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The history of typography and fonts is a long one, extending back to the earliest writings. Long associated with hand-formed letters, fonts became mechanized by the first printing presses and soon added variety and style to the then new phenomenon of machine-printed books. Anyone who has viewed ancient manuscripts, either hand-written or machine printed, knows how elaborate old fonts could be, and how little of that tradition is practiced today. Most web content uses one of only ten or so “web safe” fonts — hundreds more are never considered.
It’s important to acknowledge that there is life beyond Arial and Times New Roman. In fact, there are thousands of really fabulous typefaces available to the adventurous individual, many drawing upon the long tradition we mentioned above. Therefore, the art and science of font creation are very much alive and have not ceased to evolve, thanks to the work of current-day typographers, calligraphers, graphic artists and, yes, computer geeks , all working to expand the range of choices open to you, the consumer of web writing.
Fonts and Typography
In this Fonts and Typography series of blogs, we want to explore the world of fonts: their history, their impact and meaning, and the elements of craft required to render a powerful or pleasing typeface. We will focus on the stylistic facets of typography and the objectives that typographers seek to accomplish. We think you’ll come away with a new perspective on typography and fonts, and also a less constrained attitude towards using just the right font, as dictated by your personal sense of style.
Let’s begin by addressing the messages, conscious and subliminal, broadcast by a font, and why you should ensure that your font will reinforce, not contradict, your message. The first conundrum we experience is that a good font draws just enough attention to itself so as to encourage further reading, yet simultaneously expresses the thoughts of the writer without distracting from those thoughts. This is the first of several paradoxes we’ll encounter as we review the world of typography, and surely they remain paradoxes because they don’t have simple solutions. At least they are fun to explore!
So, we can agree that fonts illuminate text, and that the dozens of details built into each typeface character contributes to the impact upon a reader. Obviously we don’t want to use Comic Sans on the obituary page (though it’s perfectly appropriate for political coverage.) With a little training and sensitivity, you can come to understand the stylistic choices that went into the design of each typeface. Equipped with this knowledge, you are better prepared to choose a font that amplifies your message. We hope you will enjoy our occasional posts on this topic, and encourage you to respond with your own thoughts, which we welcome. Just register or login to our site, and leave your own post, comment, or question.
This post rendered in Crimson 10-pt strong.
Copyright 2011 Eric Bank, Freelance Writer