Typography Lacking Focus: A Review of “Stop Stealing Sheep & find out how type works”

Stop Stealing Sheep coverThe first thing that must be said about “Stop Stealing Sheep & find out how type works” is that its purpose is simply not clear. If it’s supposed to be a book for beginners to learn about type, it lacks effective headings, and (maybe most importantly) a glossary; despite typographic differences within the text, importance of information is not well designated, which leads one to ask, how is a beginner to know what’s vital? Likewise, the exceedingly simple analogies re: Type in the main text and lack of info-richness show that this book is not for the expert. So who is this book for? Therein the problem.

“Stop Stealing Sheep…” is undeniably well-designed(read: pretty); it is clear that the authors put a good deal of time and enthusiasm into creating the layout, finding and creating visual elements and atmosphere for their book. Each page has a picture of its own, so out of the roughly 159 pages (not counting appendices), 77 of them have text, subtract the mostly blank title spreads and you have 65-70 pages of actual text. And the pages that do have text don’t contain a large amount; If it seems like I am criticizing the info-density of “Stop Stealing Sheep…” I am; this book may very well be a stereotypical ‘airhead’: gorgeous, but lacking substance.

I would like to temper the above statement by adding that the side-bars do contain some very interesting historical facts about type; the meat of the book, it seems, is in these side-bars. Another aspect of “Stop Stealing Sheep…” that I enjoyed is that the authors give a lot of visual examples; every other-page highlights the fonts mentioned by setting them below the side-bar for the reader to examine (I spent much time with this book analyzing ‘handgloves’ written in different type). Another way the authors express their concepts is by “showing” them, i.e. in talking about type-faces for forms(i.e. applications), the authors gave an example of a form on the adjoining page — the amount and quality of these examples are perhaps the trade-off for the lousy main text.

Not being a viable textbook, reference guide, beginner’s primer, nor coffee table book, it is best defined as a ‘browsable’ just above a magazine. There are a lot of good lessons in the little volume, but they are hampered by poor organization. Still, I am not of a mind to condemn “Stop Stealing Sheep…” completely, though I will be forthright in saying it is not a worthy purchase. My recommendation is that typography beginners and experts make best use of “Stop Stealing Sheep” by perusing it at a bookstore, or checking it out at the library.

note: My review refers to Spiekermann, Erik and Ginger, E.M. . Stop Stealing Sheep & find out how type works. Mountain View, CA: Adobe Press, 1993 | I am aware of there being a 2nd Edition(2002) with some changes – this review does not refer to the new edition.

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