What can type say about you?

Every computer now comes with a whole bunch of ‘fonts’. Google also has a load that can be used ‘on-line’. Apps are abound that you can use that include all the fonts anyone would think to want to use. The world of a small (or large) business is now seemingly ‘spoilt for choice’ when it comes to type.

But what does your choice of type say about your organisation?

Actually this is a subject (without writing a book) that we can only really ‘scratch the surface’ on. Because, the way type is used goes a long way to creating an impression in your audience, of you. Every part of the decision process builds that picture in your clients’ mind of who you are and what you stand for. Decisions such as font size, ‘weight’, colour, how much space they sit within, the leading of the text, the juxtaposition of heading, sub-headings etc. Everything you do ‘with’ the written word will build that picture.

So, for simplicity’s sake we’re just going to give you a broad stroke overview of the ‘personalities’ of the three main type variants (shown below); serif, sans serif and script (you can also have decorative fonts, but that just overcomplicates everything). A lot of fonts you will get free will fit within these three simple categories. But each is split down even further (ie serifs can be slab, old Style, Transitional, Neoclassical & Didone etc).

A quick overview of the anatomy of type
A quick overview of the anatomy of type

A brief overview of serif fonts

The first ‘commercial’ type was ‘Blackletter’ which was modelled on the lettering of monks and scribes. However this wasn’t great in print, it was a dense and didn’t reproduce well. It wasn’t until the first 15th century that the first ‘serif fonts’ were created. Serif fonts were based on classical Roman type from historical sources and were much more legible in print.

Type from the Roman Theatre in Antalya, Turkey
Type from the Roman Theatre in Antalya, Turkey

As we’ve said above, there are actually a great number of different variants within serif fonts themselves. These include Egyptian/slab, Old style, semi, transitional, Modern, Clarendon and Glyphic. Each of these different styles has a different property, they reproduce differently and give a different ’emotional reactions. Serifs in the main, can give an air of tradition and history; they speak of mainstream thinking and safety. A serif font used traditionally and on its own is not one to ‘rock the boat’ it has classic style.

Serif fonts can be used as a great contrast to something more edgy, they can be used to bring stature to something a lot more contemporary. But also, if used a little less conservatively, serif fonts can bring a unique modernity to any application.

What is a san serif typeface?

These fonts are quite self-explanatory, they are without serif (direct translation of the French). When the first examples of sans serif fonts initially appeared, they seemed so controversial that the first name given to them was “grotesque,” (which is still a variant today) and were very rarely used except in advertising.

They have a simple consistency about them, the ‘strokes’ giving the impression of being quite uniform. Though obviously they rarely are uniform. San serif fonts are (in terms of type) relatively new to the world (first appearing at the beginning of the 19th century), hitting the ‘mainstream’ in the mid 20th century.

Sketches by Eric Gill for his typeface Gill Sans (1928) (©Monotype)
Sketches by Eric Gill for his typeface Gill Sans from 1928 (©Monotype)

Again, as with serif fonts there are variants within sans serif type such as grotesque, geometric (made from geometric shapes), humanist (less rigid than geometric, gentle curves etc) and square. San serif type is quite ‘practical’, they’re simple to read and in some ways can feel a little clinical. They give an impression of modernity and used well can be extremely ‘elegant’. With the breadth of weight variations that most san serifs carry, they can be extremely flexible to use for both headline and text.

San Serif fonts have always had a following, fonts like Helvetica being the ‘go to’ font for many a designer. Look around and see how many logotypes have a serif, compared to no serif at all? Think about books, which books are set with serif fonts and which with san serif?

What is a script typeface?

A lot of fonts use script in their name. Scripts are basically the recreation of hand lettering from the ornate to the more comic book to simple ‘handwriting’ fonts. Script fonts are best used sparingly (though there are always exceptions to the rule).

Used sensitively, script fonts can create a feeling of quality or even luxury. Script fonts can give a document real standout, and be a point of difference. They can also give a personal feel or a friendly face to a design piece (think Macmillan Cancer Support). Scrips can be used as a foil to either of the other font types. This contrast can bring a real dynamism to a logo or piece of collateral.

What next?

Obviously this is just a quick overview of a subject that has libraries of books written on it. A subject that designers ‘dedicate’ their careers to. The ‘personalities’ above are not a hard and fast rule; contemporary design can use serif fonts and traditional products can and do use sans serif. Type is something that can be used to great effect that can say so much more than the sum of its parts, more than just what the words say. This can be a positive, but also a negative. If you don’t think about how you present yourself through type, you can so easily be saying the wrong thing.

So… what does the way you use your type say about you?

Puur can help with all of your graphic design needs. From developing advertising to creating your branding including working on Brand Typography. We specialise in unique and ownable branding development borne from customer awareness and a rigorous creative process. Give us a call today to chat over your needs and see how we can help.

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