MyMac Non-Designer Series
Book Reivew

On December 8, 2005, in Book Review, by Bakari Chavanu

The Non-Designer’s Type Book (Second Edition)
By Robin Williams
Peachpit Press
ISBN 0-321-30336-9
239 pages
Price: US $24.99, CN $24.99 UK £17.99

Reading, reviewing, and five starring Robin William’s Non-Designer’s Design Book led me to read her follow-up book, The Non-Designer’s Type Book (Second Edition). Though her former book is a must for anyone—and I mean anyone!—using a computer and producing letters, fliers, newsletters, webpages, and other documents, this latter guide book is more for those who are need more advance skills and techniques for higher level design projects and work.

She or the publishers rightly added in a front cover blurb of the book that it’s “Perfect for Designers, Too!” Yes, indeed, it would seem to be a perfect course textbook.

But wait. If you think this book is not for you, keep reading. Just look around you. In the age of desktop publishing and design there’s little excuse for documents that look like they were produced on typewriter or by low skilled user of a word processor. Williams admits that most of the techniques she introduces can only be accomplished with layout applications like InDesign or QuarkXPress. But I beg to differ. I think many of her insights and techniques could also be applied to smaller programs like Apple’s Pages, AppleWorks, Word, or Swift Puplisher. Even TextEdit now comes with features (check Format in the menu bar of TextEdit) that can help you improve the typography of your documents, but its style controls take more time.

Parts of this book cover many of the rules and guidelines about typesetting that Williams covers in her Non-Designer’s Design Book and also her The Mac is Not a Typewriter style manual, which is also an essential book for those who have never had a class in good computer word processing.

In all three books, Williams reminds you that you should know about the difference between typewriter quotes and true smart quotes, single and double prime marks, subscripting, or the standard usage for parentheses. For example, if you’re still using two dashes (–) instead of an em dash( — ) (Option Shift Hyphen) for setting off a phrase in the middle of a sentence or an abrupt change in thought, then you should definitely reference this or one of her other books.

After a few chapters of usage review, Williams cracks open what can be found in the Character Palette of most word processing and design programs and through your very on Font Book. If you don’t know about this feature, open up your TextEdit program, and go to Edit>Special Characters (Option+Command+T) and discover the little jewels that you can use in a pinch for dressing up a document. For example, instead using hyphen marks for your bullet list (that’s seriously so old school), why not use these: ? ? ? or ??? or even???. If you know how to use these marks, they can make your documents stand out with, well, a little character. You can even find Brialle Patterns and graphic arrows (?, ?, ?) of use. I don’t think short keystrokes exist for these special characters, but these special characters are there when you need them.

After introducing use of character type, Williams addresses useful but not always well known techniques about line and paragraph spacing. You’ll find that you’re not limited to single and double spacing in your documents. This is especially useful for headlines. Notice the difference in these two headlines when you decrease the line in the one on the right:

Williams discusses how this line spacing can be done with paragraphs as well. Don’t double space using Returns, she advices. Learn to use the line spacing tool in your software for a more controlled effect.

Williams moves on to discuss the effective use of margin alignment, headlines, and subheads, captions, and pull quotes. Each time she applies her guidelines to the layout of her own book. Each chapter is rich with various fonts, character bullets, and a page style that is very pleasing to eye. It’s a textbook you could easily read cover to cover.

And most interesting, except for the front and back cover, there’s not a single use of color in book, except for what she calls “black-and-white color.” That’s right, there’s a way to make your documents stand out and look colorful without using color. Using techniques like typeface with heavier weight, pull quotes, and bold lines above and below the body of the body text, you can make your documents stand out.

For me, Williams saves her best guidelines for the last few chapters which are about making good typographic choices. These chapters should invite you to crack open your Font Book and see what fonts you already have installed. You might consider making folders for various font collections that could make your documents more interesting. One folder could be labeled Readable Fonts, containing fonts like Baskerville Old Face, Didot, Garamond, Palatino, and Times New Roman. These are serif fonts which are easier to read than the sans serif fonts, such as the overly used Helvetica font that is drab looking for large body of text. A list of recommended Font vendors are listed in the appendix of this book. A quick search for “free mac fonts” should be useful start for helping you build your Font Book. If you’re doing design work for scrapbooking, fliers, business forms, home or professional movies, Pages or Keynote layouts, etc., then it wouldn’t hurt to expand your Font Book collections using the guidelines from this book.

Williams titles her last chapter, “Telltale Signs of Desktop Publishing.” Reading this list of thirteen common practices that lead to less effective use of typography should be revealing to most of us non-designers who produce documents on a regular basis. Better knowledge and control of your software (Word, AppleWorks, Pages, TextEdit, etc.) can help you work around these telltale signs. We no longer have to be content with boring looking documents when can learn to apply many of the professional-level techniques shared in this and other books by Williams. Rating: 5 out 5

Note: this review is part of a series of reviews and features that I’m calling MyMac Design for Non-Designers. I want to share what I’m learning and applying to my own work about professional desktop design from a layman’s point of view. I welcome your feedback and suggestions on this series.

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