When I attended the Art Institute of Philadelphia, Typography was a required course for Commercial Art majors. In this class, I became fascinated by fonts, typefaces, and characters. Learning about typography opened the door to an almost-secret language describing letters, weights, spacing, and sizing. I gained the fundamental knowledge of kerning, line spacing, picas and points, ascenders and descenders, and serif versus san serif.
The word, typography, is derived from the Greek words τύπος typos “form” or “impression” and γράφειν graphein “to write.”
Keep in mind that at this point access to typography was reserved for typesetters. In my first job out of college, I would have to send out type to be typeset. I would then wait for a galley sheet on thick gloss paper to be returned that would then need to be cut and pasted onto art boards.
A very manual task, but it provided a hands-on experience of the importance of specifying for typesetting. If you specified it wrong, it was a costly mistake when you received back the galley sheet and the size, weight, kerning or line spacing was off. This sample illustrates the complexity of the specifications designers had to provide back in the day.
The ease and application of typography have increased over the years due, in part, to every business and (most) homes having computers as well as the design craze to invent new and improved fonts. Today, there are hundreds of typefaces to choose from.
Creating a Signature Signature
My insatiable interest in typography led me to create my own signature M. I spent a few years perfecting the look of the way the M in my name would appear when I signed my name. I longed for a memorable way to take a letter of the alphabet and turn it into something unique and expressly mine.
For several decades now, I have signed my name by using my signature M. There’s something magical about just signing an M that my friends and family recognize as mine. I now have two M’s in my name after getting married, but I still use only my single, personal M for my first name.
You Can’t Always Get What You Font
Gone are the days of Comic Sans, designed by Vincent Connare in 1995 for Microsoft, being the trendiest font. Since the launch of Comic Sans, it has withstood lots of criticism, but in spite of that criticism it was left out of Fast Company’s list of “The 8 Worst Fonts in the World.”
Arguably it still is one of the best-known fonts.
Just as color preference is subjective, so are typefaces. In marketing and branding, the selection we make for typefaces is critical and will determine how well it aligns it to the content and brand.
There are three fundamentals that need to be followed when it comes to typography.
- Legibility – Should be able to read the text without effort. This applies to recognizing individual characters, spacing, and size.
- Readability – Able to read the text as a whole. Here, the use of margins, word, and line spacing are critical to achieving good readability.
- Esthetics – Applies to the overall look of selected typeface(s) that should be harmonious as well as following good design principles for laying out the copy, with or without display graphics.
The recent advances on the web have marked a powerful era for online typography. The access to system fonts is far easier, however, bear in mind that there are best practices you should still follow and pitfalls to avoid in order to achieve the best results.
When it comes to great design, typography should be factored in at the onset and not as an afterthought. The overall look and feel should closely represent the image, tone, and visual appeal you want to convey. Here are some practical tricks to using typography in design.
What are some of your favorite typefaces that you’ve used and found them to effectively reinforce your overall image? Share in the comments below!
Michelle Mariola is founder & director of ISH-Productions, a Chicago-based branding and marketing company whose mission is to help emerging to mid-market companies develop their marketing strategies and brand identities.