It was only three years ago that I learned that typography is (if not the most vital part to) publication design. My professor sat the class down, gave us oversized print outs of letter M’s in Baskerville and P’s in Times New Roman and said, “Okay, now re-draw it.”
First of all, how often do you hear the phrase “Draw a letter?” When I heard that, I thought to myself, “so this is what we’re going to do the first day of design class? This isn’t design!” Before that day, letters had always been letters; meant to be written and forgotten, not drawn and meticulously studied like art.
That day changed my view of typography forever. Trying to re-create an 8.5” x 11” print out of the letter M for three hours will do that to you. Never will I look at a Baskerville M the same – (slightly kidding).
In all seriousness, as I sat there redrawing this M, I noticed the beauty in the typography – the classiness of the sans-serif, the thin to thick contrast in the stems and bars of the letter, and the overall elegance. For the first time, I looked at the M as a design. There were so many details to this letter I had never noticed before. Curves, points, and transitions came together to form a perfect legible shape that could be read and understood as a symbol to billions of people in the world.
Looking at typography as art opens up the realm of layout, hierarchy, legibility, consistency, and all other essential components of good design. Choosing the “right font” can take hours for designers so it can be suitable for the context. Most of the time, to viewers it doesn’t look like much of an effort, which is sometimes a good thing. For example, when reading an article, the viewer’s eye should naturally go from title – author – introduction – body copy; all of this is done by type size, line height, line spacing, type treatment, color, etc.
The title stands out by bold type, capital letters, spaced out characters.
The author‘s name uses different type treatment which distinguishes it from the rest of the type, but still stays consistent with the line treatment of the illustrations.
The body copy is spaced out thanks to the leading and kerning, there are distinguishable paragraphs and it’s left aligned.
Compare this to the last example.
The kerning in the title is inconsistent.
The author‘s name is barely noticeable.
The body copy has no breathing room.
Which design interests you more? Which one would you rather read? The first design is not only aesthetically pleasing, but easily readable. Typography should not get in the way of a good read.
As Beatrice Ward said, “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…
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”, The Crystal Goblet.