On Web Typography review

16 Feb 2015

I’m always behind in my reading but I finally managed to read Jason Santa Maria’s book called ‘On Web Typography’. It’s always a battle between read or ride :) I must confess that the latter wins 99% of the time. I love to read but a book can never be as refreshing as riding my bicycle. Anyway timing doesn't matter as the topic of this book is still very relevant today. Let's get started.

Table of contents

This book will show you ways to improve your typographic design by showing you how to see type beyond a pretty set of letters with flourishes, and ways on how to evaluate typefaces for different purposes. It will give you a good understanding in how to read content and interpret design.


The foreword of Jason’s book is written by Ellen Lupton, author of the famous book 'Thinking with type' and her recent one called 'Type on Screen'. The last one is also on my to review list. Something that struck me out of her foreword is this sentence: "Rather than handling down a list of rules and prohibitions, Santa Maria walks side by side with the readers through a creative journey".

  • Chapter 1: How we read
  • Chapter 2: How type works
  • Chapter 3: Evaluating typefaces
  • Chapter 4: Choosing and pairing typefaces
  • Chapter 5: Typographic systems
  • Chapter 6: Composition

Chapter 1: How we read

Jason starts by letting us 'really' think about how we read, meaning, the actual process of reading, and the fact that your environment also shapes your reading experience. The act of reading is shaped by our surroundings. Furthermore, he explains the difference between readability and legibility.

Chapter 2: How type works

Jason states that there are no rules in typography. There are principles, best practices, and methods that work most of the time, but nothing that works all of the time. Learning typography is about figuring out what choices work best for each situation. He explains why typography matters. It's about communication and about delivering a message. To understand typography, and to develop your gut instinct for it, you first need to start by learning the language of type.

Chapter 3: Evaluating typefaces

Jason starts this chapter by stating "type is a tool". You learn about classifications, which helps you to sort typefaces into groups and categories. Jason explains how this helps you in choosing the right typefaces. To be able to make right choice, you also need to understand the components of a typeface family to evaluate its potential. Furthermore you learn about: EM box, typeface contrast, weights and styles, x-height, numbers, punctuation and special characters, uppercase and lowercase numerals, ligatures… and also about classic typefaces versus remakes and revivals. In the last part you learn how you can use Web Font Loader to deal with FOUT (a Flash of Unstyled Text), and about type rendering.

Chapter 4: Choosing and pairing typefaces

When choosing your typeface, your choices must fit the circumstances you need them for and so must your design. Jason divides the kinds of uses for type into two camps: type for a moment and type to live with. He explains the difference between these two groups, and he also shares some of the methods he uses when choosing a typeface, such as: word association, comparisons of real text, avoid ready-mades etc.

Chapter 5: Typographic systems

Typography helps us prioritize content based on individual elements and relationships between them, such as hierarchy and contrast. In this chapter Jason takes us on a practical typographical tour about some of the key elements we commonly encounter: paragraphs, headlines, big type, small type etc. Apart from these common elements, UI elements are also covered, and how all of these elements work together, and are in relationship with each other.

Chapter 6: Composition

In this chapter typography is approached from the outside looking in, like the browser window or grid system, screen resolution, the device you're using etc. in other words, the composition of your layout. Jason talks about responsive typography, and grids for layout to help our design system serve as a solid foundation. He gives us a quick tour in of the different types of grids, but adds extra special attention to the baseline grid. Furthermore you'll learn about the importance of whitespace, typographic color, and typographic scale & rhythm.


If you are looking for a great primer that will give you a good foundation to build from, this book is just what you need. Even if you are looking for foundational knowledge of typography it works too as the book covers the principles of typography that are relevant to both web and print. It has loads of useful information and advice, all very clearly explained without being pompous. You don’t even have to be a designer to appreciate it and learn from. For me it was a lovely refresher and I would recommend this book to any designer or developer.


  1. 1 Pieter Van Eyck 16 Feb 2015

    Thanks for reviewing Jason’s book Veerle. This book will be a great addition to my shelf.

  2. 2 Greg 16 Feb 2015

    What other books that would help to expand knowledge about type, would you recommend to read after this one? Especially considering web typography.

  3. 3 Veerle Pieters 20 Feb 2015


    What other books that would help to expand knowledge about type, would you recommend to read after this one? Especially considering web typography.

    I would recommend the one by Ellen Lupton that I mention in the article called ‘Type on Screen’. I haven’t read it yet but if it is as good as her previous one you’ll not be disappointed by buying it.

  4. 4 Piccia 20 Feb 2015

    Veerle, thanks so much for this article – I’ve also had this book for a while but haven’t read it yet, so your review is most useful.

    @Greg For typography in general, personally I loved Just My Type by Simon Garfield, a book of stories about fonts that will entertain you as well as teach you.

  5. 5 Jack Carpenter 26 Feb 2015

    This kind of book is invaluable - great review and I will be investing.  Web typography is generally lazy and uninspiring and this kind of book should give some fresh perspective and creative ideas…