Using Typography to design can be an intriguing and expressive way of creating fascinating images. To risk going into too much design related jargon, let’s start with the meaning of the word Typography. Typography is simply the visual component of the written word. In other words the styles and appearance worded matter takes is what we designers refer to as typography. Using the neoclassical Times New Roman in both Bold and Italicised in the example below shows how a simple change of the form letters take, can summon different emotional sensations. The Bold version commands a sense of order and purpose, while the Italicised forces the reader to slow down in admiration of the smooth flowing forms.
Typography is all around us. It can be found in logos, posters, advertising, automobile manuals, that novel you just read, newspaper articles, billboards, text messages, candy wrappers, the interesting arrangement of words on a webpage, the information on this blog.
A designer can manipulate typography in various ways to help express the meaning of a word/phrases. Understanding how to use typography is fundamental to communication in our modern world. The reason it became so fundamental is because typography dominates every area of literary communication, and has since the European Renaissance occupied the second of the three types of communication which is visual communications specifically under the branch of graphic design. The final type of communication “verbal” is also distantly related to typography, because it is through the legibility of type that information can be read and understood effectively.
The art of Typography has its roots in mid-15th Century Europe, when artisans developed a method of using movable type thus allowing for quicker printing. Prior to this technological advance text was either handwritten or employed an archaic version of printing that relied on full page stamp moulds made of either clay, stone or in later years woodblock. Johannes Gutenberg later advanced the process of printing words on a surface, by crafting individual letterform characters out of more durable metal moulds. This innovation primarily aided the ease of reproduction because the newer metal moulds took far longer to degrade than previous woodblock moulds. From this innovation we draw a great deal of our current graphic design terminology.
Understanding the application of typography is one of the most important skills graphic designers should master. It might seem basic, but typography is a highly sought after skill in the design industry, which once mastered shows that the designer truly understands the mind of their readers. Through mathematical precision and an emphasis on proportionality, expression and clarity, this form of visual communication stands the test of time and is a hallmark of our modern world because it is everywhere. As mentioned previously, literally all words today were designed to keep readers interested.
Typography is where art breaks the rules and invades science and psychology. Proper application of it allows designers to tap deeply into the human mind, and convey a sense of order and perfection even though no such thing exists in the universe. Likewise if needs be, a typography designer may convey disorder, through variations in alignment, scale, direction and juxtaposition to suggest a few principles. This post is meant to show readers that type is not solely about communicating the written word, but can be more than that with just a little extra push.
Typeface vs. Font
There are certain principles that are a must know when using typography. Typeface refers to the specific design of an alphabet. A Font is a typeface in a particular style, size and weight. These two terminologies are often confused as the same thing. The example below shows various modern typefaces such as Gill Sans, Avenir, Helvetica and Arial. A group of letterforms which form an alphabet and other corresponding characters is known as a Typeface. Font refers to the different variations of styles associated with a particular typeface. Some of these variations are also seen below and classified as Regular, Oblique, Bold, Condensed and Light.
Various typefaces of different shapes, thicknesses and styles can be mixed to create visual interest. Typeface styles that contrast well are found to convey hierarchy, balance and in some cases harmony. A most profound example can be found in the way the typefaces on book covers are arranged. The most elegant or classy typeface is usually reserved for the author’s name, while an equally interesting but contrastingly simple type is used for the book’s title. This divergence in typeface usage is what creates interest because it shows the reader which bit of information is of primary focus, and secondary focus. In this case the author’s name is primary, while the book title is secondary. The same secondary typeface can be used for all the additional information on the rear of the novel and spine without reducing the visual interest of the author’s name. Interestingly, the more a single typeface is used within a design is the more the other minimally used typefaces attract visual interest. However, even if there is just that single word on a page in a given typeface within a sea of other words in different typefaces, the chosen style must command enough interest to maintain the focus of viewers, and that’s where fonts come to play.
Fonts in a recap are the various sizes, weights and other characteristics that make any one typeface look and feel different. In the previous example sometimes just the use of a more stylised typeface, can create and maintain to decent effect a strong visual hierarchy. However, sometimes that is not enough. Sometimes variations in thick and thin versions of a given typeface can enhance the dynamism of words on a page. Say for instance their is need words of tertiary important such as the mentioned information on the rear of the novel. In this case font choices become useful, where a designer could use the same secondary type and either reduce the size or weight of the letterforms to lower its significance on a page. Consequently, designers are not only able to dictate which information is read first, but also what is most important and warrants slower reading.
Typography is used to great effect in newspapers where a headline is not only in a different typeface from the body text, but is the largest and boldest font on the page. In another example, a type designer ensures that the headline hits the viewer hard and commits that information to memory first. Afterwards smaller more intricate typeface is used to promote slow reading and absorption of more detailed information in a secondary line. The smallest most intricate typeface is reserved for the body text where most of the information is provided. Using the most intricate typeface forces the reader to slow down even further, and ensure that the information is being stored in their long-term memory. In this example, the headline typeface and font combination is only used to gain the viewer’s attention, but the additional typeface holds that attention. This is typography.
