Ilene Strizver: A Special Type Of Woman

The debates rage: Should you use one space — or two — after a period?

Are free fonts worth it?

And those pesky apostrophes — is the glyph used the same one as for a closed (or right) single quote?

If these questions keep you up at night, Ilene Strizver is your woman.

If they don’t — well, your typography IQ is way low. And Strizver thinks that’s a shame.

Ilene Strizver

Ilene Strizver

From her Westport home, the Queens native has become one of America’s preeminent experts on typography. The Type Studio — headquartered right here — offers workshops, seminars, webinars, consulting and graphic design.

Expert witness testimony too. Strizver once was deposed in a lawsuit against a major credit card company. She testified as to the legibility and readability of the small print in its contract.

The Type Studio teaches technical and aesthetic skills that are rarely taught in design schools — or even fully understood by professionals. Strizver consults with marketers designing ads, packaging and logos; writers writing newsletters; publishers creating book jackets … anyone with any material of any “type” (ho ho).

“I’m anal retentive,” Strizver says. “Those are good qualities for what I do.” She’s also patient, detail-oriented, and has excellent hand-eye coordination. (That last quality was much more important when typesetting was done manually, not on a computer.)

She received excellent training at the School of Visual Arts from Ed Benguiat — “one of the greatest living type designers.” He then hired her at International Typeface Corporation, which designed, licensed and marketed typefaces for computers. Steve Jobs was a client.

The cover of Ilene Strizver's book. It's now in its 4th edition.

The cover of Ilene Strizver’s book. It’s now in its 4th edition.

Strizver was involved in “U&lc (Upper and lower case), ITC’s  magazine showcasing their typefaces in creative ways. She later became ITC’s director of typeface development, where she created more than 300 typefaces. When the company was sold, she started her own.

Strizver has earned renown as an educator, author (“Type Rules!“, a typography guide) and consultant.

“Most people don’t know what I do,” Strizver says. “But type affects everything. It helps you make decisions. You see it everywhere: on book covers, in movie titles and grocery stores. Typefaces have personalities. They communicate messages and moods.”

If you can’t read the instructions on medication, Ilene notes, that’s a typography problem.

Or if you can’t read signs on a store or restaurant, from a distance. Driving around Westport, she sees those issues every day. She’s too polite to name names. But she says the rest of us non-typographers just have to open our eyes. We’ll notice bad typography everywhere.

Aging eyes are a challenge for typographers. Ilene Strizver says the setting on the left is more challenging to read due to the the narrow column width and the typeface’s "short x-height, tight counters, and decorative characters." The one on the right -- with "clean, open characters, generous type size and line spacing" -- is easier to read.

Aging eyes are a challenge for typographers. Ilene Strizver says the setting on the left is more challenging to read due to the the narrow column width and the typeface’s “short x-height, tight counters, and decorative characters.” The one on the right — with “clean, open characters, generous type size and line spacing” — is easier to read.

Strizver’s mission is to educate designers. “Most of them don’t know what they don’t know,” she says. In other words: They’ve taken plenty of design courses. But they still don’t realize the role type plays in imparting a message about a package, product or catalog.

That was not always true. When type was set by hand, professionals learned on the job. Today, with personal computers, everyone uses fonts and “sets” their own type. But very few of us know what we’re doing.

Even fewer know that help of every “type” is available right here in Westport. We just have to look.

The logo for Ilene Strizver's company is simple and clean.

The logo for Ilene Strizver’s company is simple and clean.

16 responses to “Ilene Strizver: A Special Type Of Woman

  1. One of the first things I noticed in THE HARRY POTTER series was how easy the chosen font was to read.

  2. Thanks Dan – great story as always. So interesting!!!

  3. Dan, was the use of two open quotes (vs. one open and one closed quote) intentional for “Type Rules!“ (sic)? 🙂

    • Hah! I wish I could say “yes.” But it’s a glitch in the WordPress software for this theme, involving an exclamation point followed by a quotation mark. I probably could have changed it manually (if I had noticed it), but now I’ll just let it stand.

  4. What does Ilene have to say about the strange possessive apostrophe on the soccer shed at Staples?

    • Her expertise is type, fonts and spacing, not grammar. But if you are talking about the fact that it says Boys’ Soccer, the team belongs to boys.

  5. Sven, if you post a photo of it, I’ll chime in.

  6. Love this story!
    Type is the key to a great logo and/or illustration. It can make or break an image.
    And a personal shout out to Queens!:)

  7. If grammar lacks, a useful companion to Ms Strizver’s “Type Rules!” would be Karen Gordon’s “The Well-Tempered Sentence.”

  8. But what about one space or two? Being an early adopter, as soon as I heard that one space was “newer” and “more accepted,” I switched. Was I wrong?

  9. What everyone calls a Font is not that at all, but a Typeface. As you say “people don’t know what they don’t know.” That said, perhaps too many uch water has gone over the dam to change things now.

    Bravo to you for doing what you do. Good typography connects, communicates.

    I cringe at all the self-styled “graphic designers” out there who are clueless about typography. Hope you will change that.

    Now if only people would learn the proper use of the apostrophe. (“tomato’s for sale” Really?) The rules are really not difficult. I know, I know, this is not your field but would you consider giving a complimentary copy of Warriner’s English Grammar and Composition to each of your clients?

    Bill Blaufuss
    printing industry retiree
    appreciative student of Prof. Alex Lawson, RIT, ’60s

  10. Bravo Ilene! From your fellow typophile 🙂

  11. I hope Iline and the Type Studio campaign against putting lines on the top and bottom of the letter I . These are called serifs and do not belong on the letter I (or J) unless all the other letters have them. It’s one of my pet peeves, as a one-time sign painter.

  12. Dan,

    Great article!

    Ilene is a gifted individual whose talents are so precise that many overlook her craft, purely because she is on such an advanced level with her art and skill. Ilene is deeply creative and intelligent.

    On top of her skills, she is incredibly caring, hard working, and EXTREMLY funny. Westport is lucky to have her in the community!