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Thread: Guide to Typography

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  1. #1
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    Nov 2010
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    Guide to Typography

    Uhh... Because of various reasons, I'll invite general discussion on the topic. I just ask that the participants write as if they are talking to someone that doesn't know anything about type.

    I took college-level typography classes and for the class I had to design my own font. After I was done, I told my Professor, "Why the hell did you allow me to do that?" And he said, "because you looked like you were having fun with it." Which is to say, I failed a *whole* ton in the classes, but learned a whole ton through them. (He majored in typography, so he was fussier than most about it.)

    What I learned the most is probably best demonstrated through this link:

    Type works on *negative space* more than the *positive space.*

    Also, it's a lot like ice skating, compared to other types of designing. If you get it wrong, then it shows up. When you get it right you don't know what the jargon they are spouting over the loudspeakers is. You just know the skater landed safely.

    Type is also an art of being invisible and being visible in the right ways. It's a functional art more than say, Monet.

    Some hard core rules you probably want to watch out for.... (and feel free to add)
    1. Comic Sans: Never.
    OK, maybe occasionally, if you know what the hell you are doing. But even then, only if you are feeling naughty. (He was one of the inspirations for the font)
    Even the original designer admits it shouldn't be used as it has... so stay away...

    2. Pay attention to your negative space more than your positive space.
    More than the selection of the particular font, most typographers spend an inordinate amount of time tweaking the *negative space.* Usually the bad fonts (as the one I designed for class) make it harder to tweak the negative space. And some are just downright impossible.

    The graphic design term for this is gray (grey for those in the UK and related). Gray in typography terms means that there are no outstanding negative spaces that break. Also, it means that it is easier to read the type when it is done correctly. This is an art that has died with the word processor, which is ironic since the major player to introduce this was Steve Jobs, who was a huge fan of simplification, etc. Having non-gray type makes the type complicated and draw attention to itself in the *wrong* ways.

    Manipulating negative space in terms of typography means readability.

    OK, so how do you tell if your text is gray or not and what does that have to do with covers?

    Rivers and Lakes
    Look at that. Look at the space *around* the letters.

    *squint* at the text. If you look at the first paragraph, then from the space before the "to" in the second line to the space before "various" to the next line's "to" you will see a river.

    A lake is a larger space created by the text the same way.

    Illuminated manuscripts invariably will never have this problem.

    Squint at this one.

    Do you see any of those problems? The thing is that when type is done *right* it makes it easier to read. The reason typographers so much care about negative space until you feel like you are being beaten with a bat, is that your eye will stay on the line it is supposed to for the very end of the line, making it much easier to read. (I know it's not in English) But test that out with the illuminated manuscript. Much easier, right? (It might be subtle, but yes, typographers care *that* much about making you, the reader's life that much easier)

    OK, tools to do this...
    Leading, Tracking, Kerning

    That probably explains it better.

    So, you might think, but... I'm only doing the front cover, and I really don't care about the back cover... Type still matters. And the negative space also matters.

    That will probably make for a horrid font for a cover, the *negative* space created by the sketchy lines will make it hard to read when it scales down, and the reader will have to really care to put in the effort to read it.

    Pay attention to the negative space the font offers and think about what the title font is functioning to do.

    This also obviously means: For the love of the design gods, please, please don't put type on a patterned background. (Of course there are exceptions, but most people won't be savvy enough to know those exceptions)

    3. Selection of font and harmony of elements:

    That deals with the subject pretty well. Not sure I can do better than that. That's what I would aspire to. That level of thought and creativity in a cover makes my little designer and my hopeful author in me scream together in absolute fangirlish joy.

    I can add a few things to it though (Don't that people won't know)

    A. Don't make the font obvious.


    is a BAD example.

    is a better example.

    Why? The font actually communicates without overtaking the images in the background.

    The choice of font (notice the lack of rivers and lakes too) is in the family of fonts I would roughly say is Art Deco. is an example.

    This is a *smart* choice , though subtle because the majority of the book does happen in a bygone era and roughly in that time period or at least anchored to that time period.

    The *obvious* choice would to go with something slangy Chinese to emphasize the chinese, but the dragons also serve to do that.

    You can also see that with other covers of the Joy Luck Club opted to do a similar treatment.

    Cover on the left, more than the right.

    B. Legibility of the type.
    Black on dark gray. No.
    Bright green on a bright red background--for the love of god, no.
    White on black, 80% of the time no. (Reasons are complicated, but no)
    Putting random embossing and drop shadows because uhhh... it looks cool and stuff without thinking about it first, no.
    Making your text 3D because it's really awesome. No.
    (See tutorials on color for the other nos)

    Script fonts for Romance Novels: No. Overdone, cheesy and see my previous point. (Besides, he got on my case for doing this with a wedding card idea. So no.) (Especially messy fonts like this)

    Script fonts, in general (Along with copperplate) tend to be hard to read

    Black Letter and Old English fonts for Fantasy. Please no. (See previous point)

    Same goes with other genres. You want the type to work *with* the images in communicating the message of the book, not detract from it.

    Helvetica... watch the movie.
    So generally, no, unless you are doing it for a book where the character is supposed to be invisible, but even then.

    Then what do you pick? You pick the font that is *between* those two extremes. You want a font that isn't screaming to the reader, "Get it yet?" and the font that isn't hiding in the corner. You want a font that is legible at small sizes so when it goes into ads, say on the internet, that part of the letters don't disappear. You want a font that is *easy* to read without much effort, yet still communicates your story.

    C. Size of type, just like in design matters.
    What irks me about a lot of covers is that they often try to make the author name and the title the same size. As was said many-a-time by many designers: Choose one to be important, then *rank* that importance. Also, pay attention to the *space* that the font takes up compared to the image.

    So, for example...

    Largest element: The people/picture. That's the most important. Readers will see that first.

    Next largest element: The title. Next rank in importance.

    Next largest element: The author's name (This will reverse when the author gets more important than the title--i.e. that the author is more important as a brand than the thing they are selling. Guess how I found this out. That's right.... I got it wrong. =P)

    Next largest element the text at the top. (which irks me being on a patterned background, but it kinda tells me that the typographer after tweaking all that negative space figured no one was going to read it. (No rivers or lakes)

    Slightly irks me that there are extra borders inside of the "shield" framing. (which adds to communicate the book) But that's more of a graphic design statement than a type one.

    D. Margins mean something

    Have you ever tried to read a book where all the margins were taken off? It would be a pain in the butt. Margins are negative space that functions to *contain* the elementsof the design. If you want it to look expansive, then you break the rules.


    The arm is cut off, so you know the arm continues off screen.

    Same here... you can see that the lines run off the page on purpose.

    However, type doesn't *usually* function this way. Type's first concern is that you can *read* it. Which means containing it and not letting it spill off is your first concern.

    I know, I know, you want to fill the page up because negative space is ugly and needs to be filled. Please don't. Mind those margins because it will make the type easier to read, and it's less likely to be cut off when it goes to print. (Bleed probably will be covered in Tutorial: Design Your Cover)

    Font resources:

    If you are a fan of a font, but don't know what it is: is useful

    As with anything, there are tools, and if you are going to break how you usually use that tool, you need a good reason besides you think it's cool.

    And I think that covers the basics... anyone want to add anything? Anyone want to tell me my organization is horrible and want to do a better job of organization?

    Questions? Concerns?

    Feel free.
    Last edited by Rachel Udin; 08-24-2012 at 12:53 AM.

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