Typography in everyday life
The most common question I get asked in the office I think is ‘what is this font?’.
Every department within our agency use fonts for something. For example, the developers need to work with us to find a web-safe version of the font we’ve chosen, the video team need to use the same typeface that us designers use so the client’s brand remains consistent and as designers, we have the important job of choosing the typeface.
Ah, that’s the first thing. What’s the difference between a font and a typeface? That’s another question I got asked at the office when I started and it’s a really good question that not many people know. A font is the variation of weights within a typeface. So, for example, Times New Roman is a typeface as it has its own family of font’s which include Times New Roman Light, Medium, Bold etc.
Now you know, let’s set the scene. You’re walking down the street, you find a nice restaurant and sit down to look at a menu. You don’t think twice. You scan your eyes across the page and choose a dish. Sorted.
For us designers, it’s a little different. Firstly, we would look at the shopfront signage and see how the overall restaurant is branded. Have they used a skilled sign-writer whose painted their beautiful letterforms on the shop-window? Or have they opted for a modern metal type to be nailed to the fascia? When we peruse the menu, we analyse its overall look. What’s the GSM? What’s the quality and texture of the paper? What’s the branding of the restaurant like? How have they laid the type out on a page? Have they remained consistent with their alignment? What typefaces have they used? Is it a good choice that reflects the style and ambience of the restaurant? Is the menu a booklet? A piece of paper? Please tell me it’s not laminated. If it’s laminated and written in comic sans, get the hell outta there quick.
That’s another thing. We can become quite snobby. Ask any designer, if their eye picks up an error when looking at something, that’s it. Hell freezes over! Even if it’s the most minute thing that any regular person wouldn’t notice like the kerning is off on one of the letters. I’ll be honest, if I’m in a supermarket choosing what food to buy, for example, I’d choose the packaging that has the most attractive design. Illustrations, beautiful typography with elegant ligatures, all gold foiled on an embossed card of a 260gsm weight. It sounds sad I know, but it’s the way we are. Try buying a birthday card for a designer, it’s the hardest thing ever! We scrutinize everything!
When it comes to designing however, everybody has their favourite font. Even regular folk! I’m sure every person knows a name of one font. The classic Arial for those that use Windows, good ole’ Myriad Pro for my fellow Mac users, oh and the faithful Helvetica Neue Ultra-Light used on all iPhones. As I work for a web design agency based in Essex, most of my work involves designing for digital purposes. For this, I usually opt for sans-serif typefaces because I find them modern and legible. I’ll normally use a mix of both sans-serif and serif typefaces for print purposes because that’s the way it’s always been. I mean, no point fixing it if it’s not broken. Serif fonts have always been used for print, newspapers, books and even typewriters so why not carry on the tradition. Being 22, I’ve even witnessed how typefaces have been viewed on a computer screen, the serifs would never render, and it’d look a blurry mess! But as technology evolves and resolutions get better and better, this rule may not be necessary anymore! It’s the same with any design brief, every typeface has a place and purpose. Choosing its suitability is crucial because although you simply read it, the way it looks plays a big role too.
Take a look below at these typographic No-No’s that I’ve made as an example.
Georgia’s Babysitting Service. If you looked at this advertisement in the newspaper, would you really want to leave your young children alone with Georgia, who appears to be a mass-murderer? Take a look at my second example. Although it’s a little girly with its curly letterforms, the typeface looks almost hand-written. Like Georgia, herself has carefully taken the time to write her advertisement for you to read, filled with kindness and love. Now, this is someone you’d happily leave your children with, as you know she’ll be in safe hands!
Big Al’s Motorcycle Club. Put two and two together, Big Al wouldn’t have the name ‘Big Al’ for nothing and he owns his own motorcycle club, so a lot of masculinity is coming across right now. The only problem is that it’s written in a very cursive type which completely contradicts the message. Now have a look at my second example, I’ve opted to use a thick san serif to show power and dominance. It’s easy to read and straight to the point which suit’s its target audience too. No elongated tails to letters curling round to make flourishes, the typeface is strong and striking and fit’s this purpose perfectly.
In conclusion, as I have presented in the examples, the way type is written can give a feeling or an emotion before it has even been read! This can work as both a good and bad thing so, next time you create something make sure you choose your typeface wisely!
Ps. no comic sans is allowed. EVER
Alignment – How type is laid out on the page. There are four types of alignment, left-aligned which means the text is aligned along the left margin, right-aligned which is along the right, centre-aligned which is in the middle and justified, where the lines are expanded to fit both the left and right margins
Cursive Type – A typeface which looks handwritten
Font – A particular size, weight and style of a typeface
GSM – An acronym of ‘Grams per Square Metre’ of paper. Basically, the higher the number, the heavier the paper
Kerning – The process of adjusting the spacing between the characters, to achieve a visually pleasing result
Letterforms – The graphic form of a letter of the alphabet, either written or in a particular font
Ligatures – Where two letters are joined together to make one glyph
San Serif – Sans means ‘without’ in French. So, this is where letters do not have the elongated lines.
Serif – A small line attached to the ends of a stroke in a letter.
Tails- The descending stroke on a letter, for example Q, G, J, P and Y have tails.
Typeface –A particular design of type
Weights –The thickness of the characters of a font expressed as light, bold, extrabold, etc.