So, I am now a few weeks into my book design course at Ryerson, and it felt like it was really slow going until last night’s class (which happened during the Snowmageddon-that-wasn’t). Last night, we finally got around to one of the meaty topics I was most looking forward to: typography.

We covered the bread-and-butter basics, like typeface families, the difference between serif and sans-serif fonts, and the pace of technological change in typesetting up to the present day. We talked about Caslon, coastlines, and how block capitals reduce readability. We also did some font tracery and analyzed how different families treat brackets. On top of that, we lightly touched on the pairing of complementary serif and sans-serif fonts, but I still need to develop the Designer’s Eye to really get a sense for what pops and what doesn’t.

However, it was quite a relief to hear my teacher say that most designers stick to a handful of tried-and-true fonts that they use over and over for different projects. Knowing that even book designers, who can be quite adventurous, usually have comfort zones was, well, comforting. I can definitely name a fiew of my own personally pleasing fonts: Friz Quadrata, Chaparral, Book Antiqua, and so forth. We also got a handout showing the same sample of text repeated side by side in various typefaces, and I’m pleased to say that I’ve found a few more intriguing candidates, like Cambria, to play around with.

Overall, I’d say the biggest challenge I’ll be facing in this course is my own lack of design training: I have yet to fully develop the aesthetic muscles needed to really take apart a book design and see what makes it tick. Futzing around with InDesign has been instructive, but I need to branch beyond making my test documents look like the cover pages to an essay. If Ryerson had an “aesthetic appreciation” course, I’d definitely consider taking advantage of it.