Type designers look at letters in a way that no one else does or possibly even cares to. The details those who design type notice may baffle or amuse the general public, but it's the details that matter. Gerard Unger assembles his observations about and motivations for type design alongside his description of a phenomenon that is known but has not been fully explored: how we process letters when reading.
It is often said that good typography should be invisible. The old Beatrice Warde “crystal goblet” chestnut, asserting that the vehicle should not distract from the contents, is a good starting point. Granted, most of the world’s reading public cannot afford crystal goblets, nor even wines to pour in them, but Warde’s somewhat elitist metaphor still carries some weight. Unger takes it a bit further and looks into some of the physiological processes that occur while the readers are doing their reading.
Unger has designed the book itself with wide left-hand margins and narrow right hand margins on both the recto and verso pages. A section of 12 translucent pages preceding the title page with abstract overlaid letter fragments gives a visual preview of what is to be eloquently explained in the book. This simple and effective preview could be an artist’s book in its own right.
Unger's perspective as a Dutch type designer leads him to reveal some of his personal biases and he occasionally veers into blatant promotion of his own typefaces, which were designed to solve specific problems. This is more than forgivable because Unger’s subtle innovations have advanced the field of type design.
The book does not fully answer the question of what actually happens when one is reading. It does provoke thought, even among aficionados, and it leads the general reader to a better appreciation of letterforms and fonts, and of type design as a craft . . . and that can't be anything but good.