eye and a well-trained hand were the sole tools used when creating type designs. The case history of the new Prudential Insurance logo is particularly instructive. Young also provides an evaluation of a number of overlooked or forgotten typefaces that he admires. The book concludes with a brief but invaluable section titled simply "How I Work"—something an artist rarely reveals in print.
Throughout the book, Young pays close attention to the fundamental architecture of letterforms, using enlargements to show how subtle shape-shifting can have a significant impact on the success of a typeface design. The large number of alphabet comparisons reveals the astonishing diversity of "feel" that typefaces of similar construction can have. Young's experience as a teacher is richly evident in his descriptive analyses.
It is with this detailed study of letterforms and their relationships that Young accomplishes something of exceptional value—he communicates the alchemy of sensual drawn forms that are ultimately transformed into the utilitarian marks we read. This is one of those rare books that connects with the reader in an enduring way—as one's knowledge of letterforms deepens, fresh insights can be gained when revisiting the material.
Fonts & Logos substantiates several maxims about typography by Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes, noted type designers and commentators on the subject. Here are two:
"Typography is abstract, achromatic, and two-dimensional, yet it constitutes a complete aesthetic microcosm accessible to the literate intellect."
"Typefaces exist only to serve language, yet their art is as subtle as music or painting."
Page spreads from the book can be seen at the Web site of Young's publishing company, Delphi Press, at www.delphipress.com. Information about ordering the book can also be found there.
Editor’s note: The reviewer, Brian Allen, is employed at Monotype Imaging in Redwood City, Calif. In addition to working in font production, he is also a letterpress printer and calligrapher, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Pacific Center for the Book Arts.