What’s New? The Second Edition of Designing Type

Designing Type by Karen Cheng was originally published in 2006. The book met with immediate and enthusiastic acclaim, including:

“While there are a number of historical studies of the relationship of letterforms and type design, none of them can be considered as thorough and instructive as Karen Cheng’s recent Designing Type. Cheng takes a very complex subject and through a simple design approach and a clear, concise, and informative writing style combined with extraordinarily complementary diagrams and specimens, renders it completely comprehensible. . . . A very well done and handsome book and an invaluable reference destined to be considered a classic in the field.”—Ampersand: The Quarterly Journal of the Book Arts

“This book provides a meticulous guide to the technical aspects of creating fitting fonts.”—Dwell

“This book fills a conspicuous need by offering a succinct and careful treatment of how type itself comes to be. . . . Literally tackling the subject letter by letter, this treatment offers an invaluable perspective on what needs to be considered in creating a typeface that meets the standards established over the centuries. Clear and concise, with excellent, uncluttered illustrations, this is the kind of book that designers will want to keep close at hand and one that could become a standard reference in the field. Highly recommended for any collection with an interest in printing or graphic design.”—Library Journal

“Cheng’s Designing Type is a comprehensive, systematic guide to the complexities of letters and how they fit together. . . . It’s visually ordered and orderly, which helps to organize the complex information and make it accessible. . . . For a practical approach to designing letters today, Designing Type may be the most useful single tool available. It looks like a book that will have a long life.”—Arcade Magazine

How, then, does an author approach the task of revising such a book for a second edition? Karen Cheng offers some insight into the process.

Karen Cheng–

I’m very pleased that the book has been well received (it is used widely as a design textbook)—and I am amazed that it has been translated into even non-Latin languages (such as Chinese and Korean). However, like all authors, I received some criticism, especially in the specialized online forums for type designers. 

Many type designers noted the omission of calligraphy (broad-nib and pointed pen writing is the foundation for many classic typeface designs). Additionally, several readers felt that I had inadequately explained the type design process, especially the motivations for producing a new typeface (why make a new typeface when there are literally thousands already?) Another criticism was that the book should show type in greater context—how the design of letters impacts typesetting and typography.

I’ve tried to address these critiques by including or expanding information on these topics. For example, I’ve written a new chapter that puts the broader, more general issues of type design together in one place—i.e., x-height, weight, serif shapes, etc. I’ve also included two case studies of student type projects that more clearly demonstrate the type design process. Additionally, for each character, I’ve shown glyphs in words or text, so it’s easier to see how design decisions at the micro-level can impact typesetting and typography at the macro-level. Of course, technology has changed dramatically in the last fifteen years, so that had to be updated as well. 

Perhaps the most enjoyable part of revising the book (it is fully revised, I think almost all the spreads have changes/improvements) was selecting new typefaces for inclusion. You would think that all the design possibilities for typefaces would be exhausted by now (after all, Gutenberg’s press dates back to 1440), but every year there are still beautiful new typefaces and novel approaches.

As a side note, it was quite interesting getting in touch with new type designers. When I purchase fonts, I generally try to buy from the original designer as opposed to an aggregator like Fonts.com (it’s a bit like buying a CD from the musician at their show; you know that your funds are fully supporting the artist as opposed to enriching Spotify or Apple Music). I was a bit taken aback that several type designers wrote back and asked if I was the author of Designing Type. These young designers—usually in their 20s or 30s—would often tell me that it was their first book on type design. It’s a bit shocking to realize that an entire new generation of type designers has grown up between the first edition and this new edition. 

Karen Cheng is a graphic designer and professor in the visual communications program at the University of Washington, Seattle.

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