Prior to the turn of the century, practitioners often argued over the virtues of personal style versus neutrality, which was the underlying topic of a lecture given by Beatrice Warde (1900–1969) to the Society of Typographic Designers in London (later published as an essay). Warde, who used the pen name Paul Beaujon, was a respected type historian and critic of the graphic arts industry. In 1927, on the strength Beaujon’s writing in the Fleuron, she was appointed editor of the Monotype Recorder, published in England by the Lanstone Monotype Company. “The Crystal Goblet” is Warde’s best-known (and most reprinted) essay on the clarity of type and design. In the introduction to her book of collected writing, The Crystal Goblet, she asserts that the essay contains ideas that must be “said over again in other terms to many…people who in the nature of their work have to deal with the putting of printed words on paper—and who, for one reason or another, are in danger of becoming as fascinated by the intricacies of its techniques as birds are supposed to be by the eye of a serpent.”
— Steven Heller
There is nothing simple
or dull in achieving
the transparent page
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The Crystal Goblet or
Printing Should Be Invisible, 1932 Beatrice Warde
September 29, 2009
Baseline
Bear with me in this long-winded and fragrant metaphor; for you will find that almost all the virtues of the perfect wineglass have a parallel in typography. There is the long, thin stem that obviates fingerprints on the bowl. Why? Because no cloud must come between your eyes arid the fiery heart of the liquid.
Are not the margins on book pages simi larly meant to obviate the necessity of fingering the type page? Again: the glass is colorless or at the most only faintly tinged in the bowl, because the connoisseur judges wine partly by its color and is impatient of anything that alters it. There are a thousand mannerisms in typography that are as impudent and arbitrary as putting port in tumblers of red or green glass! When a goblet has a base that looks too small for security, it does not matter how cleverly it is weighted; you feel nervous lest it should tip over. There are ways of setting lines of type which may work well enough, and yet keep the reader subconsciously worried by the fear of ‘doubling’ lines, reading three words as one, and so forth.
Now the man who first chose glass instead of clay or metal to hold his wine was a ‘modernist’ in the sense in which I am going to use that term. That is, the first thing he asked of this particular object was not ‘How should it look?’ but ‘What must it do?’ and to that extent all good typography is modernist.
Artist: Alan Clarke
This poster is a good example of transparent type. The design uses a simple sans serif typeface that is very easily read and is placed neatly on the page in a well organized way. The typography and page layout don’t create any distractions form the message of the poster.
Wine is so strange and potent a thing that it has been used in the central ritual of religion in one place and time, and attacked by a virago with a hatchet in another. There is only one thing in the world that is capable of stirring and altering men’s minds to the same extent, and that is the coherent expression of thought. That is man’s chief miracle, unique to man. There is no ‘explanation’ whatever of the fact I can make arbitrary sounds that will lead a total stranger to think my own thought. It is sheer magic that I should be able to hold a one-sided conversation by means of black marks on paper with an unknown person halfway across the world. Talking, broadcasting, writing, and printing are all quite literally forms of thought transference, and it is this ability and eagerness to transfer and receive the contents of the mind that is almost alone responsible for human civilization.

If you agree with this, you will agree with my one main idea, i.e., that the most important thing about printing is that it conveys thought, ideas, images, from one mind to other minds. This statement is what you might call the front door of the science of typography. Within lie hundreds of rooms; but unless you start by assuming that printing is meant to convey specific and coherent ideas, it is very easy to find yourself in the wrong house altogether.

Artist: Nick Johnson

This design is another example that exemplifies transparent type. Attention is brought to the paragraphs by the large numbers, but the body text itself is set in a simple, clean sans serif. The paragraphs are neatly organized and spaces out, and the viewer is not distracted by fancy letter forms or unnecessary design patterns. The overall design is very structured and clear-cut.

