Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

AUDIE CORNISH, host: And if you like playing with words, then I'm betting you're going to enjoy this next segment, where we explore our love of letters - well, actually, fonts. For instance, here at NPR, everyone - and I mean everyone - has got an opinion on their favorite typeface or font that they want to use to write their radio scripts.

SUSAN STAMBERG: One is Garamond. It's just - it's got little feet on it; serifs, you know. And it's a very clear, kind of simple font.

PETER OVERBY: The cleanness, the simplicity of the Gill Sans is what I really like.

LAKSHMI SINGH: One of the questions that was asked of me was, you like Arial, but you like it a specific way. And I always say bold, definitely.

STAMBERG: My least favorite is anything that's too squirrely and swirling and busy.

OVERBY: It makes me feel relaxed, and possibly even relaxed and in control.

SINGH: I've got to make sure the whole thing is in bold, and then I'm ready to go. And I don't know what that says about me.

CORNISH: That was NPR's Susan Stamberg, Peter Overby and Lakshmi Singh, sharing their idiosyncrasies about fonts. The stories behind their favorites - like Garamond and Gill Sans - are told in a new book called "Just My Type: A Book about Fonts," by Simon Garfield. Garfield spoke to us from the studios of the BBC in London, and we started with his favorite.

SIMON GARFIELD: You know, I have two favorite fonts. One for text and for my work, when I'm writing books, it's called Georgia. For me, it works because it's quite formal, but also quite soft and rounded. And it has a personal feel but very readable. But for a display font, for a poster or a book jacket, I would choose something called Albertus. And why do I like that? I think it's because it was made in the 1930s by a carver. And he formed these letters that have little legs, what you would call a semi-serif. And Albertus has a lovely, warm, carved feel, and it's also fantastically clear.

CORNISH: There is another font we have to talk about because you can't talk about fonts without bringing it up - which is Helvetica, which has had a documentary devoted to it. And I think you talked to one guy in your book; you highlight his story where he tries to have a day without Helvetica.

GARFIELD: Yeah, he found it almost impossible, really. So he couldn't get up in the morning - you know, he couldn't put on a T-shirt because his T-shirt label instructions had, you know, Helvetica on them. And he couldn't use a dollar bill because the numbers are in Helvetica. He couldn't go on the subway - New York's subway - because that was in Helvetica as well - all the signs.

Yeah, you're right. I mean, it's really taken over the world. And in fact, Helvetica sort of has a rival now. The rival is called Gotham. And Gotham was the type that was used by Barack Obama in all the election campaign.

CORNISH: So you open the book with a neat little anecdote about a college dropout who decided to take calligraphy classes soon after leaving school. And this is a college dropout who would be pretty meaningful to the world of fonts.

GARFIELD: Yeah, this is Steve Jobs, the man behind Apple prior to Mac and then not long afterwards, Microsoft as well. And we didn't have access to fonts, and everything basically looked like the typewriter font. So it was a liberating thing in the '80s.

CORNISH: And you spend a lot of time in the book of taking what you call font breaks, where you sort of dive into the history of the names behind the fonts. Is there any one in particular you want to bring up here?

GARFIELD: Well, the one I always love is called Doves. And Doves, like the bird, is a fleeting type - very beautiful. Invented around 1900 by a real aesthete, who thought he could invent the perfect, most beautiful type. He formed a publishing house with his partner, but they had a great fallout. And he was absolutely adamant that when he died, his partner wasn't going to use this font. So he took all the letters that had ever been made with Doves, and he took them to Westminster Bridge over the Thames and threw them in. He was trying to dispose of as much of that as he could, and successfully so.

CORNISH: And that was the end of Doves.

GARFIELD: Exactly.

CORNISH: Simon Garfield is the author of "Just My Type: A Book about Fonts." He spoke to us from the BBC studios in London.

Simon, thanks again.

GARFIELD: I really enjoyed it, Audie. Thank you very much.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.