4 essential reads to help improve your typography skills

In this article I share some of my personal favourite books for gaining a better understanding of Typography.

4 essential reads to help improve your typography skills
Photo by Nick Fewings / Unsplash

Typography is such a key component in how your site (or app) and the information inside of it is presented and understood.

A greater understanding of typography can make the difference between a great design and a mediocre one.

There are plenty of excellent learning materials out there, and one of those is the regular ol’ book. Yes. Real physical books.

Here I share a few of my personal favourites to better understand Typography...

The Elements of Typographic Style

by Robert Bringhurst

In Art & Design college, this was one of those books thrust upon you. The web was not even a whisper then. It was all Design for Print at that time, and this was the guide (even before it was referred to as the ‘Typographers Bible’) that you were expected to reference consistently.

Now. To someone just venturing into the world of typography, The Elements of Typographic Style can seem like a bit of a slog. It’s a bible, a tome, something that cannot be skimmed through with just one coffee and a Danish pastry. It’s a deep, deep read, and one that I’ve always felt is more suitable for dipping in and out of for reference of the absolute minutiae of typography.

It does focus more on print design, but it gives you a better understanding of the basics of typography, and there’s enough information here that can be readily applied to Type on the Web.

Could you skip over this book and jump into something more easily digestible? You could, for sure, having a surface knowledge of type can get you by, but you’d be skipping the rich history of type and have a little less appreciation for it.

Get The Elements of Typographic Style

Better Web Typography for a Better Web

by Matej Latin

I like Matej’s book a lot. It’s a guide that speaks to both designers and developers who want to understand typography better, especially how it’s presented on the web, as opposed to the other recommendations here in this article that present things more from a Print usage perspective.

Opt for this book first if you want to look at improving your web typography skills quickly. With its practical steps taking you from design to code, you can get a good feel for what makes great typography on the web and for an absolute beginner, it’s the easiest of the books to pick up and digest.

Now. That’s not to say it teaches the basics or lacks technical expertise. No way. It’s in-depth and teaches you plenty of the intricacies of type, but in a much more accessible way than something like The Elements of Typographic Style does, especially for someone just starting to hone their typography skills.

As I mentioned, out of all the books mentioned in this article, this one will bring you the fastest results in improving your understanding of typography on the web and how you present your Type choices in the future.

Get Better Web Typography for a Better Web

Typography Essentials

by Ina Saltz

Ok. So many of the examples used throughout Typography Essentials focus on print design, which as a beginner to typography can make it hard sometimes to visualise it in a web environment. Still, once you look past the visuals, many of the principles mentioned in the book can be applied quite easily to type on the web.

Ina Saltz breaks down typography into sections; the letter, the word, the paragraph, and the page, and does a great job of presenting things in a practical way that is easy to understand and apply to your projects.

As I mentioned, a lot of the design examples shown are of the print variety and a showcase of the design freedom that medium allows, but as you get more comfortable with type, maybe you could take some of the more obscure type and layout choices from this book (when the project allows) and do something different from the norm. And, oh boy, does the web need a good shot of originality right now.

Now. Will you become an expert on all things typography by reading this book? Erm. Nope. Will you take away from it plenty of inspiration on how to bring something a little different to the world of type on the web? Absolutely.

Get Typography Essentials

The Designer’s Dictionary of Type

by Sean Adams

The Designer’s Dictionary of Type stands more as a visual reference guide to typography than something more practical and hands-on like Better Web Typography, but what it brings in an understanding of some of the classics of the typeface world is super valuable.

If you want a more easily digestible reference to the many Type Classifications (ie; Serif, Neo-Grotesque, etc...), this guide does a great job of presenting them in a way that’s easy to understand for someone just venturing into the world of type.

Like Typography Essentials previously, a lot of the typefaces are presented in a print context, but as I mentioned earlier, hopefully, they inspire you to create something a little different than the same old, same old we’ve become a little too comfortable with.

I’d say this book is more of a reference for when you’re feeling a little more confident with type and can take inspiration from the examples and apply them to your next project. I still skim through it from time to time, see one typeface, and it can kick off my creative spark for a project.

Get The Designer’s Dictionary of Type

As I mentioned earlier, great Typography is such a key component in how your site (or app) and the information inside of it is presented and understood.

Hopefully, the books that I’ve covered can give you a better understanding of typography and help you bring a great user experience to your finished project instead of a mediocre one.

Oh. And as much as you may be tempted to buy the downloadable version of these books (hey, they’re a lot cheaper, right), please don’t. Anything to do with the intricacies of Typography needs to be appreciated in physical book form. Honestly. Give those PDFs a miss this time.

By the way, if you want to improve your design skills fast, and save yourself hundreds of design hours, my Design System for Figma; Cabana could really help you out. Use the code CAB35 to receive 35% OFF. 👇

Cabana - Design System for Figma
Creating amazing designs is hard when you’ve got deadlines to meet. So we built Cabana, a Design System for Figma that enables you to start projects faster.

Thanks for reading the article,