The Font of all Knowledge

Fonts. Who knew that there was so much to fonts? Having previously worked with fonts a little in web design, and also having done a little desktop publishing in the heady old days of the best family of computers ever made, the Commodore Amiga, long before the current era of the digital native, I am well aware of how different fonts can affect the reader. That being said, now that we are living in the era of high resolution graphics where screens now produce an accurate simulacrum of the page, the level of detail involved in selecting and using a font is greatly increased from the days where the pixels were clearly visible on the screen. I learned today that the tiniest difference between fonts that the casual reader is unlikely to even notice can have a huge impact on the perception of a cover, often making the difference between a well designed or badly designed cover. Despite the post-modernist habit of not accepting the validity of such terms I remain convinced that there are such things as bad and good design.

It seems to me that the purpose of a font is to lead the reader to form a particular impression about a book, to sell the book, encourage the reader to open it, and most importantly to look at the book. I do not think that there are bad or good fonts (subject to the individual’s taste), only well or poorly chosen ones. A well chosen font fits a design and does not stand out in the sense that it makes itself known. A poorly chosen font looks out of place and does not fit in with a design. Ultimately these things are a matter of taste, however it seems to me that since publishing is a business it is the job of the designer to give a book the best opportunity to sell and this should inform font selection the most.

Book Cover Analysis

This week I have chosen to analyse Ellen MacArthur’s memoir Taking on the World which is, incidentally, a superb account of the accomplishments of an incredible woman.


I like this cover because I think it is a brave design. Whether morally acceptable or not, it is typically the case that a woman on the cover of something is usually there to use sex to sell that something. This is not the case here because Ms. MacArthur is not the typical female form in that sense. She has short hair and looks almost androgynous, and she is fully clothed. MacArthur completed the solo Vendee Globe so this book rightly focuses on her sailing achievements and it is right that she is portrayed as the sailor she is. She is an engaging and brilliant woman, however one would not typically call her photogenic in the sense I mentioned earlier. It is also refreshing that even though she is not being used as ‘eye candy’ she is still the most prominent feature of the cover. I applaud the publisher in putting her front and centre in this way, particularly in light of her losing the BBC Sports Personality of the Year to David Beckham (an absolutely farcical decision by the way. Kicking a ball does not compare to the first woman to single-handedly circumnavigate the globe). Her name is the largest text on the cover, and this is obviously because at the time of launch her public profile was about as well known as is possible. It is also no accident that the quote on the cover is from The Times. Sailing is at best a middle class pastime and so the market to which this book appeals is clear, and this quote reflects that.

The book title is written in a font resembling handwriting which is apt given that this book is autobiographical in nature. This also reflects the content of the book. MacArthur logged her journeys in handwritten form and the title reflects not only that, but also the fact that the book is a chronicle of her lifelong struggle through tremendous adversity that saw her rise to the top of the sailing world. She was literally the best of the best, but it came at a price. She did take on the world, in the sense that she went after something seemingly impossible and did it.

I love this cover and I love this book.


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