— Light & Ink

The official blog of Patrick Barber
dept. of awesome

Top row L-R: Marci, photo editor; designers Laken, Bree, and Susan. Bottom row L-R: Marla, our marketing designer; and me. Photo by Marci via self-timer.


In March 2012, I became creative director at Timber Press, a horticultural publisher based in Portland. From the start it was challenging and exciting work and it continues to be so. (Holly continues to operate the McGuire Barber Design office, providing design and production services to our clients.)

As the utter silence on this blog may imply, I’ve been busy. The work is deeply engaging as a designer, with much to consider in the realms of typography, composition, art direction and so on; and then there’s the world of publishing, which is evolving at a bewildering rate. Our day-to-day work as a design team focuses on the art and science of producing our beautiful, informative, authoritative books; meanwhile, I grapple with the future of the book in the digital age, and how best to make use of the resources at our disposal to present our books — and our information, in whatever form — in the brightest, most useful light possible. It’s fascinating stuff and I love it. I’m blessed with a wonderful, hard-working staff with a wide variety of backgrounds and talents, and high levels of craft, inquisitiveness, and diligence.

As I begin to acclimate (seven months later!) to my workload I am finding the desire to do some writing about all this . . . perhaps it will show up here. Meanwhile, here (above) is a photo of my staff and me, in front of an “Instagram backdrop” we created for our open studio during Design Week Portland in early October.

Distressed type

Distressed type, or type in distress?


Anyone can set type now, and millions of people do so everyday, perhaps without realizing they’re doing it. If you tweak a blog layout, fine-tune a Powerpoint presentation, or write a document in Word, you make decisions about type and readability that will affect the experience of anyone who reads or sees the work. It’s true that when texting or writing emails to personal friends, you needn’t fuss with getting your type (or grammar, or spelling) perfect. But when you write for an audience or the general public, you’re publishing, and when you’re publishing, it helps to know the basics of how type works.

I taught a class in graphic design in spring 2011, and as a result found myself synthesizing a lot of what I know into little handouts and talks. This article is one of my favorite handouts from the class. It came along early on, when I was teaching about the basics of type, and setting up a framework for discussion. First I gave a talk similar to the following text, and then we talked about the handout, which I’ve titled “We are all typesetters” and included here as a downloadable PDF for personal and educational use (please contact me if you’d like to use it for anything else).

The information here is very basic—a place to start. It’s aimed at students learning graphic design, and specifically the InDesign page layout program. But the general rules, and the story of how type has evolved, are useful for anyone who writes, designs, or communicates professionally, on the web or in print.

The relationship between designers, printers, and typesetters has changed considerably in the 600 years since movable type was invented.

At first, the “designing” and “typesetting,” and for that matter, the type design itself, was all taken care of by printers. Printers were also their own publishers.

In the 19th and 20th century a lot of these roles were split into separate divisions of labor. Up until about 20 years ago, it went like this:

The designer specified (“spec’d”) the type that would be set to fit into her design.

The typesetter (a separate person, usually working for a type house) received these instructions from the designer, and set the type on a typesetting machine, either by handsetting the lead type, or, as technology advanced, by using a keyboard to input the text and various codes. The type was then delivered to the designer on plain sheets of paper at the requested width. These sheets were called “galleys,” and comprised however much type was needed for the project, whether it was a two-word ad or a 60,000-word book.

The designer would then cut and trim the sheet of type to fit her design. If there were small changes they would sometimes be accomplished by cutting out text with razor and replacing it with newly set text. Or the designer would have a new block of type set with corrections in place.

Nowadays, the designer and the typesetter are the same person. As designers, we receive text from a variety of sources, usually digital and already typed in for us. However, when using this supplied type, and when writing or supplying our own text, we need to remember that we are now not just designers but also typesetters. Every time you decide on a font size, or change the length of a line, or break up a clause—or two!—with em dashes, or any number of other things that you can routinely do in various computer programs, you are setting type, and then re-setting it, and then setting it again.

The flexibility is marvelous. But it can also make for some really terribly set type. Your job is to learn the basics of how type works, so that your documents will be well-designed enough to attract the attention of your audience, and readable enough to reward their continued curiosity.

