Quick review: TypeNotes Issue 1

TypeNotes is a newly launched design publication from London-based type foundry Fontsmith. Our editor Paul dived into the first issue to see what all the fuss is about.


Just what is TypeNotes?

Described by Fontsmith founder Jason Smith as a collection of ideas about type and design, TypeNotes is intended to be an insightful and inspiring look into the old fashioned (his words, not mine) world of typography.

Our industry is certainly not short of design journals and publications, so who is TypeNotes aimed at?

Well, just about anyone interested in the ins and outs of typography, really.

Knowledge and insight are its core goals. There’s no reliance on jargon making it a great read for designers at any professional or academic level.

First impressions of the magazine are promising.

It’s certainly not short of pages coming in at well over 100 and the uncoated paper stock feels great in your hands.

The pages have a decent thickness but crease easily, and after being subjected to a photo shoot and multiple read-throughs our copy can definitely be described as ‘well-thumbed’.

TypeNotes is the sort of publication that asks you to grab a coffee in a quiet corner and take your time to read it.

The overall design and layout is very clean thanks to London studio The Counter Press, with the entire publication being set using Fontsmith typefaces. Each issue also includes a fold-out A2 poster, with the first issue giving us a vibrant guide to typographic terms.

Overall he writing is concise and easy to devour and articles are punctuated with bold but simple graphics.

What’s inside?

The subject matter is always about typography in some form, but with typography being such a broad topic it happily branches into other adjacent fields. For example, motion graphics with a feature on fonts and type treatments for the title sequences for Twin Peaks and Stranger Things.

For me, there are some very strong, stand-out articles and a couple in particular that really excited me.

The first is a brief but insightful look at Cyrillic letterforms, specifically the minor differences between Russian, Bulgarian and Serbian Cyrillic, written by Krista Radoeva.

Whilst most designers probably will never have to worry about using anything other than Latin glyphs, it’s still a short but insightful read with accompanying visual comparisons between some of the letterforms.

Comparisons of Cyrillic letterforms

Similarly, the second article that starts off the Punctuation series looks at different forms of punctuation and commonly used glyphs, providing some insight into their construction and history, as well as directions for their modern day usage.

These two articles alone are exactly the sort of unique content that would keep us looking forward to future issues.

We also get a glimpse at certain aspects of designing letterforms and typefaces, such as tricks to make fonts more legible for readers with learning disabilities, and the optical illusions put into place by designers to ensure glyphic harmony.

Typeface tricks to help an audience that struggles with reading understand the forms

Some of the visual trickery present in Fontsmith’s FS Lucas typeface

Part way through the issue is an additional glossy pullout nestled within the pages of the mag, exploring the concept of ‘luxury’ in design, essentially a look at how brands use certain styles of typefaces to give their brand image a sense of the luxurious.

Room for improvement?

Sadly, one particular area of the magazine that disappointed me was the feature Tools of the Trade, which seemed to hint at an article on the working practices, techniques, and of course tools of modern day sign painter Mark Josling.

Unfortunately, the article failed to deliver any real insight into sign painting as an industry, and instead is a very brief profile of Mark.

The descriptive text for the ‘Tools of the Trade’ feature hints at further insight that sadly isn’t really there

This is by no means a negative reaction to Mark or the actual article itself, but the supporting imagery of messy studio paraphernalia really peaked my interest and sadly the article wasn’t what I was hoping it would be.

Personally, I’d love to see Tools of the Trade return as a format all of its own, giving us an in-depth look at these ‘lost’ or mysterious fields of work.

Mark Josling bio from ‘Tools of the Trade’

Scattered throughout, we also get insights from industry professionals condensed into a Five things… format, with this issue giving us Five things I wish I knew before starting an agency.

Coming from a variety of sources these are a little hit and miss with contributions varying in length quite a bit. Most responses are short and concise, but I felt there were a couple of instances where the points made required a little more context to actually be worthwhile. One response in particular is just a single word without any clarity.

For future issues, I’d like to see these sections curated a little better to ensure the readers aren’t left scratching their heads about what this advice is supposed to be.

So, is it worth a buy?

Absolutely. Issue 1 is a very strong start. The topics and articles are broad and interesting and I hope this trend continues in future issues.

Aside from the one or two weak points (which admittedly are my subjective opinions), TypeNotes is a very enjoyable read for anyone who works with or has an interest in typography. I’d highly recommend picking up a copy.

Issue 01 is priced at £10GB, which feels fair considering the amount of content and the quality of the finish. It’s available to purchase from independent retailers and direct from the FontSmith shop.

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