Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Beatrice Warde, "The Crystal Goblet," 1955.

In “The Crystal Goblet,” a 1955 speech to the British Typographers Guild, the typographic scholar Beatrice Warde begins by comparing the use of different kinds of wine glasses to the use of different typefaces. The contents of wine glasses is, of course, wine, whereas the content of type is linguistic messages. In her metaphor, Warde states that the connoisseur of wine we choose a clear glass which does not misconstrue the color or visual quality of the wine, unlike an expensive golden chalice which, while very impressive looking, almost demands as much or more attention of the consumer than its contents. Her point is to argue that the crystal wine glass plays a similar role to well-chosen type. For Warde, the real purpose of typography is to allow the reader to take in the written message without being distracted by the medium through which it is transmitted.   She argues that fancy typefaces, while in some cases possibly adding to the written message, are often distracting. Although carefully designed, a poorly chosen typeface can cause the reader to spend time trying to decipher the text, taking away from its desired effect. Furthermore, poorly chosen typefaces can also cause the reader to misread, or worry about misreading, the text. Instead, Warde argues that typeface designers should make a concerted effort to design type which is completely innocuous and inoffensive, allowing the reader to focus upon the message provided by the text rather than upon the medium through which the message is to be transmitted. 

Warde claims that her approach to typography, which she argues is the basis of all good typography, is modernist in the sense that it first asks what the type should do rather than how it should look. The purpose of printing for Warde is to transmit ideas from one person to another via text. For her, if one does not begin with this assumed purpose, one may focus too much upon things other than clarity of communication. And while the result may be visually pleasing, it may not get the message across efficiently. Furthermore, Warde warns about the difference between legibility and readability. While it may be shown that some fonts are more legible than others, some are much more pleasing to read, and thus, will not distract the reader with their design. Using the example of Bold Sans, Warde claims that it has been found to be much more legible than, say, Baskerville. However many find the later typeface more pleasing and less distracting to read than Bold Sans.

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