Liberty Enlightening the World

Liberty Enlightening the World
La Liberté éclairant le monde

Wednesday 8 June 2011

Typeface Identity

You might ask: "How can a typeface have character?"

A typeface can suggest a particular identity or character partly due to the shapes and strokes that are used to make the letters and partly due to the spatial relationships to each other. 

A good example of this is seen in typefaces that use letters that look a little like human features; the lower case "e" can carry a lot of character for that typeface; if the e looks like it's a smiling face then the typeface looks "friendly". If the serifs (see anatomy of type diagram above) are sharp like daggers then the typeface may suggest an "evil, menacing" personality.

The "Wiggles" children entertainers use a logotype that adopts several type treatments to represent a sense of their identity; baseline shift, color, angle, letter distortion (like jelly) and kerning the 2 gs closely to suggest they're banging heads together or whispering a secret message or just good pals.

A typeface can also reflect cultural associations we have assigned to it. A good example is the "boiler-plate" typefaces closely associated with railroad engineering; engineers had to attach signage to their metal monsters that could be durable and withstand steam, heat and vibration.

 One solution was to liberally apply rivets to hold the letters on. Letters would be fastened using rivets at the top and bottom and middle. The rivet in the middle was a necessary evil and typographers worked it into the typefaces used.

The typefaces now have a cultural/ spiritual association that suggests they need to be used to convey a sense of "industry" or "wild-west". The typeface "Mesquite" (shown above) as used in the shoe exercise below reflects this. 

Another good example of how typefaces evolved can be found in typefaces with serifs; the serif evolved thanks to the mold metal-casting process and the accuracy of their tools; they found it next to impossible to get their letters out of the mold without using a notch at the ends of the letters.

Contemporary research suggests that the serifs help the eye travel from letter to letter and word to word. 

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