The Design Center, DT&G / DTG Reviews / George Engel reviews Non-Designer's Design & Type Books by Robin Williams  

George Engel has been a friend to the Design Center and the User Group Network for more years than we care to admit. His writings are always intuitive, informative and fun -- he has been an Apple hardware/software guru since the beginning of the Mac, and is one of our favorite contributors...

Non-Designer's Design & Type Books ~ Deluxe Edition

a Book Review by George M Engel

Robin WilliamsI just received Robin Williams latest book(s) called 'The Non-Designer's Design & Type Books.' Why book(s)? Because it's two books in one! The first part, or Book One as it may be, is 215 pages, and Book Two (the Type Book) is 240 pages. That's over 450 pages of design and type information for those of you just waiting for a hands-on tutorial to be able to do things right for a change.

Before I begin, on the last page of the book, Robin mentions that she did the first edition of this book (one of them, I assume) in the older Page- Maker 6.5, which we both loved for its simplicity and power. Just recently, she opened this eight-year old document in InDesign CS2 and it opened intact with the layout, typographic features and even the index complete. Amazing, absolutely amazing! Now you know why I love Adobe products!

The book body text is typeset in Adobe Caslon Pro, an OpenType font, which is very readable. I use Adobe Garamond Premier Pro, also an OpenType face for its very readable type. As an example, here's Caslon Pro: As you can see, the x-height is bigger, meaning the lower case letter is larger from top-to-bottom, even though the point size is still 12 point, as is the Garamond Premier Pro. But let's get back to Garamond Premiere Pro...

I use Garamond Premiere Pro because I like the appearance it gives my Newsletter. However, that's this year. Maybe next year I'll change to Caslon Pro. It's like makeup, shoes and handbags, my friends. Todays look might be tomorrows fashion.

So let's get back to Robins book!

Robin Williams cartoonThe Non-Designers Design Book is in its Third Edition, while the Non- Designers Type Book is in its Second Edition. Having both books together is a great idea for a reference book.

I feel as if I'm having breakfast and dinner with Robin, since I bought her first 'The Mac is not a Typewriter' and 'The Little Mac Book' back in 1990. I've been reading her books ever since, including the only book of hers that I gave away, 'A Blip in the Continuum,' which was a book on 'grunge fonts.'

On to the book (again.) The first book is comprised of three parts:

'Design Principles,' composed of Proximity, Alignment, Repetition and Contrast; with chapters on 'Using Color,' and 'Extra Tips & Tricks.' 'Designing With Type,' with sections on Type (& Life,) categories of Type, and Type Contrasts.

'Extras,' the third part, talks about The Process, with exercises, Answers to Quizzes, Typefaces, and an Appendix, along with the Index.

The basic principles are a must for the budding designer. If you can't understand the fundamentals of Proximity, Alignment, Repetition and Contrast, you might as well pick up your Crayolas and leave the room.

These are a must, as they control the reader of the article. Lose their eyes and you lost their mind, even if the content is great. It's all in the presentation! Robin does a great job in explaining these principles, with plenty of examples and graphics lending color to the chapters. It's obvious she spent many a year as a teacher.

Robin next spends maybe ten pages explaining categories of type, from Oldstyle to Decorative. I don't think it was enough, but I'm a type hound myself and would like to know more.

For the Novice, I think it suffices as a minimum. She then takes the next thirty pages and goes into Size, Weight, Structure, Form, Direction, Color and Combining the Contrasts.

This was a great thirty pages of material, folks. I really enjoyed the visuals she provides. This Book One is a great read and highly recommended! The Second part of this Book(s) is called 'The Non-Designers Type Book.' Yep, there's a little fleur-de-lis kind of thingie in the title, so I included it here to be kind of authentic. I'd hate to have Robin stick a pin in a wax-like dummy image of me late at night.

This 2006-original is based on Insights and Techniques for creating professional-level type. You may have seen portions, or chapters of this book printed elsewhere, like in Layers Magazine (2005), or in Adobe Magazine (1995.) This great book comprises 11 chapters.

My Chapter overview :

'What is Typography, anyway?' This is an Introductory and review chapter on Typography, eye-training, anatomy of type and more.

'A Brief History on Type' talks about centuries of type and a favorite of mine, Aldus Manutius.

'Readability and Legibility' is about the art (and yes, it is an art) of Legibility and Readability. It's all in the eyes of the designer and reader.

'Punctuation' is the chapter that makes all the difference between the professional typographer and the amateur! Ever get that 'not sure' feeling about Quotation Marks and how they're properly used? How about 'hanging that punctuation mark?' Hang what? I guess you better read this chapter, folks. It's a goodie. I learned a lot reading it. Robin makes it so simple for you.

'Expert Type' covers OpenType & Expert Sets of fonts, Small Caps and how to use them, Oldstyle Figures, Ligatures, Condensed and Extended Type and Display Type.

'Spacing' is about Kerning, Linespacing (or leading,) Paragraph Spacing and Alignment.

'Details' talks about Headlines and Subheads, Pull Quotes, Captions, Emphasizing Type and Line Breaks and Hyphenation.

'Special Effects' covers the use of Swash Characters, Initial Caps, Typographic Color, Ornaments & Dingbats, Pi & Picture fonts and 'Don't be a Wimp!' 'Typographic Choices' explores typefaces that evoke a response from you, the reader, in a number of ways. Remember, by controlling the eye, you're controlling the mind. Evocative Typography, Choosing a Typeface, Telltales signs of Desktop Publishing and Trends in Type (last by John Tollett.)

'Glossary of Type Terms' and 'Other Info' with Terms and Appendix chapters finish up the book, along with an Index for both book(s.)

I strongly suggest that you go the Library and borrow a copy of 'The Mac is Not a Typewriter,' if you can. It's an excellent reference for the budding typographer. You can eliminate so many mistakes by that reference book.

Robins rat Of course, you can also buy or read 'The Chicago Manual of Style' or Strunk's 'The Elements of Style' to be perfectly correct if you have a month or two of free time. Buying Robin's earthy, down-home style of writing is more in my line of an easy read.

Robin todayThis Type Book is set in a Warnock Pro Light and Regular for the body copy, a little different than the first book, but still an OpenType font. Why does she prefer OpenType you may ask? I could tell you, but you wouldn't retain the information anyway.

Read the book if you want to retain that kind of information! Go to her website for some fun stuff; also read her biography for some very life-filling experiences and some hard times as a single Mom rearing her three children. She's an awesome woman!

Non-Designer's Design & Type Books ~ Deluxe Edition
Published: Oct 15, 2007; Copyright 2007;
Dimensions: 7 x 10 ; Pages: 455;
Edition: 1st; Price: $45.00 US Retail
Your price HERE: $29.70, you save over 15 bucks!

Makes a great gift too!

George Engel

About the author: George Engel has been a computer guru probably longer than he will admit -- as a computer expert, he authored The Naked Serviceman book, about his journey through the history of Apple's Macintosh as owner/founder of an authorized Apple Service Center. He owned one of the first Apple II computers as well as one of the first Macintosh 128s. He hangs out with the Lakeland User Group in sunny Florida


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