Autumn 2008

On a clear day you can read between the lines

Detail in Typography

By Jost Hochuli
Translated by Charles Whitehouse
Hyphen Press, £12.50

There is a beautiful view here from the Wasserngrat, a mountain peak near Gstaad in the Swiss Alps, and also a good place to read Jost Hochuli’s Detail in Typography, a revised edition of the Swiss designer’s 1987 book, extended to cover English-language typesetting.

Having studied design in Switzerland before moving to London, I found it interesting to see how most typographic details can be applied to different languages – previously I had only seen German-language books that dealt with the subject.

Talking about the cultural understanding of language in context with typography, Hochuli explains that because words are shorter in English than in German, the line length can be shorter in English, to achieve an even and neutral appearance of text. In practice, however, English writers and readers use less hyphenation – some magazines have no hyphenation at all – which makes line breaks even less flexible than in German. The knock-on effect is that an editorial designer can achieve a better result with ranged text than with justified text, leading to a completely different layout.

This pocket-size booklet – from Robin Kinross’s Hyphen Press – is good value for money. Everything is explained very carefully, in a logical order in concise detail, with examples that illustrate proportions and details.

There is however one thing I do not entirely agree with: Hochuli’s suggestion that in a non-mathematical text the letter ‘x’ should replace a multiplication sign, which can otherwise look too obtrusive. Surely it is the font designer’s decision to allocate a multiplication sign that fits as appropriate.

That said, Detail in Typography contains all you need to know to produce elegant yet correct typesetting. It leads to an understanding of how well co-ordinated details can make an overall composition look effortlessly beautiful – a bit like the view from a mountain peak.

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