I love typography. Always have. From a very early age, I’ve been fascinated with letterforms. When I was in elementary school, I used to rubber-band two pencils together to create a crude way to draw Blackletter (a.k.a. “Old English”) lettering on posters. While other kids decorated their textbook’s book covers with drawings of muscle cars, military tanks or alien spacecraft, I decorated mine with words in a variety of typefaces. Blackletter, calligraphy, Cooper Black, Bodoni, Futura – you name it, and I experimented with it. As I grew into a career as a freelance artist, I discovered that typefaces could provide a subtext (no pun intended) to ad copy and headlines. The face I chose to design something had the power to communicate meaning, context, and even tell people how to think about the words on the printed page, before they’d even read them.
Once upon a time, I found myself gainfully employed at a software company. Said company published a couple of applications – a vector drawing app and a photo editing app – that used type. I was able to convince them that they needed to achieve parity with their competition, and provide a typeface library along with the products, as a value-add proposition. Because I was the guy at the company that actually knew something about type, I was asked to pick which faces would be included with the products.
Now most people put into that position would pick a bunch of decorative faces – the kinds of things that look flashy, but ultimately aren’t very useful. I explained to the powers-that-be, that we needed to supply a type library that would allow designers to create all kinds of documents – which meant we needed not just decorative faces, but a solid foundation of serif and sans-serif faces that would be the workhorses of the collection. The concept of type families and typefaces from different families working in harmony was a foreign concept to most of the people at the software company, so I was tasked with explaining it, in a form that could ship with the application. (Nothing like a little job security.)
So I set out to write an interactive guide to using typefaces. It was an interesting task, not the least because I had to use the Windows Help System to deliver the product. (This was back in the early 90’s. Think about something that was even more of a kludge than HTML version 1.0, with no tools like Dreamweaver with which to code it.) The topic was (admittedly) huge. I realized all I could do is to scratch the surface, but I was determined to create a credible, useful guide.
In my personal library of typographic history books, one quote jumped out at me. Beatrice Warde, a typographic scholar, and associate of Stanley Morrison (the guy who commissioned the design of the Times family of typefaces, found on just about every personal computer ever sold), was renowned for a broadside she’d created:
If this wasn’t cool enough, she was also responsible for my absolute favorite quote about type:
Typefaces are the clothes that words wear.
I love that quote. It says it all. And it’s true. Think about it this way…take two packages – Say, some perfume like L’Air du Temps, and some household cleaner like Janitor in a Drum. Take their logos. Switch the names. Would you buy a perfume that used ITC Machine for it’s logo? Would you buy a cleaner if it used some kind of Spencerian script for it’s logo. I don’t THINK so. Typefaces can tell you how to feel about words before you even read them. That’s powerful.
I could live to be 200, and I wouldn’t know everything there is to know about typography. I’m cool with that. As long as I can keep learning about type, I’ll be one happy designer.