Recommended Type Design and Typography Books

Michael Jarboe
Michael Jarboe Posts: 265
edited December 2015 in Education
I've read through the below books in the first list here and enjoyed them all, with The Elements of Typographic Style possibly my favorite. Are there any in the second list that would be considered essential? I'm trying to narrow these down, although I may acquire all of them at some point. Any recommendations are welcome.


  • Detail In Typography by Jost Hochuli
  • Inside Paragraphs: Typographic Fundamentals by Cyrus Highsmith
  • Wim Crouwel Alphabets by Kees Broos
  • Size-specific Adjustments to Type Designs by Tim Ahrens and Shoko Mugikura
  • Counterpunch by Fred Smeijers
  • The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst
  • Thinking With Type by Ellen Lupton


  • Shaping Text: Type, Typography and the Reader by Jan Middendorp
  • Typographie: A Manual of Design by Emil Ruder
  • The Eternal Letter: Two Millennia of the Classical Roman Capital (Codex Studies in Letterforms) by Paul Shaw
  • Designing Type by Karen Cheng
  • Typographic Design: Form and Communication by Rob Carter, Ben Day, Philip B. Meggs
  • Manuale Typographicum by Hermann Zapf
  • The Form of the Book: Essays on the Morality of Good Design by Jan Tschichold
  • French Renaissance Printing Types: A Conspectus by Hendrik D.L. Vervliet
  • The modification of letterforms by Stanley Hess
  • Type Now: A Manifesto by Fred Smeijers
  • Anatomy of a Typeface by Alexander S. Lawson
  • Adrian Frutiger Typefaces by Heidrun Osterer
  • American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century by Mac McGrew
  • Just My Type: A Book About Fonts by Simon Garfield
  • The New Typography by Jan Tschichold
  • Modern Typography by Robin Kinross


  • George Thomas
    Missing from your lists is another book which is highly enlightening, Letters of Credit by Walter Tracy, ISBN 0-87923-636-1. It is long out of print but copies can still be found.
  • Craig Eliason
    Hard to say because these books are different animals (some for reading, some for reference; some general/beginner, some specialized/advanced; some emphasizing form, some history). 

    But I would probably say one could get most out of the Frutiger catalogue. Which is a way does all of the above.
  • kupfers
    kupfers Posts: 259
    From the second list, I’d start with Modern Typography and Tchichold’s Form of the Book, then maybe Frutiger. As Craig said, some are reference books to look at rather than read cover to cover (e.g. McGrew), and some I’d consider entirely dispensable.  
  • James Puckett
    James Puckett Posts: 1,979
    edited December 2015
    French Renaissance Printing Types: A Conspectus by Hendrik D.L. Vervliet

    That’s a reference work comprised of facsimiles of photocopies of Renaissance books and some modern prints from period type. Useful, but not much of a read.

    You can skip Just My Type—it’s a pedestrian entertainment for the NPR crowd. Manuale Typographicum is a collection of specimens, so there’s nothing to read there (but it is pretty).

    Here are a few of my favorites:

    • While You’re Reading, Unger
    • The Golden Thread, Clayton
    • The History and Technique of Lettering, Nesbitt
    • Fonts and Logos, Young
    • Paul Renner, Burke
    • Emigre No. 70
    • Made With FontFont, Middendorp
    • Historical Scripts and Historical Types, Knight
    • The Writing Systems of the World, Coulmas
  • Chris D
    I'd definitely invest in a copy of Designing Type by Karen Cheng. That book helps you to train your eye for the subtleties in letterforms, and is a great practical resource to turn to.

    Good list BTW, I need to fill out my collection a bit more too.
  • María Ramos
    Do not forget The stroke by Gerritt Noordzij. The nymph and the grot by James Mosley is also a good reading.
  • María Ramos
    Modern Typography and Shaping text are in my top list
  • kupfers
    kupfers Posts: 259
  • Mads Wildgaard
    'Letters of credit' - Walter Tracy. As George Thomas suggests.
    Anything Emigre and Fuse. Plus the aforementioned Frutiger book and his own - 'Signs and Symbols - their meaning and design'.
  • Max Phillips
    Fonts & Logos by Doyald Young is the best in-depth discussion of (mostly serif Latin) letter design I know.

    The Frutiger Complete Works is invaluable.

    Seconding all the Letters of Credit recommendations.

    Wouldn't recommend Just My Type. Chatty magazine writing by a non-expert, and not that useful.
  • It is rather difficult to imagine that we've forgotten Daniel Berkeley Updike's Printing Types: Their History, Forms, and Use; A Study in Survivals. (FYI, the revised 2nd ed., 1937, is far more valuable than the first edition, published 1922.) In my opinion, it remains the touchstone history, despite how it may have been surpassed in certain areas by specialty studies. It's the typographic equivalent of Gibbon's Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire and I wouldn't be writing to you today if not for this great work. I don't believe there is an equivalent in any other language. (I'm eager to hear others' opinions on this.)
    Theodore Low De Vinne's Plain Printing Types (The Practice of Typography, vol. 1, 1900) remains very worthwhile, as does Horace Hart's Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press, no matter how old-fashioned they may seem in some respects. Both reflect high professional discipline. There are some great German and French books of this kind, but I'll leave them to others to comment.
    The comments in Jan Tschichold's Meisterbuch der Schrift were very influential on me. Like Updike's remarks, they are the opinions of a person of supreme taste. You may disagree, but you must take them into account.
    I'd like to give a shout-out to my colleague Paul Shaw's Helvetica and the New York City Subway System as a model for a case study of a single, major typographic project. ("Major" may be selling it short; it was likely the largest public lettering project of all time.)
  • Winston Scully
    My knowledge of type books is limited, but these are a few that I've really benefited from: 

