Typography & its need for designing

22 May
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Typography is the art and technique of arranging type to make written language legible, readable, and appealing when displayed. The arrangement of type involves selecting typefaces, point sizes, line lengths, line-spacing (leading), and letter-spacing (tracking), and adjusting the space between pairs of letters (kerning). The term typography is also applied to the style, arrangement, and appearance of the letters, numbers, and symbols created by the process. Type design is a closely related craft, sometimes considered part of typography; most typographers do not design typefaces, and some type designers do not consider themselves typographers. Typography also may be used as a decorative device, unrelated to communication of information.

Typography is the work of typesetters (also known as compositors), typographers, graphic designers, art directors, manga artists, comic book artists, graffiti artists, and, now, anyone who arranges words, letters, numbers, and symbols for publication, display, or distribution, from clerical workers and newsletter writers to anyone self-publishing materials. Until the Digital Age, typography was a specialized occupation. Digitization opened up typography to new generations of previously unrelated designers and lay users, and David Jury, head of graphic design at Colchester Institute in England, states that “typography is now something everybody does.” As the capability to create typography has become ubiquitous, the application of principles and best practices developed over generations of skilled workers and professionals has diminished. So at a time when scientific techniques can support the proven traditions (e.g. greater legibility with the use of serifs, upper and lower case, contrast, etc.) through understanding the limitations of human vision, typography as often encountered may fail to achieve its principal objective: effective communication.

How it changed for the New Age design

The design of typefaces has developed alongside the development of typesetting systems. Although typography has evolved significantly from its origins, it is a largely conservative art that tends to cleave closely to tradition. This is because legibility is paramount, and so the typefaces that are the most readable usually are retained. In addition, the evolution of typography is inextricably intertwined with lettering by hand and related art forms, especially formal styles, which thrived for centuries preceding typography, and so the evolution of typography must be discussed with reference to this relationship.

In the nascent stages of European printing, the typeface (blackletter, or Gothic) was designed in imitation of the popular hand-lettering styles of scribes. Initially, this typeface was difficult to read, because each letter was set in place individually and made to fit tightly into the allocated space. The art of manuscript writing, whose origin was during Hellenistic and Roman bookmaking, reached its zenith in the illuminated manuscripts of the Middle Ages. Metal typefaces notably altered the style, making it “crisp and uncompromising”, and also brought about “new standards of composition”. During the Renaissance period in France, Claude Garamond was partially responsible for the adoption of Roman typeface that eventually supplanted the more commonly used Gothic (blackletter). Roman typeface also was based on hand-lettering styles.

The development of Roman typeface can be traced back to Greek lapidary letters. Greek lapidary letters were carved into stone and “one of the first formal uses of Western letterforms”; after that, Roman lapidary letterforms evolved into the monumental capitals, which laid the foundation for Western typographical design, especially serif typefaces. There are two styles of Roman typefaces: the old style, and the modern. The former is characterized by its similarly weighted lines, while the latter is distinguished by its contrast of light and heavy lines. Often, these styles are combined.

By the twentieth century, computers turned typeface design into a rather simplified process. This has allowed the number of typefaces and styles to proliferate exponentially, as there now are thousands available. Unfortunately, confusion between typeface and font (the various styles of a single typeface) occurred in 1984 when Steve Jobs mislabeled typefaces as fonts for Apple computers and his error has been perpetuated throughout the computer industry, leading to common misuse by the public of the term “font” when typeface is the proper term.

Principles of the Typographic craft

Three fundamental aspects of typography are legibility, readability, and aesthetics. Though in a non-technical sense “legible” and “readable” are often used synonymously, typographically they are separate but related concepts Legibility and readability tend to support aesthetic aspects of a product.

Legibility describes how easily individual characters can be distinguished from one another. It is described by Walter Tracy as “the quality of being decipherable and recognisable”. For instance if a “b” and an “h”, or a “3” and an “8”, are difficult to distinguish at small sizes, this is a problem of legibility. Typographers are concerned with legibility insofar as it is their job to select the correct font to use. Brush Script is an example of a font containing many characters which might be difficult to distinguish. Selection of case influences the legibility of typography because using only upper-case letters (all-caps) reduces legibility.

Readability refers to how easy it is to read the text as a whole, as opposed to the individual character recognition described by legibility. Use of margins, word- and line-spacing, and clear document structure all impact on readability. Some fonts or font styles, for instance sans-seriffed fonts, are considered to have low readability, and so be unsuited for large quantities of prose.

Legibility ‘refers to perception’ (being able to see as determined by physical limitations of the eye) and readability ‘refers to comprehension’ (understanding the meaning). Good typographers and graphic designers aim to achieve excellence in both.

“The typeface chosen should be legible. That is, it should be read without effort. Sometimes legibility is simply a matter of type size; more often, however, it is a matter of typeface design. Case selection always influences legibility. In general, typefaces that are true to the basic letter forms are more legible than typefaces that have been condensed, expanded, embellished, or abstracted.

Display graphics

Type may be combined with negative space and images, forming relationships and dialog between the words and images for special effects. Display designs are a potent element in graphic design. Some sign designers exhibit less concern for readability, sacrificing it for an artistic manner. Color and size of type elements may be much more prevalent than in solely text designs. Most display items exploit type at larger sizes, where the details of letter design are magnified. Color is used for its emotional effect in conveying the tone and nature of subject matter.

Display typography encompasses:

  • Advertisements in publications, such as newspapers and magazines
  • Magazine and newspaper headline type
  • Signs and other large-scale-letter designs, such as information signs and billboards
  • Posters
  • Brochures and flyers
  • Packaging and labelling
  • Business communications and advertising
  • Book covers
  • Typographic logos, trademarks, and word marks
  • Graffiti
  • Inscriptions
  • Architectural lettering
  • Kinetic typography in motion pictures, television, vending machine displays, online, and computer screen displays
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