Type is an art form
Type is such an art form, not everyone can see the beauty in letterforms, in fact only the nerdiest amongst us can (okay, mostly me.) This beauty is made even greater when it aids our very communication. Typed words on a screen or in print, can evoke such emotion; they can inform; advise; sell and so much more. Theres a whole lot these dainty little characters can do.
So lets get to know them a little better…
Lesson number one is to dispel a common misconception - A typeface and a font aren’t the same thing.
What is the difference between a typeface and a font?
A Typeface is essentially the boss of a family (a group of fonts that is). In this example the Godfather (aka. typeface) is ’Futura,’ within the Futura family there are fonts, such as Italic, Bold, Condensed, Extra Bold etc etc.
I hope that makes sense, to be honest I just wanted my analogy fit the theme of a Goodfellas style poster, because it was fun to make.
The anatomy of a font.
It's important to know which bits are which, mostly just so you can sound knowledgeable, when you tell friends ‘increase their leading and respect the white space’ as I’m sure you all do… no? Okay just me then.
Firstly imagine the text sits within a frame (or you could just look at this handy graphic I’ve created instead) all of the letters sit on one line, this is known as the baseline. The tails of some letters, like ‘y’ and ‘g’ hang below the baseline and these are called descenders. Upper case letters set the X height. The stems of lower case letters such as ‘b’ and ‘d’ reach up to the X height - these are called ascenders.
Whilst we're in the spirit of naming things here’s a few more. Adjusting the spacing between individual letters is called Kerning - you can increase or decrease kerning to make space between letters or bring them closer together, to adjust the letters in a word, or batch of text, is called tracking. The spacing between lines is called leading. On standard word processing softwares there will simply be called character spacing or line spacing.
Types of type.
There are 3 kinds of typeface.
Decorative - this includes anything from script to novelty, these should be used sparingly and never for body text. Always remember legibility is key when communicating with your audience.
Then there are the trusty serif and sans serif.
Serifs are those little feet that are put on the end of letters, you see them in ‘old style’ typefaces such as times new roman. Sans is french for ‘without,’ so sans serif means without serifs (sans twiddly bits).
When using a serif font, you’d usually pair it with a sans serif, so say a serif Header and sans serif subheader. For body text a left aligned serif font is usually the easiest for your audience to read.
Draw the eye with hierarchy
One last tip is to create heirarchy with your type - using a bold or larger font for a headline will draw the eye first., even if its not at the top of a page.
Using font families is a great way to do this effectively - So use a single typeface with say a bold Header, then a light (maybe upper case) sub heading and medium for the body text.
Always pay attention to spacing… white space is your friend, you should never feel like you need to fill a page, text needs to breathe. Formatting text with good spacing between headers, sub-headers and paragraphs - aligning left and making sure you have enough spacing between letters and lines will improve the readers experience greatly.
So there you go, you now know a little more about typography, how will you put it to use?