    The Art of Letter - Doyald Young
    The Art of Hand Lettering - Helm Wotzkow
    Fonts & Logos - Doyald Young (mentioned above, but worth mentioning again) 
    Modern Lettering Simplified - Joseph R La Violette

    These are mostly lettering focused, but it's been they've been super helpful in helping me learn letterform structure. 

    Also, get all of the ones you mentioned in the second list! There can never be too many books :smile: 

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  • James Puckett
    Doesn’t one of the Dutch type studios sell reprints of Frutiger’s books? 
  • Michael Jarboe
    Thanks everyone, this list was compiled randomly over time and I just looked at it recently and was somewhat overwhelmed with it. There's nothing in particular I'm looking for, I just enjoy absorbing as much as I can even if it's retreaded territory. I figured hearing your recommendations would help narrow down what to pick up next. Appreciate all the responses!
  • William Berkson
    William Berkson Posts: 74
    edited December 2015
    The ones I have looked at that I have found most insightful for type design are 

    Letters of Credit, Tracy, 
    Fonts & Logos by Young (though I don't know his other books), and 
    Frutiger, The Complete Works. 

    For Typography, as opposed to type design, one not mentioned is 

    Book Typography: A Designer's Manual, by Mitchell & Wightman. 

    It does classic book typography, like Bringhurst, but is in some ways better. I do like Bringhurst, so long as you don't take him quite as seriously as he takes himself. But it doesn't deal with any of the more expressive kinds of typography, outside books—such as advertising, posters, and even magazines and newspapers. (I have a fairly old edition.)
  • Peiran Tan
    Peiran Tan Posts: 22
    edited December 2015
    Modern Typography is very good, but I still have a distaste of the author’s invoking of Adorno. Accompany with Jost Hochuli’s Designing Books probably.

    My personal favorite is Smerijer’s Counterpunch. It’s firstly typographic history properly done, and then Smeijers adds in his own arguments that are very inspiring for the learner. Finally, the prose itself is incisive, clear, amiable, and best of all, no flourish (showy ten-letter words, etc). I suggest you can read Unger’s While You’re Reading afterwards.

    Finally, a shameless plug for Designing Type, simply because Karen Cheng is now my professor.
  • Nick Shinn
    Nick Shinn Posts: 2,169
    edited December 2015
    The Modification of Letter Forms is the most profound work I’ve read on the process of type design.

    Four history books I would recommend, for the quality of their reproductions:

    The Art & History of Books, Norma Levarie, Heineman, 1968
    Anatomy of Printing, John Lewis, Watson-Gupthill, 1970
    Art of the Printed Book 1455-1955, Pierpoint-Morgan Library, 1973, 1978.
    One Hundred Title Pages, A.F. Johnson, The Bodley Head, 1928

    Mortimer Leach’s Letter Design, Reinhold, 1960, is very good on hand lettering. (Not a “how-to” book.)

  • Cory Maylett
    • Typographie: A Manual of Design by Emil Ruder
    You just caused me to pull this book off the shelf and crack it open for the first time in, probably, 15 years. During my undergraduate work in design years ago, it was required reading.

    It’s a great book about the elements of design and how they relate to typography from a mid-20th Century Swiss perspective. It’s not really a how-to or reference book. Is it worth reading as part of a effort to gain a broader appreciation of good typography? Yes.
  • Chris Lozos
    Chris Lozos Posts: 1,458
    My typography teacher, Ken Hiebert, introduces us to his teacher, Emil Ruder, and his book in 1965.  I bought the first edition to be printed with an English translation back then and still like to look at it.
  • Simon Cozens
    Has anyone read Cómo crear tipografías? I've probably got just enough Spanish to work my way through it, if it's worthwhile.
  • Dave Crossland
    Simon, I think its a great book. Well worth your time :) 
  • Fernando Díaz
    If you like history and legends about type design, this is my favorite:
    The secret history of letters, by simon loxley
  • Nick Shinn
    Nick Shinn Posts: 2,169
    The Well-Made Book: Essays & Lectures by Daniel Berkeley Updike

  • Miles Newlyn
    please could someone give me a clue about Vol. 1 and Vol. 2 of Updike's Printing Types: Their History, Forms, and Use; A Study in Survivals.
    Is it chronological, with Vol. 2 covering more recent types?
  • Miles Newlyn
    @Nick Shinn could you shine some light on 'The Modification of Letter Forms".
    I haven't heard of this book and can find little online.