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Marcy L. Thompson
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Was ist das?
I expected to like this book a great deal, so it's especially disappointing that I hated it instead. There is good news: some of the included hand-drawn alphabets are creative, lovely, amusing, or some combination of those things. However, the book was so poorly conceived and designed that I could hardly bear to look at them.
The biggest problem is that this book has no idea who it's audience is.
Sometimes, the author seems to be speaking to the layperson who is interested in alphabets. This means that he defines things like "typeface" and "font", which is exactly the right thing to do for readers who are not type design experts. However, when apparently addressing novices, the author indulges in asides about this or that idea is not actually scary, and often talks down to his non-expert audience. Here's an important thing for authors if how-to books to keep in mind: being a novice at some specific skill (say, type design) does not make your reader also stupid, naive, or unable to follow discussions. Yes, you may have to define terms and explain things experts already know, but you don't have to do so as if these novices are also novices at reading. The parts of this book which appear to be addressing novices made me squirm because I don't like being treated as if not knowing some specific things must mean that I am just intellectually slow. What's more, while some basics are defined clearly, other things that a novice might not know are glossed over or omitted entirely.
In other parts of the book, the author seems to be addressing people who are type designers, but who design exclusively using computerized tools. For these readers, definitions of typeface, font, and so on are unnecessary, and so is much if the detailed instruction about how to take a hand-drawn alphabet and turn it into a font (or even a typeface).
The combination of too much detail for experts with too little for novices made it hard for me to figure out who the author thought his readers might be. Worse, the different levels of detail are all mixed up together, so it's not easy for a type expert to know what to skip, or for the novice to figure out which paragraphs really must be read in order to make sense if what follows. I suspect that he was trying to address a wide variety of different interested parties, but by not signposting, he forces everyone to read it all, even the parts that are not useful for them. The book would have benefitted a great deal from a clear analysis of the audience, an organization that made it easier for different kinds of readers to find what they needed, and pointers to basic information elsewhere for those topics he decided not to cover.
I also hated the design of the book. The prose sections are printed in a lightweight typeface over a background of what looks like graph paper. This makes reading very hard on the eyes. (In fairness, it wold have been easier on my eyes 20 years ago, but I think it's a fair complaint if the content is hard to read by middle-aged eyes, younger eyes in less-than-bright light, or anyone with uncorrected astigmatism).
The sample alphabets are rendered in orange and black, a color scheme that not only screams "Halloween!" but is also fatiguing. I had to take breaks to rest my eyes, and I never really felt that I was seeing the alphabets at their best. The alphabets themselves are of variable quality. For a novice reader, there is little guidance as to how one might make good design use of the different alphabets.
Basically, despite some interesting hand-drawn alphabets, I can't really recommend this book to anyone.