Spring 2019

Rules of engagement

Theory of Type Design

By Gerard Unger. Edited by Christopher Burke. Designed by Hansje van Halem. nai010, €34.95, £38.75

Back in 2005, I wrote ‘In Search of a Comprehensive Type Design Theory’, a somewhat tongue-in-cheek article in which I argued that ‘Type design [...] seems to resist attempts to establish an encompassing theory by its very nature. Type design is not an intellectual activity, but relies on a gesture of the person and his ability to express it formally’. I had been teaching type design for a number of years, and the article was a reaction to student requests to reveal the ultimate truths about type, its fundamental rules and principles. Type design is a series of personal discoveries built upon the collective memory of the profession. It is easy to acquire basic skills, but almost impossible to distil the vast diversity of type into a unified theory of type design.

That’s why I was eager to read Gerard Unger’s Theory of Type Design. Unger (1942-2018), the venerable Dutch type designer, digital type pioneer and eyewitness to the technological shifts of the past five decades, was not only a professor of type design, but also a prolific writer and researcher.


Cover with lettering by Hansje van Halem (see ‘Strategy of excess’, Eye 98).
Top. Spread from Theory of Type Design, designed by Van Halem.

7. EYE_9815762

Peter Biľak, designer, Netherlands

Read the full version in Eye no. 98 vol. 25, 2019


Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It is available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues. You can see what Eye 98 looks like at Eye Before You Buy on Vimeo.

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