I like this. Partly because it’s a card game; mostly because it’s a card game about typography. A long time ago I used to work for a publisher (of real books!) and part of my job was to source and manage the creation of text designs. Before my introduction to the subject I didn’t know my hyphens from my en dashes, my points from my picas (12 points to the pica, 6 picas to the inch!), let alone my Bodoni from my Baskerville.
However, once you get your head round the lingo typographic design is fascinating and a deeply sophisticated and subtle art. I have never looked at type the same way since.
This card game is the work of a Brazilian design firm, produced in a limited run as a self-promotional item (and therefore sadly unavailable to purchase). The game itself is nothing more than the traditional game of ‘pairs’, but it’s the overall design of the cards and their packaging that makes it such fun for the typophile.
The deck consists of 20 pairs of cards each representing a different typeface, plus four cards with some typographic information and additional graphics (including an actual fox leaping over a very lazy looking dog!). If you check out the photos on the company’s website you’ll see how the final decks were created: first collated from separate stacks of the different cards and then vacuum-packed by hand.
Typography and typographic design, like board game design, has its own set of conventions, fashions and techniques, plus a bulging lexicon of bewildering terminology. It’s also very easy to get desperately wrong in subtle ways that the majority of people will never, ever notice.
After I’d started to learn a little about typography and understand not just some of its language but also some of its more obscure technicalities, I began to see mistakes which had previously been invisible to me. I think this phenomenon exists in all fields of design, although typography is a particularly technical creative endeavour, and one with a much higher barrier to entry than many others.
Frederic Goudy, a famous type designer, is often quoted* as having said this:
‘Men who would letterspace lowercase would steal sheep.’
Now, to most people this sounds meaningless, and to most it literally is meaningless. Most people would neither notice letterspaced lowercase nor understand what might be wrong with it. But as far as Mr Goudy was concerned such carelessness was to be regarded very much as a high crime and not a mere misdemeanor; it was also very much the thin end of the wedge.
Here’s the rub: Just because most people don’t notice the difference does not mean that design makes no difference. The cumulative effect of bad design — thoughtless, lazy and all too common — is nothing less than a slow erosion of the human spirit. Good design, if we can find it, is therefore a thoroughly necessary medicine.
* In fact this is almost certainly a misquote. It seems that a more accurate retelling of Goudy’s reaction — when handed a typeset certificate at a typographical awards ceremony — was that he rather ungratefully (and more coarsely) observed that: ‘Men who would letterspace black letter would shag sheep’. To spare typographers’ blushes, and to render the quote a little more mainstream, the whole thing was later deliberately editorialized with the words ‘lowercase’ and ‘steal’, the general consensus being that letterspacing lowercase was just as bad. Of course, the stridency of Goudy’s original sentiment is somewhat diminished; it seems he regarded letterspacing as not just a more criminal act but also a significantly more perverse one too!