Hermann Zapf introduces Doyald Young’s Dangerous Curves, not by discussing Young, but instead by singing praise to the pencil.
Zapf then goes on to describe the typical height at which he drew letters, the difference between drawing for a punchcutter and a scanner, and a desire to show his own hand in his typefaces. While it’s odd not to mention the author in the introduction to a retrospective of his work, Zapf’s comments encompass the sensibility of Young’s book. An ode to intense scrutiny, “Curves” demonstrates Young’s dedication to type, nuance, and the human hand in design.
“Curves” is a collection of logotypes and typefaces designed by Young. Each piece is presented from preliminary sketch to finished product, showcasing the process as much as the finished design. Young describes the context in which the design was developed, and the motivations that drive decisions to completion — ranging from a client’s desire for “something bolder still,” to thorough discussion of the limitations of a Bodoni. Young’s work, while almost purely typographic and rarely pictorial, is amazing in breadth. From casual scripts to serifless romans Young’s designs present the immense variation possible with logotypes and type design.
While not a workbook (although it claims to be on the dust jacket), “Curves” offers practical advice and suggestions on how to improve technique. Useful for young designers, Young references the typefaces he uses and reveals the faces’ historical usage and associations. Young discusses the characteristics of a typeface or logo in refreshingly tangible terms, offering criticisms mostly free from vague emotional terms that so often accompany descriptions of design.
“Curves” can feel self-serving at times, and the organization is less than ideal. Arranged alphabetically rather than by subject-matter, or date, the reader is left wishing for the context of time period and stylistic categorization for ease of comparison. The best way to approach reading “Curves”: expect to bask in its pages rather than follow a narrative arc.
This book excels when Young discusses the revision process. Offering insight into the shortcomings of an initial design and the decisions made before delivering a final design. Young’s straightforward writing guides the reader through the process. Also liberating is Young’s willingness to critique and alter established typefaces if the project demanded. In the age of digital typography designers often accept the characters provided for them as inmalliable. Possibly the result of never drawing a typeface or the percevied barrier a mouse creates between the hand and work on screen, it’s rare that designers take such care and liberty to modify type. A good lesson can be learned from Young regarding appropriateness and appropriation.