An honorable trade

rui abreu's picture

Hello everyone

Being this time of the year a slow one for most of us, I'd like to share with you what type design is to me, and maybe have a discussion about it.

Please excuse my English, this may not be written very well.

Since I'm not a full time type designer, nor I have been trained specifically to type design, I'm more pretending to be one than actually being one, at least in the same way many of the fine contributers here are, I can't help to compare this trade with my full time job as a designer in an advertising agency.

Type design had been more and more dear to me for two reasons:
1. Its artisanal quality, because typefaces, lettering, any kind of letter sets, are unique in their own way. They can be done with their own intrinsic issues and problems, not conditioned by any particular, ephemeral, demanded style, which makes them less "superficial objects". Ideally for me they are not market orientated. I know this is wishful thinking since many typefaces are drawn to live in the market place and fulfill corporative and commercial needs, but it seems to me that even those can produce culture value, therefor working on a lower level of visual communication.
2. The second reason is that since typefaces produce cultural value we might conclude that, in type design the matter of Impact on the cultural landscape is more significant than the common design paradigm – Form serves Function.

I'm not saying that making typefaces is more dignified than designing for advertising (though sometimes I'm tempted to think so), but i'd like to ask the professionals of this trade for any thoughts about the type designer trade. What do you like about it? Do you feel it is significant? In what ways it fulfills you? how does type make the world better?

Thank you.

PublishingMojo's picture

Its artisanal quality, because typefaces, lettering, any kind of letter sets, are unique in their own way.

You don't need to apologize, Rui. You write English better than many native speakers. Most Americans--including some who post on this site--would have used "It's" in the sentence above.

Theunis de Jong's picture

I agree with Victor, you are quite eloquent!

2. The second reason is that since typefaces produce cultural value we might conclude that, in type design the matter of Impact on the cultural landscape is more significant than the common design paradigm – Form serves Function.

Absolutely. The typographically challenged may think choosing the right typeface for a job is just a detail, but I am sure subconsciously people react bad to 'bad' type and good to 'good' type.

PublishingMojo's picture

You know you're good when a Dutchman compliments your English. The Dutch speak English better than we do!

eliason's picture

You might be interested in this old thread, too.

Chris Dean's picture

Larson wrote an article "Measuring the aesthetics of reading" which I have seen published in many places. I believe the most accessible one comes from TYPO magazine. Worth a read.

Ray Larabie's picture

On their own, I don't think fonts have much cultural value. They're pleasant to look at in catalogs or font websites. A designers/typographer's choice of font has more cultural impact than fonts themselves could ever have. A font designer can design provocative fonts but if designers don't use it, the cultural impact is nothing.

Type makes the world better? It's nice to have good tools available so, yes. A good choice of hammers and nails makes the world a better place too. Having a richer palette of tools helps designers make the world more interesting. Unsold type doesn't make the world better or worse. People talk about the cultural impact of fonts like Helvetica but it's wasn't the font itself that had impact. The same thing could have happened with Univers. The cultural impact of Helvetica was that one particular, neutral sans-serif attained ubiquity. If you could go back in history, swap Univers and Helvetica designs, I don't think it would have any cultural impact. The world would look almost the same as it does now. If designers had, instead decided to embrace a slab serif font instead of a sans, if would have some impact.

However, you won't find a shortage of people who think fonts themselves have rich cultural value. I don't really see it that way. If you're a painter, a good font is like finding your perfect brush and tube of paint with the perfect shade of green. If you want to endow the tools with mystical powers, go right ahead.

rui abreu's picture

hello guys.

Christopher, thank you for the recommendation. This article is definitely Worth a read. Nice to see this kind of things measured.

Ray, I agree with you that the cultural impact of the fonts depend on the designers choices and preferences, and their general acceptance, and also that a font is a tool. What I have to disagree is that tools don't have a cultural impact by them selves. Surely if a font seats unused it attains no visibility and provides no impact. However it is a broadly agreed notion that the advent of new tools influences contents, it has always been like this with every technology.

I'm saying this without elaborating about what might be cultural impact. I guess what I am referring to is the aesthetics of the written contents. Like the aesthetics studied in "The aesthetics of reading" by Kevin Larson and Rosalind Picard that Christopher recommended.

Victor and Theunis, thank you for you for your kindness.

bowerbird's picture

fonts are for sissies™

-bowerbird

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