Before asking what this statement leads to, let us see what it does not necessarily lead to. If books are printed in order to be read, we must distinguish readability from what the optician would call legibility. A page set in 14-pt. Bold Sans is, according to the laboratory tests, more ‘legible’ than one set in 11 pt. Baskerville. A public speaker is more ‘audible’ in that sense when he bellows. But a good speaking voice is one which is inaudible as a voice. It is the transparent goblet again! I need not warn you that if you begin listening to the inflections and speaking rhythms of a voice from a platform, you are falling asleep. When you listen to a song in a language you do not understand, part of your mind actually does fall asleep, leaving your quite separate aesthetic sensibilities to enjoy themselves unimpeded by your reasoning faculties. The fine arts do that; but that is not the purpose of printing. Type well used is invisible as type, just as the perfect talking voice is the unnoticed vehicle for the transmission of words, ideas.
Artist: Mitja Miklavcic
This design displays opaque type. The text here is arranged in an organized way, but attention is drawn to the type because of how it is treated. The design incorporates a variety of sizes, styles, weights, and values. Some of the text for example, is darker or against a colored background. This much diversity distracts form the message of the text because the viewer is drawn to the unique appearance of each line.
We may say, therefore, that printing may he delightful for many reasons, but that it is important, first and foremost, as a means of doing something. That is why it is mischievous to call any printed piece a work of art, especially fine art: because that would imply that its first purpose was to exist as an expression of beauty for its own sake and for the delectation of the senses. Calligraphy can almost be considered a fine art nowadays, because its primary economic and educational purpose has been taken away; but printing in English will not qualify as an art until the present English language no longer conveys ideas to future generations, and until printing itself hands its usefulness to some yet unimagined successor.
We may say, therefore, that printing may he delightful for many reasons, but that it is important, first and foremost, as a means of doing something. That is why it is mischievous to call any printed piece a work of art, especially fine art: because that would imply that its first purpose was to exist as an expression of beauty for its own sake and for the delectation of the senses. Calligraphy can almost be considered a fine art nowadays, because its primary economic and educational purpose has been taken away; but printing in English will not qualify as an art until the present English language no longer conveys ideas to future generations, and until printing itself hands its usefulness to some yet unimagined successor.
I once was talking to a man who designed a very pleasing advertising type that undoubtedly all of you have used. I said something about what artists think about a certain problem, and he replied with a beautiful gesture: ‘Ah, madam, we artists do not think—we feel!’ That same day I quoted that remark to another designer of my acquaintance, and he, being less poetically inclined, murmured: ‘I’m not feeling very well today, I think!’ He was right, he did think; he was the thinking sort; and that is why he is not so good a painter, and to my mind ten times better as a typographer and type designer than the man who instinctively avoided anything as coherent as a reason.
I always suspect the typographic enthusiast who takes a printed page from a book and frames it to hang on the wall, for I believe that in order to gratify a sensory delight he has mutilated something infinitely more important. I remember that T. M. Cleland, the famous American typographer, once showed me a very beautiful layout for a Cadillac booklet involving decorations in color. He did not have the actual text to work with in drawing up his specimen pages, so he had set the lines in Latin. This was not only for the reason that you will all think of, if you have seen the old typefoundries’ famous Quousque Tandem copy (i.e., that Latin has few descenders and thus gives a remarkably even line). No, he told me that originally he had set up the dullest ‘wording’ that he could find (I dare say it was from Hansard), and yet he discovered that the man to whom he submitted it would start reading and making comments on the text. I made sonic remark on the mentality of Boards of Directors, but Mr. Cleland said, ‘No: you’re wrong; if the reader had not been practically forced to read—if he had not seen those words suddenly imbued with glamour and significance—then the layout would have been a failure. Setting it in Italian or Latin is only an easy way of saying “This is not the text as it will appear.”’
Artist: Erickson Enriquez

This design is another great example of opaque type. Here, Enriquez uses text as imagery to help convey his message. The first thing the viewer notices is the sun-like pattern in which the text is arranged. Because the text is positioned in such an unusual way, with most of the lines tilted or even upside down, the reader is constantly aware of the type’s placement.

Let me start my specific conclusions with book typography, because that contains all the fundamentals, and then go on to a few points about advertising.
The book typographer has the job of erecting a window between the reader inside the room and that landscape which is the author’s words. He may put up a stained-glass window of marvelous beauty, but a failure as a window; that is, he may use some rich superb type like text gothic that is something to he looked at, not through. Or he may work in what I call transparent or invisible typography. I have a book at home, of which I have no visual recollection whatever as far as its typography goes; when I think of it, all I see is the Three Musketeers and their comrades swaggering up and down the streets of Paris. The third type of window is one in which the glass is broken into relatively small leaded panes; and this corresponds to what is called ‘fine printing’ today, in that you are at least conscious that there is a window there, and that someone has enjoyed building it. That is not objectionable, because of a very important fact which has to do with the psychology of the subconscious mind. This is that the mental eye focuses through type and not upon it. The type which, through any arbitrary warping of design or excess of ‘color,’ gets in the way of the mental picture to be conveyed is a bad type. Our subconsciousness is always afraid of blunders (which illogical setting, tight spacing and too-wide unleaded lines can trick us into), of boredom, and of officiousness. The running headline that keeps shouting at us, the line that looks like one long word, the capitals jammed together without hair-spaces—these mean subconscious squinting and loss of mental focus.
And if what I have said is true of book printing, even of the most exquisite limited editions, it is fifty times more obvious in advertising, where the one and only justification for the purchase of space is that you are conveying a message—that you are implanting a desire, straight into the mind of the reader. It is tragically easy to throw away half the reader-interest of an advertisement by setting the simple and compelling argument in a face that is uncomfortably alien to the classic reasonableness of the book-face. Get attention as you will by your headline, and make any pretty type pictures you like if you are sure that the copy is useless as a means of selling goods; but if you are happy enough to have really good copy to work with, I beg you to remember that thousands of people pay hard-earned money for the privilege of reading quietly set book-pages, and that only your wildest ingenuity can stop people from reading a really interesting text.
Printing demands a humility of mind, for the lack of which many of the fine arts are even now floundering in self-conscious and maudlin experiments. There is nothing simple or dull in achieving the transparent page. Vulgar ostentation is twice as easy as discipline. When you realize that ugly typography never effaces itself, you will be able to capture beauty as the wise men capture happiness by aiming at something else. The ‘stunt typographer’ learns the fickleness of rich men who hate to read. Not for them are long breaths held over serif and kern, they will not appreciate your splitting of hair-spaces. Nobody (save the other craftsmen) will appreciate half your skill. But you may spend endless years of happy experiment in devising that crystalline goblet which is worthy to hold the vintage of the human mind.
Address to the Society of Typographic Designers, formerly the British Typographers Guild, London, 1932 Published in Beatrice Warde: The Crystal Goblet—Sixteen Essays on Typography (Cleveland and New York World Publishing Co, 1956).