Serif v.s. Sans Serif
Typefaces can also be further grouped as alluded to into various genres. Doing so helps knowing when, where, why, and how to use a typeface in accordance with a specific function. Function is most grounding principle in any visual language, because it dictates the most appropriate mode for transmitting information. The two leading typeface genres that are often the target of confusion in the typography community is Serif and Sans-Serif. In short, the feet that project from letterforms are referred to as serifs. Serifs are common with traditional typefaces and are usually referred to as old-style due to their Roman origin, and include: Garamond, Palatino, Caslon and Goudy old style. There are other sub-genre of serif typefaces such as transitional/baroque denoting them being in-between the old style and modern. Many of our most used serif typefaces today come from that sub-genre, like Baskerville and the famed Times New Roman. Didone also known as modern serif typefaces place great emphasis on contrasting thick and thin strokes. Some examples include: Didot and Bodoni. Last but not least is slab serif typefaces which has gained popularity in the contemporary due to how well they work as attention grabbers like Rockwell, Clarendon and Courier.
A typeface that have no feet can be said to be “sans-serif”, literally meaning without serif or feet. Sans-serif typefaces are of a more modern sensibility, due to their emphasis on simplicity and minimalism. The focus is placed on the letterforms themselves and maximum legibility, rather than stylised additional elements that are found to be distracting to audiences in the modern age. Sans-serif typefaces are more commonly associated with the rise of the digital age because of how well they retain their legibility on smaller displays and lower resolution output media. Try to think of a typeface that places emphasis on contrasting think and thin like Bodoni, on a smaller display all the sections that are thin begin to vanish thus leading to illegibility issues. Sans-serif typefaces with their admittedly sometimes plains and simplicity are the staple of our modern world based on function, over decoration. Some famous examples of sans-serif typefaces include Gill Sans, Century, Helvetica, Montserrat, Lucida Grande, Calibre, Myriad, Proxima Nova and Avenir. Outside of the main serif and sans-serif typefaces are also more decorative styles such as script.
Typography in Logos
One of the most widely used applications of typography is in logo design. Logos by their very nature as symbols, are simply images that represents a bigger idea. However, the idea most logos often represent is that of a business, campaign or other venture which usually have a name or title. Consequently, most logos incorporate that name along with an abstracted image to paint a very precise picture of that idea and what it stands for. Typography designers must pay keen attention to what a venture’s grounding principles are because that will decide what typeface or font combinations will best represent them. A famous example of a combination logo as they are referred is Puma, where a symbol in the silhouette of the actual Puma cat is represented along with a condensed sans-serif typeface in bold font.
Sometimes logos can be made solely out of typography. These logos are found to get right to the point and skip on the decorative flashiness that comes with symbols. In the same sense that boldness and simplicity is exactly what audiences gravitate towards because some of them are stylised to create that interest. A famous example is Fedex’s logo which uses the combination of typeface, font weight, colour and alignment to create interest and produce a subliminal arrow between the E and X. This is what was alluded to where meaning can be expressed not only in the information that is presented in words, but also how those words connect. One of the greatest typography designers of the 20th Century was Paul Rand, who is famed for his simple usage of typefaces to create the most profound and long-lived logos of all time.
International Business Machines’s logo (known as IBM), is without a doubt Rand’s tour de force where through horizontal divisions in the typeface he gives us a glimpse into the future. It speaks true to simplicity. The effortlessness and appeal of the IBM logo is shockingly charming and it additionally precisely characterises the brand name and class. The logo was so insightful into the coming digital age, that even today almost 50 years later it is still widely recognised as a visual icon of the 20th Century and is still used by IBM today.
Last but not least is understanding the proper usage of typography and the terminologies thereof really that significant. After all, words on a page are just words on a page. Considering that you read this information to the very end, typography is anything but just words on a page. Information on its own is interesting, but applying typography can make that information more interesting and more significantly help persons to remember crucial points. What if a website’s worded information was scattered all around the page in no real order, the reader would consequently not know where to start or would be too annoyed to begin. The annoyance or noise brings forth a crucial final point based on the fact that human beings are creatures that craze order and balance. It was this appetite for order that lead to the subconscious structuring of words on a page in a manner that is captivating to other readers. As a result typography is by no means a difficult endeavour, as a matter of fact it is quite simple. Due to our same appetite for order it means most humans can recognize straight away when things type-related are out of place. The only difference between most persons and a typography designer is they know how best to fix it by understanding the history of typography and how correct usage can impact on our minds and lives.