Tag Archives: crystal goblet

Review: The Crystal Goblet, or Printing Should Be Invisible by Beatrice Warde

In this article, Warde shares her opinion of good typography using a flowery metaphor; using wine vessels. She lays out 2 choices: a crystal-clear wine glass and a solid gold goblet. If the clear glass was chosen – everything about it is calculated to reveal rather than hide the beautiful thing which it was meant to contain. She mentions, the virtues of the perfect wine-glass have a parallel in typography – and that is type well used is invisible as type. Initially, I was confused by her statement because of how today’s design articles have framed my mindset on typography. And those articles go on by saying how type can be decorative as a form and how manipulation of the form of type has been widely used and so on.

I have always seen type as a form, not invisible. But Warde’s opinion has given me a new perspective on how good type should be legible and not overly decorated in order to convey its message. Warde explains further,¬† “that is not objectionable, because of a
very important fact which has to do with the psychology of the subconscious mind. That is
that the mental eye focuses through type and not upon it”.¬†We focus heavily on the elements on a page, but never the lack of it. What Warde made me ponder about was really to read between the lines. Arbitrary warping of design is bad type. Excess of colour, which gets in the way of the mental picture is bad type. Tight spacing, too wide unleaded lines lead to bad type. All of these, to Warde, mean subconscious squinting and loss of mental focus. Which was why print should be transparent and a transparent page is never too simple or dull. Sometimes, it is more difficult to achieve simplicity, leaving the essence of what’s needed and throwing whatever’s not.

Warde’s other point is that anyone who chooses glass over clay or metal to hold his or her wine is a “modernist”. Reason being that the first thing that comes to a modernist’s mind when being asked of a particular object would never be ‘How should it look?’ but ‘What must it do?’. And to that extent, I myself agree with Warde, that all good typography is modernist. Form over function is evident in typography as well. The main function of a book is to inform and educate and by reading the content. How effective the main function of the book will then be dependent on readability¬†and legibility. After peeling layers and layers of metaphors, it is as simple as that.

However, with Warde’s opinion, it is sure that typographers will argue that type can never be invisible. Although the metaphor does make sense, Warde’s opinion might only be applicable in printed typography, and mainly books. In today’s typography where there is a myriad of experimental and decorative form and type, it is impossible to only agree that type is invisible. Neville Brody’s fascinating and experimental work might have just thrown Warde’s opinion out the glass window. All in all, this article is still justifiable and now, we get to look at type in both ways – whether invisible or not.