A few months ago I was sat in a restaurant with a couple of friends of mine. We were about to order and one of them said to the other, “wait a minute, he’ll be critiquing the menu design in a second!” At that moment I realised that I’d been found out, I can’t stop looking at typography, It’s an unbreakable habit. I’ve stood on a train and moaned about the kerning of an exit sign, grumbled about poor alignment and raved about how great that latest magazine layout is.
But, despite the chuckles at my expense, I’ll never change now, it runs too deep. I react to typography as though it's built in to my personality, like the the way people react to spiders or Ice-cream. To my friends it seems silly, even pointless. But I know differently. I know the power that good typography has in design. It can make the difference between failure and success in communicating a message. It evokes memories and subconscious connections in the reader and can create a strong emotional response.
Poor typography can cause difficulty in reading the words you’ve spent hours crafting. The wrong choice of typeface can confuse, distract or even prevent the reader from getting the message at all. It seems that the skills, that were passed to me by teachers way back and from studying great typography, are somewhat lacking in the world of mass production and fast turnaround. This neglect leads to design that could have been great but failed to deliver the little extra that makes all the difference. It seems sometimes that a lack of typographic finesse in design work might even indicate a lack of care for the client. It’s often something that relies on an attention to detail that demands a great deal of care.
Good typography delivers the message effectively, with the right emotion. It can subtly affect the way in which we perceived the information we’re reading. It’s similar to the use of colour theory to evoke an emotion, red for danger, yellow for happiness and so on.
Ultimately though, I feel that typography whether in the hands of a professional or not plays a strong role in defining culture, both in a broader sense and on a more socially cellular level. I recently listened to a pod cast via DandAD featuring Craig Oldham, who discussed context in typography and also his book “In loving memory of Work” from a typography standpoint. The book makes a point of visually referencing the typography of the UK Miner's Strike of 1984—1985. The typography that influenced the book was DIY in its approach. It was free from the constraints of the designer’s rule book. This freedom created an immediacy and urgency that reinforced the message. It was culturally appropriate. That appropriateness or fitness for purpose is something that defines great typography for me. It shows how a good designer should consider typography during a project. Of course there is a time for following rules and a time for breaking them and it’s our job as designers to accept that fact and embrace it when the occasion arises.
Thoughtfully executed typography can, and does, make a real difference. Our clients have, as a direct result of the intelligent and creative use of typography, seen increased sales and positive feedback from potential and existing customers. It has reinforced their brand message through improved aesthetic quality, generated an emotional connection, increased visual association and ultimately created a professional and strong image.
So I’ll keep obsessively tweaking letter-spacing and balancing line lengths when it’s needed. Or breaking the rules if the brief requires it. Not just because it’s important to me to do the kind of work that I love, but because It’s more important to put effort into every part of our work for clients and to give them the best possible design, which means the best possible typography.