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viewpoint

A beautiful thing

| Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Typography is a beautiful thing.
Alone, it is art. The technique expands beyond the parameters of being simply defined as an arrangement of type to make language into a visible system. Rather, it is a collection of decisions that make words appear so simple that you do not think twice when reading them. Isolated, every letterform is a beautiful creation and symbol that works within its network.
I can honestly say that I did not know much about what typography was or what it really meant, but I had always had a passion for the way letters looked on a page. I remember going to restaurants and looking at their menus asking myself why they chose certain typefaces. I remember wondering why there were awkward gaps between letters on a billboard that made the words look wonky. I also remember spending lengths of time selecting just the right font for my AIM away message. Remember those?
But here is a question you might be wondering: What does it mean to select the right one? How can a typeface be wrong?
The truth is, every typographic choice you or a designer makes has an impact on what is being conveyed.
You will find Bodoni on the covers of fashion magazines, dramatically mirroring the high fashion spreads with its serifs and elegant lines. You will find Utopia all throughout The Observer as you read, heightening the classic feel of a newspaper but also lending itself to easy legibility. These typefaces add emotion and a deeper meaning to what you read. Their grand history is revealed every time they are used. And yet, there are typefaces like Helvetica that are used everywhere because it is known to add little meaning and have the words speak for themselves.
The thing that amuses me about typography is that when it is done right, you don’t tend to notice it. If your mind can seamlessly understand the words you read in a newspaper or billboard without an interruption in the spacing of the letters, then the designer did their job correctly.
I have always loved typography. I love the structure a typeface holds, the system that it is in, the history that it has. I love the idea of receiving a deeper story and meaning every time I read a word in a different typeface. Hopefully you’ll be able to notice the deeper meanings now, too.
And for the sake of all designers, please don’t use Comic Sans or Papyrus.

Contact Steph Wulz at      
swulz@nd.edu
    The views expressed in the Inside Column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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