I find it comforting whenever I come across someone who shares my obsessions. I think the idea is that if I have to be crazy, at least there is a community for people like me. This is probably how people feel about Alcoholics Anonymous. Hi, my name is Allie and I’m a nut for typography. I fully admit that I have no control over my addiction. When speaking to other graphic designers, I bask in the warm glow of mutual understanding. Past issues of Emigre Magazine, Look, and Colors are my pornographic reading. I have a tattoo on my arm of Sherlock Holmes’ profile done entirely using the letters of his name in different fonts. I’m seriously considering naming my first child Mrs. Eaves.
It always amazes me how little the average layperson considers or even notices typography. When a consumer looks at an ad or magazine layout, they might be struck by the imagery, the color scheme, the copy, and they may be able to tell whether or not it is well designed, if they have some artistic sense.
But a majority of the general population completely ignores the font design. Ad agencies don’t often use font as the focal point of a piece, but when they do, the letterforms tend to be used almost architecturally–more like shapes to be used as compositional elements than as actual words. As illustrated in the print pieces below. Both are wonderful designs, and both are good examples of what I’m referring to.
This is not a bad thing by any means. It can be used to spectacular effect. And there are exceptions to this rule, as in all things. Examples of effective typography are everywhere in the world of print advertising, sometimes even overshadowing the other design elements. The problem is that unless most people have great typography shoved in their faces, they wouldn’t notice if the whole ad were set in comic sans. We need more of this:
Truly great font foundries are far from dead, either. The Emigre powerhouse (can you tell I’m obsessed) is still setting the standard for quality, iconic typefaces. Their pictographic font ‘Hypnopaedia,’ is so sublimely good in both concept and execution that it’s worthy of a museum exhibit. Another favorite font hangout of mine is Smeltery, a French font factory (say that 3 times fast) that has the added appeal of offering their designs for free. The fonts are sophisticated, modern, and have what I can only describe as ‘European’ sensibilities. Did I mention the free part? Other noteables are Typotheque, Process Type Foundry (great sans serifs), and Positype (which satisfies my love of ligatures).
There are plenty of resources for finding free fonts online, too. Especially useful for those of us who have over 7,000 fonts on their computers and no money in their pockets. There’s no excuse for comic sans, papyrus, curlz, or any of the other ugly and ubiquitous display fonts that pop up everywhere. Otherwise sane people are somehow blind to the poor taste they show by using these aforementioned bastions of mediocrity. I’ve even seen Papyrus used in the opening credits of a movie. A movie! Listen–if you can afford to make a movie, you can afford to buy a well-designed font with your desired aesthetic. You can even hire a typographer to design a font specifically for you! Think of that! In terms of movie-budget-scale spending, the cost of that would be negligible, and I wouldn’t have to cry and rend my garments in despair.
I’m done with my rant, now. Just remember to notice the little things, when you next pick up a magazine, or see an ad on a bus-stop or subway station wall. Give a little internal shout-out to Bodoni, Caslon, Garamond, and Gill. Designers, keep on spending hours in Illustrator, finding new ways to use type. Design your own typeface if you have the patience. (I don’t.)
And i’ll close with this: