Typography (Emil Ruder, 1967)

IMG_1881 Verlag Arthur Niggli AG 5th edition published in 1988. Other editions are squared but this one is rectangular, the only difference in the layout is a bigger space between the header and pictures. Previous editions are : 1967, 1972, 1977, 1981, 1988, 1995, 2002 (others edition avaible throug Hasting House, USA) typographie 1Bottlerocket send us some pictures of the first edition, 1967. While technically this is the only book published by Ruder, he includes a lot of previously published material from TM articles and student studies. The first edition is printed using lead plates with offset printing methods. The images have a softer feel and the color is more organic looking. typographie_s1typographie_s2typographie_s3typographie_s4typographie_s5 Guest post by Oliver Tomas. Pictures by Sébastien Hayez.


There are two essential aspects to the work of the typographer: he must take into account knowledge already acquired and keep his mind receptive to novelty. (5)

There must be no letting up in the determination to produce vital work reflecting the spirit of the times; doubt and perturbation are good antidotes against the tendency to follow the line of least resistance. (ibid.)

It is the intention of this book to bring home to the typographer that perhaps it is precisely the restrictions of the means at his disposal and the practical aims he has to fulfill that make the charm of his craft. (ibid.)

Typography has one plain duty before it and that is to convey information in writing. No argument or consideration can absolve typography from this duty. A printed work which cannot be read becomes a product without purpose. (6)

He [i.e., the typographer] is not free to make his own independent decisions; he must depend on what went beforehand and take into account what is to come. (8)

But the typographer does possess this ability to stand back from the work, and it is very useful to him in his craft since critical distance is a virtue in a typographer. The typographer must be able to take the impersonal view; wilful individuality and emotion have little place in this work. (ibid.)

The many active contacts between people from every country today leave no scope for type faces with a pronounced national character. (10)

The craft of the typographer, like any other, necessarily reflects the times. The age gives him the means with which to satisfy the needs the age creates. (12)

The creative worker, on the other hand, spares little thought for contemporary style, for he realizes that style is not somethign that can be deliberately created; it comes all unawares! (ibid.)

More than graphic design, typography is an expression of technology, precision and good order. (14)

Writing and printing

A good designer must refrain from mixing writing and printing. The spontaneity of handwriting can only be distantly approached and never attained by printing, and the alternative forms and ligatures which are intended to bring printing closer to writing are merely evidence of an unsuccessful attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. (22)

Function and form

The typographer clothes the word with visible form and preserves it for the future. (34)

Masterpieces of typography […] They show the typographer that form must be developed as befits purpose. But they show at the same time that pure functionalism is not itself enough for good form. (ibid.)

Form and counter-form

The various effects obtained by the compination of letters are determind by the interplay of the white of the counter and the white of the set width. (52)

In contemporary typography white is not merely a passive background for typographical symbols; there must be parity between the white space and the typographical symbols as regards the effects they produce on a given surface. (ibid.)

The techniques of typography

It is in this unchanging appearance of all the letters that the beauty of typography resides; its essential nature lies in the repetition of the type characters and the repetition inherent in the printing process. (64)

The typographer must take into account technical developments of the present and future for such advances might bring about changes of form. And a printed work which is to be a valid document of its times must combine both technical and formal qualities.(ibid.)


Today we are inundated with such an immense flood of printed matter that the value of the individual printed work has depreciated., for our harrassed contemporaries simply cannot take in everything that is printed today. It is the typographer’s task to divide up and organize and interpret this mas of printed matter in such a way that the reader will have a good chance of finding what is of interest to him. (82)

The aim of all good typography is form subordinated to legibility. (ibid.)

In following the laws of form we must make use of every possible means of division and arrangement (ibid.)

Geometrical, optical and organic aspects

Our sensibility –that is our visual perception and our aesthetic sense– is superior to geometric construction, and it is to this sensibility that we must appeal when striking a balance between opposed black and white. (94)

The typeface which looks right to the eye, a human organ, cannot be constructed. The eye tends to magnify all horizontal values and to diminish vertical ones. Optical illusions cannot simply be dismissed as fancies, and every creative artist must reckon with the problems they pose. (ibid.)


No system of ratios, however ingenious, can relieve the typographer of deciding how one value should be related to another. he must first recognize the individual value before he can work with it. He must spare no effort to tutor his feeling for proportion so that he can judge how much a given ratio can bear. He must know intuitively when the tension between several things is so great that harmony is endangered. But he must also know how to avoid relationships lacking in tension since these lead to monotony. Whether the tension should be strong or weak is decision which the typographer must make for himself in the light of the problem he is seeking to solve. (108)

  1. What is the relationship between one value and another?
  2. How is a given type size related to a second or third?
  3. What are the relations between the printed and unprinted areas?
  4. What is the relationship between the colour value and quality and the grey of the type matter?
  5. How do the various tones of grey compare?