The PDF, “We are all typesetters,” describes some common mistakes that are carried over from the days when we were just writers and typists—not typesetters. It also covers some good typesetting practices to keep in mind as you work on your designs.




AIGA call for entries designed by Gene Federico, 1958

Inside spread. Alvin Lustig. Staff Magazine. 1944

I recently discovered the Herb Lubalin Study Center through their photostream on Flickr. It’s a visually stunning collection of graphic design from 1950 to 1980.

Holiday card by Lou Silverstein for the New York Times

Lubalin was one of the greatest designers of the twentieth century (and, thanks to his dominion over early 1970s design, a big influence on me). Steven Heller wrote a good roundup of his career here.

The Center was founded to house Lubalin’s vast design archive, both his own designs and many, many others. If you are in New York City you can visit, for free and by appointment, to study this incredible collection. Or you can just follow along with the images on the screen and enjoy from here. They’re on Twitter, too, if you swing that way.

Thanks to the folks at the Center for making this work accessible to all.

Above photographs courtesy of the Herb Lubalin Study Center.

Books have spines

This is an advance copy of Pickathonography, the book I designed and produced in collaboration with photographer Tim LaBarge this spring. It’s essentially a book-length photo essay about Pickathon, a much-loved indie-roots music festival that takes place annually just southeast of Portland. The book primarily draws on Tim’s huge collection of photography from five years of working the festival. Tim also gathered essays and short writings from music critics and performers, ranging from Portland Mercury music critic Ned Lannamann and NoDepression.com’s Kim Ruehl to artists like Captain Angus Bogg (of the seminal pirate-rock band Captain Bogg & Salty), Langhorne Slim, Jesse Elliot (from These United States), Danny Barnes, and many more.

The printer we worked with on this book is so accurate with color that the experience of receiving the printed book is a lot different than it used to be years ago. Instead of finding out what the book looks like in print, you find out that the book looks just like you thought it did! This is, of course, very convenient, though it removes a bit of the thrill of receiving the printed piece. The spine, though … the spine is still a surprise. And this one turned out just how I wanted it to.

If, by some misfortune, you won’t be attending Pickathon this year, you can buy a copy of the book from Tim’s website here. We hope that this book will usher in a regular, if not annual, printed celebration of the artists and people that make Pickathon special.

Explorations in Typography
I’ve just published a review on Typographica of Carolina de Bartolo’s new book, Explorations in Typography. It’s a great website and a wonderful book. Here’s an excerpt:

As someone who works with typography and design every day, I have a few books I turn to when I need to clear my mind of clutter. One of my favorites is Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style, which includes this rumination on the sanctity of the title page: “Think of the blank page as alpine meadow, or as the purity of undifferentiated being. The typographer enters this space and must change it. The reader will enter it later, to see what the typographer has done.” Lines like this refresh my understanding of the task at hand and clarify my sense of purpose.

Carolina de Bartolo’s new book Explorations in Typography has a similar effect, albeit via entirely different means.

Read the rest of the review on Typographica!


This is a lot of things.

A photo of a mockup of a notebook idea i have.

The mockup will also become a piece of mail art for a mail art group I am participating in this year.

The words are a snippet from a poem I wrote, using found text, back in the 1990s.

This is also an interesting photograph of a work table in our office. I read a description of someone else’s "scarred worktable" and for the first time really understood what that would mean. Didn’t notice how scarred ours was till I made this photo.

The Bald Soprano

I met up with fellow graphic designer Fred Averin last month for coffee. Since our meeting was inspired by a discussion about type usage in the context of an existing brand, I suggested we each bring a favorite piece of type to share.

Remarkably, we both brought a book by the same designer, Robert Massin. In this photo, Fred is looking at my copy of Massin’s masterpiece, a graphic interpretation of Eugene Ionesco’s play The Bald Soprano. Fred brought the Massin-designed French edition of The Bridge over the River Kwai, along with a mindblowing treatment of Genesis designed and illustrated by Adrian Frutiger, and a book by Jean-Francois Bory that I’ve since found (not to my surprise) is also quite a piece of work, but at the time we were so engaged by the Massin pieces that we never got to it.

A most stimulating way to spend a rainy morning. To think that if it had been fairer weather, I would have brought some hotel stationery instead!