Typography and Design

This week focused on the subject of type, something I genuinely enjoy. I’m one of those people who harbors strong feelings about comic sans and spends a little too much time selecting fonts for projects.

Still, it was interesting to circle the topic of typography  from a number of perspectives: theoretically, practically, aesthetically, historically.  It encouraged me to think about the use of type in new in a new way.

One of the things that drew me, was the way in which people seemed both comfortable and uncomfortable describing fonts. You could simply refer to them by name, and many did, but others still searched for ways to convey the meaning of fonts. In the film Helvetica, for instance, the subjects frequently described fonts outside of spacing, cap height or ligature. Instead, they were using adjectives generally associated with objects or sensory perception, rather than type.

“this has a kind of belt and suspenders look, it needs to be, you know, much more elegant, hand-lasted shoe.” – Jonathan Hoefler

Errol Morris’s examination of this in his study of the subject, Hear, All Ye People; Hearken, O’ Earth reinforces the idea. He suggests that fonts have the capacity to evoke “truthiness”, while David Dunning suggests that a font is “slightly tuxedo.” As Jonathan Hoefler  explains in the interview,   fonts are frequently described using terms that are “qualitative… and subjective”.  They seem to evoke meaning outside of the content they represent.

As Lupton frames this concept succinctly as “typography as discourse” (Thinking with Type, pg 97). In effect, this is what Morris’s New York Times study strives to identify: if type is a form of discourse, what are it’s parameters? How does one convey “truthiness”? The film Helvetica, suggested a changing discourse – fonts took on new meaning in new contexts. Morris’ look at the history of Baskerville certainly demonstrates a changing understanding of one type face.

It made me wonder: in the future will we be judged for the vitriolic  reactions to comic sans (seen here, here, and here)?

Overall, the big points I took away from this week came with the last part of the Ducket reading in HTML & CSS . Why does this font stuff matter? Because in constructing webpages, we are choosing elements not solely based on our own personal preference. We’ve got to be aware of the interests and concerns of the potential visitors to our site. In effect, as much as I love the details of a decorative font or a script font, my readers may not. Clarity should be of heightened concern in choosing fonts.

My webpage is accessible through this blog (click on Digital Portfolio at the top of the page, or click here.)

This week I commented on: Amanda’s Blog and Becca’s Blog.

Week two:

For me, this week’s readings jumpstarted my thinking about the projects we will be generating over the course of the semester. While we’ve spent some time talking about the organization and structure of webpages in other classes, I’m looking forward to taking it a step further and testing out these ideas.

There are a lot of examples of poor web design available. (My bank has a particularly terrible webpage.)  However, identifying poor design depends on how users evaluate them. I complained about this last semester, but in celebration of a 150 year history my alma mater put together a very pretty and very ineffective timeline that showcases images and content. While it’s “pretty” and “showcases information” – it is also useless. Users can click on the highlighted events to view images or read content, but the experience ends there. There are few links to sources or lengthy descriptions and there’s no opportunity for additional interaction with historical content or other users. A redesign of the site would take into account the arguments in this week’s reading: form AND content matter. As Norman argued, an attractive and pleasant user interface improves the experience of users- but so does intelligent and careful design (Elish and Trettien).

What does it mean that people evaluate aesthetics rather than content or effectiveness in using web pages (Web Credibility)? It means we have to think carefully about how we put pages together- so that they are both pretty and useful.

This week I commented on Sara’s Blog and in my own comments below.