Typography and Type Design 101: Reading Lists

Written by Stephen Coles on November 18, 2012

While strolling through Typographica.org’s logs I discovered that lots of folks are reaching us by Googling for typography classes or educational material and ending up on this outdated post. That thing is old and moldy and links to a dead page. So why not build a new list of course materials that is current and relevant? What books, websites, articles, and other resources are typography and typeface design teachers recommending to their students today?

I’ll start with two good lists:

  • Gerry Leonidas has recently begun adding pages of references used for the Master of Arts in Typeface Design (MATD) program at Reading University. This is his short list specifically geared to students preparing for the program.
  • Dan Reynolds teaches typography and type design in Germany. He graduated from the afore-mentioned Reading University and is as well-read as anyone I know. His recommendations are grouped by Type Design, Type History, and Typography.

Two books about type design that are not included in these lists are Reading Letters, published this year, and Cómo crear tipografías (How to create typefaces), also published this year and currently available in Spanish only. I am not a full-time instructor, but from what I’ve seen these appear to be worthy additions to the very few good books about making type.

Teachers, tell us what references you recommend to your students. Or, link to your reading list. Please include the level of the course (beginning, intermediate, or advanced) and its focus (using type or making type). Students, chime in too!

Update: May 3, 2020 — A few years after this post was published, How to Create Typefaces was released in English. The book was the first great type design primer, and it’s still very useful, even if some of the software covered is now out of date. For a more current view, 2017–18 brought two new books, each with different approaches: Theory of Type Design by Gerard Unger and Type Tricks by Sofie Beier. If you’re looking for a written guide to type design I recommend reading all three of these books.

Update: Nov 13, 2020 — For a more current list of recommendations, see my Typeface Selection Resources and Bookshop.org lists.


  1. I’m really surprised to not see “Designing Type” by Karen Cheng. It is really a good intro to type design.

  2. At the TypeDrawers forum, James Puckett links to his 2011 list, “Books for Learning Typography”, and recommends Jan Middendorp’s new Shaping Text.

  3. Indra says:

    And I would like to strike a bow for books that were not only published recently. I find older books just as relevant, maybe even more valuable for teaching as the reader has to make an effort to transfer and put the content into current context.

  4. Yotam Hadar says:

    This extremely extensive list by Alessandro Segalini (“as8”) is a great resource.

    And this is the basic list I share with my sophomore and junior typography students.

  5. Also at TypeDrawers, James Montalbano who teaches at Parsons School of Design in New York, says he hasn’t found a book that is useful for teaching type design. The only required reading for his course is the Microsoft Character Design Standards.

  6. I teach an intro to type class at a local university. I just started my resource site this term, so more items will be added.

    Some nice lists above.

  7. Nicole Dotin says:

    Even with only a few people tipping their hat into this post, there are already quite a few recommended books.

    It would be useful to know why the books are recommended – what the student stands to gain – so there are entry points into the lists rather than being overwhelmed with choice and not knowing where to start.

  8. In the area of type history, some relatively recent publications would seem very helpful for students:

    The enormous and beautiful Adrian Frutiger – Typefaces, though focused on a single designer, actually covers modern type design quite broadly and accessibly.

    I’m also impressed with the Bibliothèque Typographique series that started a few years ago from Ypsilon Éditeur (full English translations included). The volumes I’ve seen, one on Jose Mendoza y Almeida and the other on Roger Excoffon, were both well done. Individual chapters of those books on different typeface projects could serve well as historical complements to a how-to course.

    Christopher Burke’s books on Renner and Tschichold, mentioned in Dan’s list, are terrific.

  9. Ian McLaren reviewed Reading Letters for Baseline and found it to be lacking. (It is not clear, though, whether his complete review is shown on the website.)

    From my own short time with the book, I concur with some of his disappointment, but I think that has a lot to do with the book’s premise that it is specifically about legibility. While it doesn’t always follow through with a complete analysis of specific methodologies or legibility studies, it does collect many resources and examples that could be a very useful starting point for a beginning to intermediate type designer. Certainly a book like this could be better, but I don’t know of anything else with this sort of content. I hope someone can show me otherwise.

  10. Christoph says:

    Since I second Nicole in terms of the problem of not knowing where to start, I asked some experts for lists of 5 essential books for beginners: typefacts.com/der-typografische-kanon (Focus on German)

  11. Nicole is right, so I will I add some context for my – admittedly, slow – uploading of the resources we use in the MATD, this year (things change annually).
    Assuming the general principle that it is a Good Thing for as much stuff to be online, we need to deal with the problem of selection (because an ever-growing list of everything published is useless) and utility (because people have different perspectives, interests, and levels, and lists needs to be tailored to these, if they are going to be useful).

