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.
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.
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