So a few days ago a few of you mentioned that you were having issues with type. I have had a passion for type for far too long and figured I would help ease the pain for some of you. To give you a brief history about my type learning about type goes back to when I was in about fifth grade and I first came across a book about calligraphy. That opened my eyes to a whole new level of penmanship that I never really noticed until a few years ago when I got more into web design. So, here is what I would like to share with you all:
My learning in type
These are some of the things that I have learned and witnessed over the last few years of learning about web design and graphic art. There are several factors that make for good web design and graphic art. For me what it comes down to is knowing and seeing that graphic art is visual communication. Simple. Knowing how to use the elements of design and when to break the rules helps but that is neither here nor there. What this is about is one: typography.
What some people may or not realize is that typography is in a way an artform in itself. It almost serves a dual purpose. One is being able to stand for itself and the other is to aid. What I am writing about is the second.
First, a brief crash course and a bit of history: Several years ago caveman would use blood to create pictograms on walls. Years later, a man named Gutenberg invented the letterpress which then was rivaled by offset printing several years later making printing a lot easier. Back then letters cast from metals and often times would take anywhere from three weeks to years to create a full alphabet. Now, they are made via computers and depending on the final use/output can still be used in letterpress printing (one of my favorite looks).
Now that we have a slight history lesson let us move onto what I really love the most: Type. One thing to remember is that a font family is a little different from a font face. The family is comprised of the variants ie bold, italic, condensed and the various weights. The face is quite literally: the face, the look of the actual letter. Years ago when fonts used to be made by hand drawing, casting and finally setting the tiny little characters into their final matrices. They humanized the font. It had a body (whole character), a beard (blank space below the raised letter), a shoulder (flat side of the metal) and a face (the whole raised letterform).
There are fundamentally two styles of fonts: serif and sans serif. As seen in the image the top is a serif font (Baskerville Old Face) and the bottom is a sans serif (Arial). Note the difference in styles and this will greatly help in knowing when to use the right font for your next project. Yes, there are a few others like script, slab, grotesk and many more but those are the main ones that I will cover to get a basic grasp/understanding of typography.
Serif fonts have an almost regal look to them like they belong to the high and mighty and are not shy about it. They will flaunt it in not only certain characters like the ampersand but others like the Q, G, M or even W. Sans serif is quite literally: without serifs. Knowing when to use them and how to use them is like picking the right tie to wear. One can compliment the shirt but not the pants and another can do quite the opposite. It will take some experimentation but in the end it will be worth it.
There will be times when you may want to combine the two in one and that takes special care because all the letters have to behave in unison rather than clash and create an unwanted eye pierecing font disaster. In order to achieve this often time we have to think about the scale and debate between readability and legability of the characters. Some fonts are created with certain restrictions in that when they are designed they are often designed with the final output in mind.
Some fonts look better when they are on a small screen where as others translate better on a twenty foot billboard. Knowing when to use a smaller serif font and not a sans serif greatly makes some reading a lot easier on the eyes. One reason I feel that most books are actually made with serif fonts more often than not when it comes to print but it could be very be the type of books I also choose to read.
With all that to take in and read hopefully I haven't really lost all of you so I'll end it with some links to help understand typography if you really want to get more information and share with you some of my favorite sites:
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On type and typography
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