    The main criteria for compiling my lists are:
    – access to material: what you can get as an incoming student is not the same as what you can find in our reading room, or my office;
    – level of need: from introductory all the way to PhD level;
    – priority (i.e. time you can devote to this strand of inquiry): is this central to the student’s interests, or something that they need to be aware of, but not in depth?
    – depth and width: balancing topic focus and subject context at each level of need;
    – discovery: using the list to build skills in research and support exploration and inquiry;
    – example: can you use a list to demonstrate a good approach to making lists?

    So, what I post has caveats galore: they are offered “as is, where is”, as merchants say. This is most clearly seen in my seminar resource lists. At one level, the topics say something very general: “I think this is a useful way to structure a discussion on type design”. Anybody can use these as starting points, because the topics are idea-centred but not level-specific. At another level, they offer evidence for my approach to discussing XYZ topic.

    A good example, at this stage, is my list for Gerritt Noordzij’s contribution: some students may find this excessive, others puzzling. But there is a logic governing the selection that ties to the guided discussion during the seminar. (Although some students have recorded seminars in the past, I don’t think it would be useful to have transcriptions of these: our seminars build on themes throughout the year, and are not standalone events.)

    So, use them as you please, or not at all – I can try to answer questions about why this or that are in, if I have time.

  12. These books are classics, in my opinion, for a general understanding of typography (and they led to many other books which appeared in their wake). For more specific subjects, there are many already mentioned above, which we assign to our students.

    Martin, Euniciano (1970). La composición en las artes plásticas; Barcelona: Ediciones Don Bosco

    Druet, Roger & Grégoire, Herman (1976). La civilisation de l’écriture. Paris: Fayard-Dessain et Tolra

    Frutiger, Adrian (1981) Reflexiones sobre signos y caracteres. Barcelona; G.Gili

    Gottschall, Edward M. (1989). Typographics Comunications Today. Cambridge; The MIT Press

    Klein, M., Schewemer-Scheddin, Y, Spiekermann, E, (1991) Type & Typographers; The Netherlans: V+K Publisheshing

    Kinross, Robin (1992). Modern typography: an essay in critical history. Londres: Hyphen Press
    (editado también en español)

    Blackwell, Lewis (1993). La tipografía del siglo XX. Barcelona: G. Gili

    Mediavilla, Claude (1993). Galligraphie; Paris: Imprimerie Nationale Éditions
    (editado también en español)

    Baudin, Fernand (1994). L’efett Gutenberg; France: Éditions du cercle de la librairie

    Wolman, Matt, Bellantoni, Jeff (2001) Tipos en movimiento; Mexico, McGraw Hill Interamericana editores

  13. Gavin Rampling says:

    With regard to the question of what resources to select and use from a dense reading list, I am currently planning a graphic design project that seeks to visualise relationships between text resources. For instance asking what are the resources methods of delivering information (e.g theory or practical example), reasons for recommendation, what resources cover the same ground etc.

    The intention is to provide new students of typeface design the entry point, mentioned by Nicole above, in the form of a visual aid that helps the student locate their learning.

    It would be interesting to know from students wishing to engage with reading lists what they think would help them.

  14. Allen says:

    I like this one in particular: Gottschall, Edward M. (1989). Typographics Comunications Today. Cambridge; The MIT Press

  15. Thanks for the recommendation, Allen. Gottschall’s book is a pricey thing, but luckily MIT Press is having a 50th anniversary sale until June 3, 2013, so you can snag it direct from the publisher for 50% off.

  16. Matthew Butterick just released a book called Practical Typography as a website.

  17. […] Perhaps it’s the narrow topic that makes this book so successful. We often bemoan the lack of books dedicated to type design. One reason for the shortage may be that a broad guide attempting to cover the full scope of type making just isn’t practical. […]

  18. Peter says:

    Keith Tam also has a good list.

  19. Ellen Lupton and Jason Santa Maria released books on screen/web typography this year. I had a small hand in each of them so I won’t be writing a review, but I welcome submissions!

  20. It has taken some time, but finally we have been able to publish the book How to Create Typefaces (Cómo crear tipografías) in English. Christopher Burke and Patricia Córdoba have been responsible for the translation.

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