My favourite typography books

It may not be completely obvious to everybody, but years ago I used to work a lot with graphic design and typography. I designed books, software manuals, brochures, things like that. What I enjoyed most about that was working with type.

When you’re working a lot with typography it’s natural to look somewhere for guidance and inspiration. As I often do, I turned to books for that, and I thought I’d mention some of my favourite books on typography.

Even though web designers can only use a very limited number of fonts, there is a lot to learn from traditional typography. None of these books cover web typography to any extent, but many of the rules and guidelines of print typography can be used within the technical constraints of the web.

I should mention that these aren’t very new books. They’ve all been available for years, and some are out of print. The good thing about typography as opposed to almost anything related to web technology is that the rules don’t change a lot, so typography books don’t really become outdated unless they are very contemporary.

Here’s the list then:

Emotional Digital: A Sourcebook of Contemporary Typographics
The first book on my list is, as is revealed by its name, tied to a certain period of time. It was released in 1999, at the height of the dotcom era. The examples of web typography that are included in the book obviously look very outdated. Despite that, this book feels remarkably fresh and current, with many beautiful illustrations and examples of type usage.
20th Century Type Remix
In this book, Lewis Blackwell shows how typography and the use of type in graphic design evolved throughout the 20th century. Every decade has a chapter of its own, complete with examples of typography associated with that era.
The Elements of Typographic Style
This is the best book on typography that I have read. I know there are those who do not agree with me, but, well I just love this book for the historical facts, typeface examples, and the guidelines for typographical details and page layout it contains.
Stop Stealing Sheep & Find Out How Type Works, Second Edition
Stop Stealing Sheep is a small and thin book, which is probably a good thing considering its purpose - to explain type to a broader audience than just graphic designers. While this book is an excellent introduction to typography and its related terms, it is also very useful as a guidebook for more experienced type users.
Typografisk handbok
This one is in Swedish and is, if I remember correctly, the first typography book I laid my hands on while I was in college back in the early 90’s. It’s become something of the standard reference for typography in Sweden, and it is an excellent book. Use it as a reference or read it from start to finish.

Ok, your turn. What are your favourite books on typography, and why?

Posted on November 3, 2006 in Typography


  1. I’d like to add another swedish book by Christer Hellmark (author of Typografisk Handbok) and that is Bokstaven Ordet Texten. Both are great books I often use as reference.

  2. Thinking with type by Ellen Lupton is good guide to the principles of typography.

  3. I’m also an avid reader of Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style. I bought the book because I read William Strunk and E.B. White’s little book on style in writing: “The Elements of Style”. Both are indispensable to anyone working with the written word, both online and offline.

    The best typographic book, however, is a blank Moleskine. Start doodling!

  4. I also rate The Elements of Typographic Style (actually, I posted it as one of the top 5 design resources that I own).

    I love reading lists like this - it gives you a chance to discover books you might otherwise never see, and it’s always interesting to find out what resources/inspiration people draw on.

  5. November 3, 2006 by Vincent

    My personal favourite typography book has to be “A Type Primer” by John Kane. It has everything in it you need to understand the basic principles of typography and how it works. Whenever I am unsure of a good approach to laying out my type, its the first place I turn.

  6. After the Bringhurst, the book I return to most often is Ruari McLean’s Typography (Thames & Hudson). Although it’s technically out of date now, it still has a raft of useful information and is a great source of ideas.

    I also still find Jan Tschichold’s New Typography hugely inspiring - even if it’s author back-tracked on much of its content later in his life.

  7. November 3, 2006 by Dylan FM

    I’m just learning the typography basics, and recently I purchased ‘The Elements of Typographic Style’. After reading 70 pages or so I feel like I have found a great resource.

    Although I am interested in seeing resources for traditional typography brought into (semi-)current web-media.

    Tonight I was reading my grandmother’s (who is a proofreader) style guide. I think it is related to Australia. Although not directly linked to typography, there are some handy things within.

  8. November 3, 2006 by Johan

    From a teacher of typography at art school, I can highly recommend this book:

    About Face: Reviving The Rules Of Typography

    Why this book? It is good for beginners and comprehensive, and different!

  9. Roger, your list is excellent, but you forgot Richard’s efforts to bring The Elements of Typographic Style to the web.

    For me, anything Jason Santa Maria recommends is gold. He published a list of design books (some cover typography) that I’ve found invaluable. From him, I learned of Ellen Lupton (per JP). Thinking with Type is very good.

  10. November 3, 2006 by Johan


    your design book lists tip also features About Face: Reviving The Rules Of Typography - what a coincidence

  11. A classic that hasn’t been mentioned so far is Emil Ruder’s Typographie (sometimes referred to by the English title Typography). It was first published in 1967 (I think). Ruder was central to the development of ‘Swiss typography’, and is considered by many to be the father of modern typography. His rigid ideas about type and design (he used almost exclusively Aksidenz Grotesk and Univers) may seem dated, but his influence is still very much evident today.

