Ed Fierro
Willi Kunz, Typography:
Macro- and Microaesthetics

Technology’s typographic party has produced varied results. Enter an essential, and perhaps unexpected, participant. Willi Kunz lays down the law in Macro- and Microaesthetics: effective typography is founded on principles, which must first be learned and then rigorously applied. The author emphasizes another point that seems obvious but is often ignored—namely, that the quantity of information we’re subjected to outpaces our capacity to sort, filter, and select, which makes high-quality, disciplined typography essential.

Spare and elegant in its visual presentation, the book’s opening chapter is as much an overview of type as a policy statement. By showing and discussing alphabets, spacing conventions, and letter parts, the author gives a rare degree of attention to the most basic elements of form and style, highlighting the essential building blocks of typography. He even addresses the mood-setting properties of fonts. Slightly less effective is his review of graphic line elements and shapes.

In a later chapter, “Aspects of Design,” literature’s neglected cousin, page design, is handsomely presented. The author’s approach to the grid is refreshing: while illustrating disciplined structures and applications, the text shows how intuitive visual sensitivity can inform a designer’s choices. A few dissonant notes in some of the example designs mar this largely successful demonstration: they may indicate cases in which the sensitive eye might have overridden the grid.

Among the most revealing subchapters are “Sequence” and “Contrast.” Word shapes and the visual personalities of letter pairs are illustrated in a logical sequence that urges the reader to think about aspects of type often taken for granted. Encouraging interaction with the visual examples, the simple text propels the author’s overall message: good typography demands critical decision-making, and those decisions have consequences.

You have to admire anyone who risks subjecting his own work to scrutiny. In the chapter “Macro- and Microaesthetics,” the author puts several of his poster designs through the critical paces, pointing out his ideas at work in the layers of art and type. While this exercise provides insight into the author’s design behavior, his breakdown of the compositional layers may be more useful.

In the end, with his intelligent treatment, the author has created a much-needed reminder of typography’s role: making information accessible and useful—a message that deserves to be heard above the noise now in vogue.