Typography is a fickle thing. We all use it every day typing reports, reading signs, filling out forms, texting ;). The fact that we use it every day would make you think that we would all be experts in the subject, but as a designer I find quite the opposite to be true. Here are a few basic typography terms to get us started:
Adobe defines it like this: The letters, numbers and symbols that make up a design of type. A typeface is often part of a type family of coordinated designs. The individual typefaces are named after the family and are also specified with a designation, such as italic, bold or condensed.
Adobe says that a font is “one weight, width and style of a typeface.” However, the meaning of “font” has evolved considerably in the world of modern typesetting. What people usually mean when they say “font” is really “font family”….
Font / Type Families
According to Adobe: The collection of faces that were designed together and intended to be used together. For example, the Garamond font family consists of roman and italic styles, as well as regular, semi-bold and bold weights.
Since sticking to the strict definitions would be pretty confusing, I’ll pretty much use the word “font” as it is commonly used today. That is, to mean a group of typefaces meant to be used together, like “Times” or “Impact.”
Serif fonts are recognizable by the small lines at the ends of the various strokes of a character. As these lines make a typeface easier to read by guiding the eye from letter to letter and word to word, serif fonts are often used for large blocks of text, such as in a book. Times New Roman is an example of a common serif font.
Sans Serif Fonts
Typefaces without serifs. Sans serif fonts are often used when a large typeface is necessary, such as in a magazine headline. Helvetica is a popular sans serif typeface.
The point is used to measure the size of a font. One point is equal to 1/72 of an inch. When a character is referred to as 12pt, the full height of the text block (such as a block of movable type in the old ways of printing), and not just the character itself, is being described. Because of this, two typefaces at the same point size may appear as different sizes, based on the position of the character in the block and how much of the block the character fills.
OK, now that we have the terms out of the way let’s get down to the aha! material.
Twelve point type isn’t always twelve point type.
Clients often request for me to use a font size of 11 point as if that is a strict standard in which the font looks nice and everyone can easily read it. Depending on what font I choose, this can really pose a problem. If Times New Roman is my font of choice for the particular job, all may be well, but if I choose something like Avant Garde it may look awkward on the page. Not only is the font Avant Garde physically much larger than Times New Roman (refer to the term “Point” above), it also looks much larger due to it’s wide open letter shapes.
While on the other end of the spectrum if I choose the font Minion for a job with elderly people as my main audience, 11 point type might not be big enough. Minion is a “smaller” font and often needs to be larger, especially for visually challenged audiences.
Speak Softly and Carry A Strong Font.
My next little mountain to tackle is the issue of choosing the right font. I’m sure you’re aware of the sea of fonts available. Even Microsoft Word gives us a plethora of options. But a wise person once told me, “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”
That being said, fonts such as Skia and Papyrus may look “cute”, but unless you’re scrapbooking or creating a greeting card, they really should be ignored. The most important job that typography has is to communicate information. If your resumé uses a “cute” or unprofessional font, that is exactly how you are presenting yourself. Save those “cute” fonts for your to do lists at home.
When typing up a letter or document with a lot of copy, it’s best to stick with a serif (refer to “Serif” in the glossary above). Times New Roman is a steadfast choice. It’s easy to read even in large doses and doesn’t evoke a style or specific time period. It looks professional and trust-worthy without being pretentious. If you’re making a sign or need a bold headline, a clean san serif is a great choice. Something like Helvetica. It’s easy to read from far away and always looks clean and confident, ready to communicate pretty much any message you throw its way.
I know, I know it kind of feels like going to the grocery store and only coming home with potatoes and bread, but there’s a reason that those “classic” fonts are on every computer you’ve ever used. Trust me, your readers will thank you and your message will be communicated in a clean and professional way. If you really feel the need to bust out the Lucida Handwriting, please do it on weekends.
Putting it all together.
When starting a new document there are some basic things to keep in mind to ensure a successful typographic experience.
• Your audience. It’s true, the older the audience, the larger the copy should be.
• Your document dimensions. If your document needs to be set up at a size in which your text lines need to be short, it’s a good idea to choose an appropriate point size.
• The message. If you’re creating your resumé or an informational document, the font you choose should be very quiet. It shouldn’t be stylish or starving for attention. Let your words do the talking.
Typography has much more power than most people give it credit for. Its actions sometimes speak louder than its words. Make sure those actions are what you want them to be.
Here at Anchor our designers take design and typography very seriously (or light-hearted, depending on the audience and message).