Typography 101 – Beyond the Subjective

TypographyBy: Chris Weaver

Typography can make or break almost any piece of writing. The fonts chosen for a document can reinforce the information or completely tear it down. Ideally, type should communicate the emotion and feeling of the message in an appropriate manner. Unfortunately, emotion and appropriateness, good and bad, pretty and ugly, are subjective at best. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as we know, but common sense and legibility should be the norm.

Earlier this year in the UK, the font, “Times New Roman,” originally created for newspaper use, was declared the “most trusted typeface.” The United States Supreme Court dictates that all collateral documents must be typeset in Century Schoolbook at 12 point size. Both typefaces are legible at smaller sizes, easy on the eyes and brain when reading body copy and have stood the test of time. But what would be the effect if newspapers, legal documents, resumes and countless emails were to suddenly switch to Copperplate? Or Papyrus? Or…Comic Sans?

Aside from the initial problems – the text would be much more difficult to read and headaches would develop rather quickly – readers would likely not finish their reading. Would anyone want to read a newspaper set entirely in Papyrus font? What happens to resumes that are put together using Copperplate? Does anyone take emails that are written in Comic Sans seriously? This is not meant to jump on the Comic-Sans-hate bandwagon. Comic Sans has a great pedigree and is a good type selection for certain jobs. I’ve even used the font in the past. That having been said, is a whimsical font the best option for corporate communication, even in an email signature?

The point is that there are times and places for everything. When I am asked to guest lecture on the subject of graphic design, one of the first things I tell the class is this: put your own personal likes and dislikes away when working. Find the best solution for the job. Stylized typefaces make much better headlines or titles. Type families such as Trajan or Copperplate that have smaller versions of uppercase letters as their lowercase letters do not make great choices for large blocks of copy. Lowercase letters exist to help legibility and foster differentiation between words. In simpler language, text using lowercase letters is read and understood quicker. A typeface that is hard to read but really cool looking is still hard to read.

Typing, word processing and email applications usually have a couple of default or pre-set styles built using fonts that are good options for reading and setting text. Even with the proliferation of digital devices such as tablets and smartphones, typography has to be a consideration. New type families are being developed and optimized for easier reading on digital screens. The technology is working to help our user experiences with content. As was stated earlier, legibility and ease of information understanding should be the norm. If the time is taken to write an email or business proposal or love letter or resume, shouldn’t every care be taken to ensure that it is taken seriously and with the meaning it was intended to convey? Objectively, yes.

If you would like to chat about typography or need help picking one that fits your brand identity, please give us a call or stop by the office.

Chris Weaver
Chris Weaver

Senior Art Director