Sunday, July 27, 2008

The Beauty of Type

Some teachers coming from a fine art or craft perspective have a hard time warming up to typography. Type often seems too cold and unexpressive to them. They prefer hand-drawn lettering or calligraphy because it seems more "artsy" and creative. Hand-lettering, often without the benefit of guidelines, seems freer and more expressive to them. As a result, many "design" attempts by artists have a 1950's hodge-podge feel to them or at best a 1970's psychedelic look.

Type designers love the beauty of well-designed letters well-spaced and well-organized on the page. They appreciate subtle differences in the cut of a serif or the counter of an open letter. (above left) The negative spaces within and between letters are like the rests and intervals between notes in beautiful music to them (above center). The slight curve of an ascender or descender brings a feeling of elegance and purity to designers. They can find infinite variation and exquisite challenge in trying to get the letters and words to lie elegantly on the page in a clear and concise manner (above right).

One of the challenges for design education is to help people see the beauty of well-designed and well-arranged type. Students should learn to work with a few well-chosen type faces. They should know the names of each type face and a bit about who created them. Use well-respected type-faces and avoid selecting zany or unique type-faces just because they might seem more creative or individualistic. Avoid hand-drawn letters in any display unless they fill a rare specific need. Use the facility of computers to help create well-designed text.

Click on the heading above to see one of the many books available about designing with type.
Click on the "G" above to see a larger version showing subtle variations between different versions of Garamond. Print it out for students and have each 6 students ink in one of the versions so they can be compared.

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