Point, line, surface

Everything is movement: the dot moves and gives rise to the line, the line moves and produces a plane surface, and plane surfaces come together and create a body. (118)


Combining two values in accordance with the laws of contrast changes and enhances the effect of both values. (132)

The relationship between the printed and teh unprinted area must be one of tension, and this tension comes about through contrasts. Values combined with equal values result in unrelieved monotony. (ibid.)

  1. light-dark
  2. thin-thick
  3. line-surface
  4. active-passive
  5. vertical-horizontal
  6. straight-oblique
  7. static-dynamic
  8. geometric-organic
  9. symmetry-asymmetry
  10. large-small
  11. stable-unstable
  12. precise-diffuse
  13. concentric-eccentric
  14. etc.

Shades of grey

Before the grey effect is decided upon, the typographer must be certain that the lay-out of his compostion is functionally right. (144)

The smallest quantity of black consumes white; it takes white away and lies at a lower level than the white surface. (ibid.)


Black is the paramount colour in typography, and there is an almost infinite scale of grey tones derived from the different sizes and thicknesses of the type and from the different spaces and gaps. This black goes very well with bright brilliant colors, red in particular. (158)

There should be tension between a bright colour and black, and this tension should be clearly apparent in the first draft of a printed work. (ibid.)

Unity of text and form

It is not so much the quantity of type faces as the quality of certain cuttings which enables the typographer to satisfy the great variety of demands made upon his craft today.

The large number of typefaces available to the typographer today is not so much a sign of a hight level of culutrual activity as rather evidence of a lack of international coordination and the resultant frittering away of effort.

In advertising, […as opposed to book design], it is left almost completely open to the typographer to interpret the copy in his own personal way. (168)


Handwriting can be seen to underlie any good typeface. (186)

A typeface in which something of the original written form cannot be discerned may be rightly called degenerate. (ibid.)

A mass of type can be rhythmized by unequal leading, by variety in the length of the lines, by the white of blank spaces in break lines, and by grading the size of the type. (ibid.)

Spontaneity and fortuity

Spontaneous and fortuitous results are foreign to the nature of typography, for the typographical system is based on clarity and precise proportions. (200)

Time and again, however,we find printed works which make no claim to formal beauty and yet have a distinctive charm for all their technical shortcomings. There are printed works which are beautiful solely because they set aside all ambition as regards technique and design and simply fulfill their function. Their usually nameless authors have unwittingly created true documents of their age whose charm lies precisely in their being a reflection of the times that produced them. (ibid.)

[…] discipline, coolness and objectivity will continue to be the cardinal features of typography in the future since its nature is largely decided by its dependence on technique and function. (ibid.)

Integral design

A book must be consistently designed throughout, including the title-page and, if possible, the cover title. The title-page is taken as a model for all the others so that tye face, type size, leading, indents, type area, blank spaces, etc. fit into the overall pattern. (214)

Consistency of design in business printing is another modern requirement. […] To maintain this uniformity of appearance the following typographical elements should be used with as few changes as possible: symbol, logotype, colour, composition. (ibid.)


Variation involves singling out a mean value and calls for the ability to put this mean value through as many transformations as possible. (232)

There are three possibilities of variation at the typographer’s disposal: Variation of the composition, typeface or colour in an unchanged text. Variation of the text while composition, typeface and colour remain unchanged. Variation of all elements, i.e. text, composition, typeface and colour, care being taken that the basic theme remains recognizable. (ibid.)


Runs of movement can embody the following themes: increase and decrease of value or increase and decrease of size; loosening up of compact elements and gathering together of scattered values into a compact form; eccentric and concentric movements; movements running from top to bottom and from bottom to top; movements from left to right and from right to left; movements from inside out and vice versa; movements along a diagonal or through an angle, etc. (250)

Lettering and illustration

There are two different approaches to the problem of achieving harmony between printing type and picture. One way is to seek the closest possible formal combination between test and picture, and the other is to seek a contrast between them. (262)

Hi-resolution pictures are avaible here via Sébastien Hayez’s flickr photostream.

The easiest way to find this book is to order the lastest edition via Arthur Niggli Verlag site. It’s quite expensive but some older editions are avaible for less than 60 euros, specially for the first paperback edition published in the US by Hasting House. 8 copies of the first edition is avaible with a very wuick search, for 55 $ to 163 €. Send a message if you want more information about this book.