What is a typographer?
A typographer is a design professional who selects, arranges, and even customizes type to make the text as attractive and effective as possible. This involves choosing typefaces, determining font size and spacing, and ensuring that all typographical elements in a piece of work complement one another.
Professional typographers work on everything from billboards to restaurant menus, but when it comes to books, they’ll focus on the text that appears on the cover and in the chapter headings. For the book's exterior, they'll make sure your title text is eye-catching and genre-appropriate. Within the book, they will harmonize all typefaces and fonts (which are the specific styles of a typeface — “Times New Roman” is a typeface, “12 point italicized Times New Roman” is a font).
Advanced typographers can also tweak or blend typefaces to create a more unique aesthetic, or even invent a brand-new typeface just for you. Of course, such talented typographers don’t grow on trees. So where can you find one who’s perfect for your project?
Do ebooks need typography?
If you’re self-publishing an ebook, you may be wondering whether you can be your own typographer. But don’t underestimate the challenge of great typography — unless you’re a designer yourself, you’ll want to hire a professional! Only an experienced typographer can pick the right typeface and fonts to convey your book’s “brand” at a glance, maximizing the marketing effects of the cover even at thumbnail size (as it will frequently appear on Amazon and other online stores).
Also, while interior ebook typography can vary slightly depending on e-reader, it’s still important to have your section and chapter titles, running heads, drop caps, and page numbers styled in a consistent way. Again, a pro typographer will handle all of this for you.
Clean, uniform typography is especially crucial if you’re publishing a series of ebooks: you want readers to get a strong sense of your brand rather than detect typographical irregularities between installments. If anything, hiring a typographer for your ebook is extra-critical here, since it's much easier to spot inconsistencies on screen than on paper.
Typographers vs. typesetters
Those who are familiar with the process of typesetting might be confused how it differs from typography. There’s definitely some overlap (many professionals work as both typographers and typesetters), but the key distinction is that typographers work with more intricate, subtle design elements — hence why they’re more likely to spend time on your cover and chapter headings, rather than the main text of your book. Typesetters, on the other hand, understand body text as their bread and butter: they’ll configure all the text on every single page of a book.
For your purposes as an author, just remember:
- If you’re looking for someone to fine-tune your title text and other “special” fonts in your book, possibly even create a new signature typeface for you, hire a typographer.
- If you’re looking for someone to lay out your entire book — a task that involves aligning paragraphs, measuring margins, and checking for isolated “widows” and “orphans” on the page — hire a typesetter (also known as a book layout designer).
10 famous typographers you should know
Typography is an art form, and those who master it are immortalized in the world of design, often through typefaces we still use today! Wondering who these iconic lettermen and letterwomen are? Here’s a list of 10 typefaces you might find familiar, and the masterful typographers who crafted them.
1. Stanley Morison and Victor Lardent invented Times New Roman in 1931, originally meant for the British newspaper The Times and now the go-to typeface for professional writers.
2. Max Miedinger, a Swiss designer, created Helvetica in 1957 — another neutral, professional typeface popular among students and writers, but also found on New York City subway signs and in many company logos, such as those for American Airlines and Nestlé.
3. Vincent Connare designed the slightly infamous Comic Sans typeface in 1994, which you’ve most likely seen in children’s books and on homemade signs.
4. Chris Costello created Papyrus in 1982, a calligraphy-inspired typeface that many would recognize from the title card for James Cameron’s Avatar (and the ensuing SNL sketch with Ryan Gosling).
5. Carol Twombly designed Trajan, Myriad, and Adobe Caslon in the late 80s and 90s as part of her work for Adobe Systems. Myriad has remained especially prominent into the 21st century, being used for the Rolls-Royce text logo and also as Apple’s main brand typeface.
6. Edward Johnston invented his namesake Johnston in 1913 after being commissioned by a commercial manager of the London Underground — where you’ll still notice the Johnston typeface on tube signs today!
7. Alexandra Korolkova and Maria Selezeneva, a duo of Russian designers, created the Journal Sans New typeface in 2014. It’s an update of the mid-20th-century typeface Journal Sans, and can frequently be seen in literary magazines and website headers.
8. Paul Renner designed the still-fashionable Futura typeface in 1927 as part of the New Frankfurt project in Germany. These days you’ll find it mostly in advertisements, including those for IKEA, Supreme, and Absolut Vodka.
9. Julieta Ulanovsky designed the typeface Montserrat in 2014, based on typographical elements from classic signage in her Buenos Aires neighborhood.
10. Łukasz Dziedzic designed the Lato typeface in 2010. As Google’s third most popular font family, Lato is found in a vast number of places — including here on the Reedsy site, as one of our own signature typefaces!
Learn more from a world-class typographer
In 2015, we had the incredible opportunity to interview one of the best book designers and typographers in the business, Erik Spiekermann. He left us with several nuggets of wisdom, which you’ll find here.
“Design works not because people understand or even appreciate it but because it works subliminally.”
“Most authors are their own worst enemies when it comes to designing their books. They are way too close to them.”
“The same goes for a screen that goes for paper: consider your text, your substrate, your audience and know the rules of typography.”