Typography

Next in our study of design, let’s take a look at typography. (We will come back to color another time.) I admit to knowing almost nothing about typography. I know the meaning of “serif”, “sans serif” and I know a few favorite font families, but that’s all. So, join me if you like and let’s learn a little more.

There’s a limit to how much typography we need to know for our purposes. We are not interested in designing our own font here. Instead, let’s think about the considerations that go into choosing a font. This article looks like a good place to begin: https://www.canva.com/learn/font-design/ .

I note as I’m reading this page I linked and my own blog right now that both use a font with serifs. Serifs are the little feet at the bottom of each letter-character. The fact that something so small could matter at all is astonishing, but that is what typography is all about.

Let’s take a look at some web sites. Our old friend Metafizzy uses a sans-serif font throughout. I see from inspecting the document that the font-family is Texta: https://www.myfonts.com/fonts/latinotype/texta/. I’ve never heard of that one. For my part, I see no notable difference between Texta and, say, Arial. For a design choice like color, I can see the difference between good color choices and bad. But as far as I can tell if you set aside the novelty fonts then there are only like 5 different fonts to choose from and a thousand versions of them that people say are different because of reasons nobody would notice.

This article mentions some font called Avenir as a favorite of designers, and warns that it “isn’t cheap”. (I found it for about $300.) I see literally nothing special about this font, and I can’t imagine why anyone would pay to use it. To me it is indistinguishable from any other sans-serif font. Why bother?

After reading this article, I feel like I’m no closer to understanding why any of this matters, and I still don’t know why anyone would favor one font over another besides just “I like this” and “I don’t like this”—and a vague sense of some fonts being more businesslike. I get that some fonts definitely should not be used for lengthy pieces of text, but beyond these broad categories, why does it matter?

This article on why people hate Comic Sans struck me: https://designforhackers.com/blog/comic-sans-hate/ . There are plenty of situations where I would not use Comic Sans, but that doesn’t mean its a bad font. What does make it a bad font? I don’t know. I’m reading this article and I still don’t know. It seems like obsessive attention to things that don’t matter and that nobody cares about.

Overall, it’s hard to find useful information on this topic because the examples are ridiculous. Nobody is asking whether you should write a resume in Comic Sans. But that’s the question designers answer when they write on this topic: yes, font choice matters. Look what happens if we choose this utterly ridiculous font. Since they have nothing deeper to say than that, I’m inclined to think there is nothing deeper. Use whatever font feels right. There’s nothing to see here.

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