D+ve: the art of typography


Manoj Deb

While some people may consider typography to be a science, it is not. It’s actually an art. And I like it. I almost live. So much so that when I see good typography, I feel jealous! Jealous of a “why didn’t I think of that? path. And I think that’s a very positive kind of jealousy to have.

People might believe that a huge collection of typefaces can help achieve interesting typography. But nothing could be further from the truth. Good fonts are designed for a good purpose, but even the best fonts aren’t suitable for all situations. When working with a new typeface for a new project, I try to look at it from all angles and judge two simple things. One – if this typeface will comfort the eyes of the readers and make it easier for them to read the text? And two – am I doing justice to an art that has a centuries-old heritage?

Although it has a few guidelines, following them like rules set in stone won’t do you much good. But still, guidelines can be a North Star that points you in the right direction. Here is a framework that I personally try to follow and that has indeed helped me throughout my career.

Sans or serif?

Most of us waste a lot of time trying to prove that one is better than the other for long text. But honestly, there is no conclusive evidence on this. While some serif fonts work like a charm for long content, others don’t. And the same goes for sans fonts.

The best way to decide is to be objective about it. For example, some clothes are appropriate for a party, but they won’t look respectful at a funeral. The same idea also works for fonts. My suggestion is to not get lost in technicality, try different combinations and then eliminate them one by one until you reach the ultimate choice. Get feedback from people who aren’t designers, or even creative professionals. They are the ones who will consume the content in the end, and their contributions matter the most.

Honor the content

This should be every designer’s mantra. For a good designer, it’s fundamentally instinctive. Like a hunch. You can probably start by looking at similar types of works and studying the types of fonts they use. See how easy or difficult they are to read.

Another way to start is to choose a few fonts. While it’s helpful to narrow down your choices, always have a few more font options handy. Because even some great fonts look terrible on screen, and good fonts such as Georgia or Verdana, which were developed especially for the screen, can end up looking bland on paper.

So choosing a typeface just because it’s considered good will hurt you more. Use one that is suitable for the medium and gels well with the contents. As Robert Bringhurst rightly said – “Typography is the art of endowing human language with enduring visual form.”

Many people have asked me how I choose a font for a particular communication. To be honest, I don’t know the exact answer. In fact, I never asked this question to any of my elders. Obviously, I asked myself the question while watching a communication and realized that it was not only a question of choosing the right font, there were so many other things to consider.

I still don’t have a fixed template but I think it all depends on some basic points like why are you doing it, is it an advertisement, a poster, a catalog, a logo or a brochure. There is no formula. It’s like creating a painting. When you start you have something, and by the time you finish it becomes something else. Sometimes completely different from what you started with. It is a process of interacting with the part you are working with.

Read it again and again

If you’re writing copy, whether it’s for a novel or a headline on a Facebook ad, read it and read it well. It will give you important clues, not only to choose the right typeface, but also help you improve the overall design.

In addition to that, also try to understand the text. This might not be possible every time. Especially if you are working on a science magazine, a beautiful book or if you are adapting a drawing in a foreign language. Always try to understand the crux of the matter or the theme of the text.

The viewer and the canvas

Who will read your beautifully staged text? Doctors? Lawyers? Children? The elderly? Find out who the target group is if you don’t already have this information.

And if the final destination of your text is paper, then print it and see. Your carefully-chosen font may look brilliant on screen, but be an eyesore on paper. Print and see for yourself before you make the final call. If the text is intended for the screen, check it on PC and Mac, and at different resolutions.

Remember that the art of typography is all about the countless decisions you make. And most of them are subjective.

When in doubt, ask others (designers and non-designers) to read your work. After all, comments are the cornerstone of great design, and typography is no different.

(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. The facts and opinions appearing in the article do not reflect the views of BestMediaInfo.com and we assume no responsibility for them.)

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