  12. Not mentioned yet? Either of Willi Kunz’s books, Typography: Micro- and Microaesthetics or Typography: Formation+Transformation (which isn’t quite as good). Both deal with the arrangement of type on the page, grids, and negative space in a way that’s missing from many type books.

    I’ve come to value the new Type, Image, Message by Nancy Skolos and Tom Wedell for its array of contemporary examples, and for its sharply-observed tactics for combining type and image in ways that enhance meaning. (Note that I have a personal connection here, so my opinion is not that of an outsider.)

  13. November 3, 2006 by gerben

    May I suggest The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web. I’m don’t know much about typography but this resource seems very good.

  14. Add to my wishlist for later review. I am ordering ‘Elements of Typograhic Style’ this evening from amazon. I have heard great reviews, as well as read through a little bit at a local bookstore.

    I am new to the world of typography, and have a strong desire to have a deeper understanding. Historically, psychologically, etc - understanding the power of typography.

  15. November 3, 2006 by Nico ten Hoor

    Not your typical sourcebook but worthy of recommendation for anyone who enjoys reading about modern typeface development is:

    Type One Discipline and Progress in Typography

  16. Roger thanks for the list and thanks to everyone else for their suggestions. For folks like me who weren’t trained in the traditional arts, these are valuable tools. I read The Elements of Typographic Style and it completely opened my eyes to a whole new world. I’ll have to check some of these other books as well.

  17. I find Robin Williams’ The non-designers Type book absolutely indespensible.

  18. The one typography book I couldn’t do without is James Felici’s “The Complete manual Of Typography”:

    As a historical document, another must read book for anyone serious about type IMO is Jan Tschichold’s “The New Typography”:

    A lot of the things in this book should be taken with a grain of salt today (it was written in 1928 after all and Tschichold himself rejected most of the principles enunciated in this book later in his life) but there are great lessons in reducing clutter and improving readability in that book. As a commenter said on the Amazon book page, get the hardcover version if you can to see how revolutionary the book’s design was in the late 20’s.

  19. Jeroen:

    Glad that you mentioned Robin Williams.

    The combination of her Non-Designer’s Design Book and a workshop presented by Carol Barnum on the topic of layout design, had a significant impact on my approach to design.

    As you folks probably know, Robin Williams wrote a number of books related to layout design and type, as well as web design.

    The first edition of the The Non-Designer’s Web Book, which I read in 2003, was pretty much table-based web design. A pity, because her layouts are good, and worth studying. I see a 3rd edition of this book was published in September last year. Has anyone read it? Are the designs still table based, or have they embraced standards-based design? I’d love to know.

  20. November 3, 2006 by Johan

    Tschichold is from late Bauhaus, read all about it: I dedicated an article to graphic design from the 1920s: Russian Constructivists, Mohoy-Nagy (Bauhaus)


  21. Good timing - I just put together an article not too long ago, “Learn to Love Typography” to share with our students some typography resources. You’ll find a handful of resources and books.

    I’d have to say the books Doyald Young has written are fabulous. And Watching Words move is a great way to help you learn to make an impact and have a bit more fun with typography.

  22. There is only one. The godfather of modern. Jan Tschichold. All others are epigones.

  23. Talking about Jan Tschichold, I should suggest The Form of the Book. This is very good. Honestly.

  24. Sweet, I’ve been looking for some good books on typography. Thanks for posting. Do you recommend any other “must read” books???

  25. Aw, couldnt find 20th Century type Remix on amazon UK, is there a significantly different from the non-remix version? apparently released in 2004 ??

  26. November 7, 2006 by Roger Johansson (Author comment)

    Good suggestions, everybody! I think I’m going to have to order a few books :-).

    Per: “Bokstaven ordet texten” is in my bookshelf too. Great book.

    Martin: Doodling can be fun, but the scribblings I produce don’t quite measure up to what’s in these books ;-).

    Michael: Yes, I should have mentioned Richard’s project. Really good stuff.

    Ryan: There are plenty of books I recommend in my archive of Book reviews.

    Henrik: I don’t know how different that version is.

  27. A lot of classics are references are mentioned that are a MUST HAVE but no mention for the font czars House IndustriesTruly exceptional work!

  28. I second Bringhurst’s Elements of Typographic Style - it’s not just informative, but well-written, by someone who is passionate about the subject. It’s also hilarious in places.

  29. Emotional Digital: A Sourcebook of Contemporary Typographics - this book especially. Have read so many times, that I remeber some parts of it:D

  30. Also try Adobe Press: Complete Manual of Typography.

  31. Not for beginners, maybe, but truly great: An Essay on Typography, by Eric Gill, and Jan Tschichold’s The New Typography. I have very attractive hardcover copies of both of these … maybe you can find one in a used book store.

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