Faces from the past

Matthew Valentine flicks through a newly published compilation of typographic work and finds himself looking for more than just a pretty face.

As the inside-cover blurb of Typographics 2 points out, magazine typography is short lived.

While they don’t quite match the high speed recyclability of newspapers, possibly because the paper is often too stiff and shiny to wrap chips in, magazines don’t have a long shelf life. And fashion magazines, much in evidence here, age faster than most.

With the advent of the Internet and cybertype (the book’s subtitle), even newspapers have a speedy young competitor in the race for obsolescence – new typographic ground is being broken every day. Which makes it all the more strange that people would pay 22 for a book consisting of old magazine pages.

Although handsomely reproduced, the old magazine pages here are taken out of their natural context, and reproduced purely for their good looks. They still promise to entertain, but are hampered by the lack of anything to say. How can a reader judge the effectiveness of magazine typography without knowing its purpose?

Minimalist captions, giving just the details of designers, photographers and publications, don’t help much. Which is a shame, because the work included in the book is varied and interesting. Contributions include pages from magazines as diverse as Ray Gun, the Independent Magazine and the wonderfully titled Typographische Monatsblätter, to fringe titles like Utopia.

But looking at the book (there isn’t much to read) is an empty experience, leaving you no wiser about the magazines featured. For example, Qwerty, as far as I can tell, is a publication aimed at Australian typists. Few Australian typists I know would be impressed by its typography, but a lot of graphic designers might be.

Presenting typography like this scares people who aren’t designers, especially business people. Without some form of explanation, and with widespread use of the word “experimental”, clients look at new typography and start to see the word “expensive” float into view. That’s not very good for anybody.

If you really want to see how well typography can work you could just look at some old magazines. If you haven’t thrown them all away, that is.

Typographics 2 by Roger Walton is published in March by Duncan Baird Publishers. Price 22

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