Early this morning, as I rose from slumber, a quick and daft thought popped into my head. “What qualifies me—or anyone, for that matter—to be called a typographer?”
I don’t often call myself a typographer, but I have done on occasion. In my eyes, a typographer is someone who knows how to design with type; someone who knows ideal line lengths, the defining characteristics of a typeface and their effect on an overall design, and the trick to harmonious typeface pairings. That was until I met the spectacularly talented Riley Cran.
In a series of passing conversations during the Lost Type New York Field Trip, I learned that Riley and the rest of those in attendance had a different definition of the word “typographer”. To them (at least it seemed to me), a typographer was someone who knew not only how to work with type, but also how to create typefaces. This, naturally, made me question my own definition of the word. Here I was amongst some of my favorite type designers, suddenly feeling like some kind of impostor.
That brings us to this morning. Out of little more than instinct, I managed to conjure a justification I’m quite proud of.
I think of a typographer the same way I do a musician, and a type designer the same way I do a creator of musical instruments. To be a great musician, you do not necessarily have to understand how to create a musical instrument. Likewise, creating a musical instrument does not necessarily make someone a brilliant musician. But to be great at either craft, you must have an understanding and appreciation for the other.
I’m probably wrong. I’ve no doubt that there will be both typographers and type designers who read this post and reach the end filled with rage and contempt. But that doesn’t really matter; this ill-formed “definition” is for me. It’s a way for me to feel OK about working with type and calling myself a “typographer”.
Now; if you’ll excuse me, I have a composition to complete.