Friday, June 4, 2010
Talking About Type: Let Your Voice Be Heard!
Design Guy here, welcome to the show. This is the program that explores timeless principles of design and explains them simply.
And before we begin, I'd like to announce my sponsor for the coming episodes. Yes, I have a sponsor. And that's Mark Batty Publisher. Mark Batty is an independent publisher dedicated to making distinctive books on the visual art of communicating. Affordable, well designed, thoughtfully created, and produced to last, MBP books are artful products that readers want to hold onto forever.
A great example of their books, and one that ties in with this episode is the title, "Dot-Font - Talking About Fonts by John D. Berry. You may know Mr. Berry from his dot-font columns at CreativePro.com, which is a site I've enjoyed for many years. Berry, who is both an editor and a designer, himself, talks critically and entertainingly about type designers, font technology, and how lettering and type are ubiquitous in our culture. I've got a copy in my hand right now - It's a beautiful, perfect bound edition, just filled with great visual examples. Again, that's Dot-Font - Talking about Fonts. You can pick it up at markbattypublisher.com or, of course, at Amazon.
Well, we're talking about Type. Typography. And we kicked off the discussion last time with a refresher on the importance of Type as that central and defining element in graphic design. It's what distinguishes it from other arts because everything we do traces to a definite message. A typographic one.
And type is our primary artwork. Those letterforms are the clip art, so to speak, that we reach for above all else. And that's because these characters, these visual symbols, with which we encode our communications are evocative all by themselves. Designers often skip the other visuals, like photos and illustration, altogether, because Type, all by itself, has the power to produce images and emotions, even sound in the human mind.
R. Hunter Middleton, said:
"Typography is the voice of the printed page. But typography is meaningless until seen by the human eye, translated into sound by the human brain, heard by the human ear, comprehended as thought, and stored as memory." (unquote).
In the book, Environmental Interpretation, contributor Richard Dahn writes:
"In approaching typographic choices, it's helpful to keep in mind that typography has a "visual voice" that is dependent on the typeface chosen, its sizes and organization within (your) format, and the nature of the message. Emphatic messages such as EXTREME DANGER, KEEP OUT would demand the use of a heavy bold sans serif type, while a quote by Aldo Leopold might look better in a Roman serif set with generous line spacing. The visual impact on a sign can welcome the viewer to read and reinforce the meaning and sense of the message, or it can speak in such a dull and confused voice that the viewer will totally ignore the sign, or worse, misinterpret what is being said." (unquote)
And I'm going to keep rolling with one more quotation...
In Alex White's, The Elements of Graphic Design, he begins a chapter titled, "Listening to Type" with a word from El Lissitzky.
Lissitzky says, (quote) "Typographic arrangement should achieve for the reader what voice tone conveys for the listener." (unquote)
White furthers this by saying, "What do we mean by "listening to type"? Imagine listening to a book recorded on tape. The reader's voice changes with the story, helping the listener hear the various characters and emotion. A story told on paper should do the same thing. The "characters" that typographers work with are...headlines, subheads, captions, text, and so forth. These typographic characters are our players and must be matched for both individual clarity and overall unity."
(end of quotation)
Now, a few episodes back, I did what felt like kind of an offbeat, standalone episode called "All the World's a Stage for Designers" - but it plays perfectly to this point. And to quickly summarize some of that episode, all our elements, type included, are not just static things. They're not inert. You know, we tend to think of them that way sometimes. Like we've just got this pile. Just a pile of images and type and color and other stuff. But, like White said, these are our players, they're like actors on the stage. And the point is, is that each one is charged with personality and with power, and as they combine into this ensemble, if you will, we find that they're all very active, and that they all act upon each other. They all have a voice, and as a unified whole, they've got a collective voice that takes on an overall character.
So, this is a big picture thing to keep in mind always when you approach every project as a designer. You want to remind yourself that, in a way, you're speaking to someone with a voice. It's a different modality, a different medium through which we're speaking, it expresses itself first visually as we target the eye, and then the mind. But a voice is heard, nonetheless. We're just doing it through a special medium.
And on the receiving end, our audience infers a tone. Hopefully, it's a clear and consistent one because there are many factors at play in even the simpler compositions. And that's where studying up on the typographic rules and techniques comes in. We want to strive to be clear. We don't want to muddle the message. We don't want the equivalent of static or noise in our transmissions, if you will.
You know, even in our simplest text messages, we're intuitively sensitive to this. Email etiquette has warned us for years about sending people messages in all capital letters. They'll feel like we're shouting at them, just because we hit the CAPS LOCK key before we started typing. I know I re-read important emails before sending them, just to ensure there's no unintended tone of voice. Maybe you've had that experience - somebody thought you were angry based on an email you sent. And if the simplest examples of mere text are expressive, how much moreso our designed things?
When we put on our typographer's hat, and rev up all our machinery, and proceed to exploit all the tools, and settings, and make decisions about typefaces (each one a unique personality), how much more do we have control of that voice, down to the tiniest nuances, just as you would alter the pitch or modulation of your own speaking voice in the course of a delicate conversation.
But, finally, and before this all start to sound cautionary (which is not my intent) let me encourage you to embrace your work as a means of finding your voice. Of letting it be heard. Design is a means of your self-expression. Yes, we've got to maintain the integrity of someone's message, we don't handle it in a self-serving way, we're ultimately objectivists. But your unique stamp will be on your work because YOU are the first medium through which the message passes. And your clients will come to perceive your voice, that style, that authentic expression that IS your work, that is YOU. And they'll want more...of YOU.
So, again, do build your typographic messages with care. Learn the craft rules so that the voice of those elements are clear. But, in so doing, let your own voice be heard.
Well, that's it for today. Thanks for listening. Let me remind you that the transcript and the site where this podcast feed originates is found at designgushow.blogspot.com. Music is by Kcentricity.com. Thanks again. Hope to have you back next time.