I just finished reading Butterick’s Practical Typography, an excellent online book that I found to be just the right depth. That is, it did more than just make fun of Comic Sans and Papyrus, but stayed well short of fancy stuff like setting margins based on the golden ratio. The word “practical” in the title isn’t misleading.
This book just scratches the surface of the huge subject of typefaces, and I doubt I’ll ever be able to tell Arial apart from Helvetica. But after reading it, I do feel like I have a slightly keener eye, and certainly more interest and appreciation for what makes fonts good or bad.
One of my favorite parts is the book’s advice about which standard, widely-available “system” fonts are better than others, as well as the lists of suggested alternatives, which are short and not overwhelming. Practical, you could say. In addition to his own custom-designed fonts, he also recommends some nice free ones, such as Charter (which you’re reading right now), Firefox’s Fira Sans, and Adobe’s Source Code Pro.
As the author says right up front, there’s a lot more to typography than fonts, and with confidence and casual style, he takes you through all of it. It’s a lot of information, but it’s engaging, interesting, and best of all, kept at the practical level. The book’s conciseness and organization also make it a valuable reference.
In fact I’ve already started using it as a reference, as it prompted me to make some typographic improvements to both this blog and the Unicks Bestiary. I almost hesitate to mention these “improvements”, as both sites would probably make a professional designer weep, but I do feel like they’re less bad than they were, at least. It’s fun stuff to tinker with, anyway.
The makeover he does on a sample résumé is a good glimpse at some of the book’s principles in action. And if you go on to read the rest of the book, be sure to pay for it. I did.