This chapter was of particular interest to me, as I’ve always loved the nuances of typography, though I haven’t always understood what they were. I found that this chapter provided a very nice overview of some of the practical characteristics of type to consider when dealing with a composition or assignment as a whole. It opened with a brief explanation of the classification of type, and stressed the importance of understanding the history and context of a typeface while deciding if it is appropriate to use it in a given case. Serif typefaces can be broken up into three categories: old style (classical typefaces that tend to have humanist characteristics, and were the first typefaces developed), transitional Roman typefaces, which begin to develop a more geometric feeling and have more contrast between thick and thin strokes, and modern serif typefaces, which have even more contrast between thick and thin and tend to have very thin serifs. After the industrial revolution, there became a greater need for bolder and more varied typefaces because there were more messages being displayed to a wider audience, so typography needed to stand out more. This led to the development of many display-style typefaces, and eventually to the commonplace usage of sans-serif typefaces, perpetuated further by the cleanliness of Bauhaus design.
Understanding the larger picture of typographic history is definitely important when using type effectively, but the small details, like letterspacing, wordspacing and leading are just as important. This chapter emphasized that a critical eye is the best tool for achieving smooth and consistent results, and that automated spacing isn’t enough for successful typography. Establishing consistent kerning is important so that people read entire words, instead of individual letters, while adjusting leading is important to establish a proper density of text (so that the block of text doesn’t seem too weighty or too light). Other components that contribute to text readablity include:
- Limiting the use of all caps or all bold for body text
- Using a sans-serif typefaces if the type will be reversed out (light text on a dark background)
- Using ragged-left type to ensure even spacing between words, or if using justified type, making sure there’s not an excessive use of hyphenation and that there aren’t rivers of spacing between words that break up the body of type (this is difficult to do, which is why ragged-left is typically preferred)
- Making sure lines of type are between 60-72 characters.
Another component this chapter emphasized was how to establish hierarchy through contrast in typographic elements. Suggestions included:
- Adding white space to separate textual elements
- Paying attention to the density of black ink, and understanding that, in many cases, a smaller bold font will still have more visual weight than a larger sized but lighter weight font
- Using italics to create contrast without being annoyingly different
- Have a mixture of all caps and lowercase, or extended and condensed versions of a typeface
The chapter was clear to mention that too much contrast creates a muddled and difficult to follow composition, so these elements should be employed carefully.