C Studio Project 3: Typesetting

Hannah Lesser
7 min readOct 18, 2021

Day 1- Essay + Initial Sketches

This is my essay on Baskerville:

“Having been an early admirer of the beauty of letters, I became insensibly desirous of contributing to the perfection of them. I formed to myself ideas of greater accuracy than had yet appeared, and had endeavored to produce a set of types according to what I conceived to be their true proportion.”

- John Baskerville, 1768

Baskerville was designed in 1754 in England. The typeface was heavily influenced by the processes of the Birmingham-bred John Baskerville, a master type-founder and printer, who owed much of his career to his early life. As a servant in a clergyman’s house, it was his employer that discovered his penmanship talents and sent him to learn writing. Baskerville was illiterate, but became very interested in calligraphy, and practiced handwriting and inscription, which was later reflected in the strokes and embellishments of his printed typeface.

At the time that John Baskerville decided to switch from owning a Japanning business to a type foundry, Phillipe Grandjean’s exclusive typeface “Romain du Roi” for Louis XIV had circulated and been copied in Europe. The mathematically-drawn characters felt cold, and prompted Baskerville to create a softer typeface with rounded bracketed serifs and a vertical axis. After he developed the typeface, he discovered that existing printing presses did not capture the subtleties of his type, so Baskerville redesigned the press, replacing the wooden platen with a brass one in order to allow the planes to meet more evenly. Baskerville and his contemporaries more fully embraced printing technology and sought to create letterforms that reflected contemporary tools, rather than classical ones: A change that was fully in line during the post-Renaissance era.

Baskerville is most known for its crisp edges, high contrast, and generous proportions. It’s classified as a transitional typeface, meaning that its style was the stepping stone between old-style typefaces like Caslon, and modern typefaces such as Didot and Bodoni. In addition to influence of the King’s Roman formula, many would argue that Baskerville’s typefaces were the result of his intent to improve upon the eponymous old-style designs of his contemporary William Caslon. The similarities in both men’s letterforms are easy to point out. Baskerville increased the contrast between thick and thin strokes in his letters, making the serifs sharper, and shifted the axis of rounded letters to a vertical position. In addition, curved strokes became more circular in shape, and characters became more regular, which created a greater consistency in size and form.

After Baskerville began to see an increase in use, many claimed that his style was “too stark” and the printing “damaged the eyes.” While Baskerville found little success during the lifetime of John Baskerville, the typeface made a huge influence in Europe after the printer’s widow sold the Baskerville punches and matrices to France, where it circulated among foundries. Admiration for the English typeface in France and Italy spread, and Baskerville’s high contrast letterforms evolved into an emergence of modern faces such as Didot and Bodoni. American typographer, Bruce Rogers, discovered a Baskerville type specimen in a Cambridge bookstore in 1917, and once he became printing adviser to Harvard University Press, he recommended that the type be casted from the original Baskerville matrixes, causing a revival to the typeface in the 20th century. In 1996, Zuzana Licko designed a contemporary Baskerville revival, Mrs. Eaves, which was named after the printer’s mistress. To recreate the same open and light feeling that Baskerville had, Licko used a small x-height in relation to the cap-height and high contrast within the strokes. Baskerville was popular for its calligraphy influence and swashes, and Licko incorporated a lot of ligatures into Mrs. Eaves to mimic this style.

Baskerville is an elegant book face, and as proven by John Baskerville’s own treatment, it can excel in purely typographic compositions. Today it remains one of the most popular and classic typefaces for print for its legibility and refined beauty.

It’s a bit on the longer side, but I feel like it effectively communicates the history of Baskerville, since this is so integral to its use today.

Day 2: Exploring typesetting with grids

I experimented with pairing Baskerville with different sans serif typefaces, like Franklin Gothic, Avenir, and Moderat. I’m not sure if I want to include the quote or not since my body text is already so long.

Day 3

Today I began incorporating image. I started with an image of John Baskerville himself. I tried putting the image in the middle of the text, but I’m not so sure this works.

I enjoy the idea of decreasing the opacity of images an dplacing them behind text. I’m not sure how this would negatively affect readability, though.

Day 4— Beginning to Incorporate Color

I added in some additional images. I really love the image I found from England during the time Baskerville was being created. I also took these images into Photoshop and added a hue/saturation layer. I think this creates a really cool effect and adds a sense of modernity to the spread, since Baskerville is still so heavily used today.

Day 5

Vicki said I need to use Baskerville in my body copy. I have the most readable typeface, I should embrace this. I experimented with using Moderat for the heading instead.

Day 6— Continuing to experiment with color and image

I tried making the title red and the body text nevy blue. I think the black for the body is more effective and I think having the red as the title is kind of alarming.

I liked the title in the navy blue color. I think it effectively communicates the aura of sophistication and classiness associated with Baskerville.

I also started experimenting with incorporating another letterform — C — into the spread. I’m not sure its working yet, but will experiment more with how I might be able to make this fit.

Day 7- Experimenting more with effective and dynamic page layout

I’m not sure how I feel about Baskerville in this location. One advantage of having it here though is that I can use it as a kind of drop cap, since the first word of my body text is “Baskerville”.

I’m worried my spread is starting to get a little too busy with all of the images and large letterforms.

Day 8

Day 9

Day 10- moved Baskerville back to right page

Day 11- Finishing touches

Final for crit

During in class crit, Susan said my spread was intimidating. Vicki suggested I make the text a little smaller so there’s a little more room to breathe.

Final Final

Overall, this project taught me a lot about effective page design, readability vs. legibility, and Baskerville. ☺️ I was able to use the knowledge gained in project 1 about grid systems in this project.



Hannah Lesser

design, social and political history at carnegie mellon university