Typography: The Crystal Goblet

Beatrice Warde’s exceptional metaphor of comparing the values of good typography and design to that of focus on an exquisite gold goblet against wine in a crystal clear glass, has opened my mind to a new perspective of observing what it means for there to be proper communication value, say purpose, behind design. She says, “for if you have no feelings about wine one way or the other, you will want the sensation of drinking the stuff out of a vessel that may have cost thousands of pounds.” This leads me to think of modern day and age where young designers are so focused on ‘aesthetics’ and making things ‘pretty’ that despite their ability to create designs that are perhaps pleasing to the eyes, their designs could potentially hold no value off surface, or rather there was never an intention for deeper value.

Warde’s main belief in printing is that it is meant to convey some sort of message from one mind to another, where “it is sheer magic that (one) should be able to hold a one-sided conversation by means of black marks on paper with an unknown person half-way across the world”. This puts into perspective her belief of the power of print, which she compares to that of fine art in which she describes as letting your “aesthetic sensibilities enjoy themselves unimpeded by your reasoning faculties”. While fine art was traditionally developed primarily for aesthetics or beauty, it could be argued that it is not true that all fine arts are intended for this sole purpose, and that fine artists not just today but also back then, could have had similar purposes of conveying such thoughts, ideas and images through their works just like printing does today.

What I derive from how she defines “type well used is invisible as type” is that the message should be allowed to speak for itself, and anything visually present does not have to be overly decorated in order to convey, for the wine should be seen in its own value through the transparent glass. This could perhaps parallel the possibility of fine arts having that similar purpose of conveying messages from one to another – maybe strokes well used is invisible as strokes, and words are not needed to bring an idea across. I could perhaps be interpreting her words entirely different from how she meant to convey them, and maybe you could say that this is in itself bad communication, but then again could this also be emphasising her point of how “type well used is invisible as type,  just as the perfect talking voice is the unnoticed vehicle for the transmission of words, ideas”? (P.S. This is just something I thought of, and could totally not be making any sense at all.)

I must say though, if I am thinking from her perspective that I understand when she says that  “printing in English will not qualify as an art until the present English language no longer conveys ideas”. Should the language be generally understood by the audience, their minds would likely be unable steer away from rational thinking and type would likely not be able to be used as invisible.

At the end of all this, I agree when Warde talks about how those who think are “ten times better as typographers” who are able to pull off the skill of letting type speak for itself as invisible, because a lot of times the most minimal amount of aesthetic details require the most questioning of where things should go. As Warde says, the first thing a good modernist typographer asks is not “How should it look?” but “What must it do?”.

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