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Writing About Writing About Typography

Robin Rendle writes about writing about typography, but he has lessons for all of us who want to write well.

Though I don’t entirely agree with his viewpoint about the particular sentence he criticises. Here it is:

A revival is based on historical models, made suitable for contemporary use, adapted to the typographical and technical needs of today, but nevertheless relies on a personal response to the historical style.

The ‘revival’ it’s talking about involves recreating old typefaces, and/or building new versions of them. It’s from a site called The Rosart Project, set up by some students of typography.

Rendle’s essay at an improved version of that sentence is this:

Type designers will often look at letterforms that were made in the past and then redraw them for modern day use. This is called a “revival” by the type community but I like to think of it as a remix: a type designer will unavoidably apply their own style and harmonies, their own deviations and melodies to the song.

Every remix is different, every remix is important.

Which is certainly brighter, has a bit more sparkle, and arguably is easier to understand. But I don’t think the original is that bad. Certainly not as bad as Rendle thinks. He says:

what does any of this mean? The words make sense but it’s written in a style that’s familiar to anyone that reads about the field of typography. It’s what’s known to folks outside the field as “academic writing” but it’s what I consider to simply be bad writing—it’s waffling and unclear.

It’s what is often called dry, I’d say, certainly compared to the alternative. But I don’t think it deserves quite the fire he brings to it. Of course he’s only doing it — he says, and I believe him — because he loves the project, and wants to ‘see the whole typographic community break the shackles of this style of writing.’

Which is fair enough. I’d certainly rather read a piece in Rendle’s style than much academic writing. So I guess maybe I do agree with him after all. His final advice to the typographic community could apply just about anywhere where words are used:

write to swoon, to convince, to make a stranger fall in love. Abandon the academic style, because it’s making your beautiful work so very boring.