By Chet Yarbrough
By Simon Garfield
Narrated by Gildart Jackson
Simon Garfield opens a Pandora’s box with “Just My Type”. Like biting the apple of knowledge, the evil of decision-indecision is loosed on the world. Before “Just My Type”, computer users gave little thought to fonts and the tip-tapping of words on virtual white paper. Now, when a computer message is typed, one wonders if the message could be cooler, hotter, funnier, or clearer with a different font.
Before “Just My Type”, computer font decisions could be left to Windows, Macs, or Linux operating systems–who cared? Of course, we became more aware of fonts after the 1980s but we rarely used different fonts and most often left the decision to the computer programmer. Now, Garfield tells us there is a solid and storied history of fonts. It dates back to the 16th century. Fonts have grown from Times Roman, Helvetica and Courier, in different sizes and boldness, to over 1,000 font choices in the 21st century. Font differences came from demand for design, visual seduction, comedy, clarity, ethnicity, nationalism etc.
Soon, Garfield explains that arguments develop over font types. When Gutenberg perfects mass printing, he uses traditional fonts like Helvetica and Times Roman but in the computer age, fonts become more than a medium; i.e. they become part of the message. Some hate the growth of Comic Sans because it is too casual, too informal but it appeals to comic books writers and readers, birthday card manufacturers, and merchandise branders.
Garfield explains how some fonts were invented and named after their inventors. There is Claude Garamond that creates the Garamond font. It knocks heavy typeface in Germany off the most popular list. Garamond invents a lighter Roman style font in the 1500s. The Garamond typeface evolves into a font that captures American interest for use in the Declaration of Independence.
Garfield reminds the public of the importance of fonts with a story about Barack Obama’s use of Gotham in his first campaign for the presidency. The Gotham font becomes a ubiquitous political sign in Obama rallies.
So, for the obsessive/complusive, “Just My Type” is a doorway to hell. When does a writer use Times New Roman or Aerial or Tahoma or Comic Sans? Is a meta-message being sent to readers? If Times New Roman is the choice than the message must be weighty; not comic. Wait, maybe the message would be more interesting in Comic Sans; wait, maybe the message would be easier to read in Aerial; wait, maybe no one really cares because this review is too boring for words. Forget the review; listen to the audiobook.
Who would have thought there is so much to know about fonts? Garfield offers a first rate entertainment with “Just My Type”. One wonders what font decision Garfield made? Who cares?–“Just My Type” is a short and enjoyable audiobook.