Good typography can communicate a state of mind, so choose wisely

Why am I committed to designing new typefaces? To me, there is a constant and endless need for new typefaces because they essentially create a tone of voice for users and reflect the spirit of the age in which they are created.

People today increasingly recognize and understand typography for the tone of voice it can create and deliver, how typefaces are essential to the message that is being communicated. Typography, then, is not simply a “technical” subject. It is very much an “emotional” subject, one directly linked to language and the many different ways people express themselves through that language. Beyond the craft and technology – the important technical aspects – there exists within typography an expression of the complexities of human thought through visual representation.

When you select a font on your computer, you can shout, you can whisper, you can cry out. Whether you are expressing sarcasm, anger, happiness, whatever your message or state of mind – typography itself always possesses elements of the spoken word.

With an expanding universe of fonts at their disposal today, designers need to possess a level of skill and understanding that truly lets them use fonts powerfully and effectively. In the selection process, you need to understand the voice of the text, how it is being spoken, who is being spoken to. That is always the starting point of good typography.

We are in fact seeing more and more designers and companies pushing the limits of typography through the use of custom-made fonts. Why? Because people and companies want to speak uniquely. And technology has made that easy to do. So the goal becomes one of creating an actual typeface that reflects and speaks to a brand on its own. You can read a piece of text today that has no company logo attached to it, yet still be aware – via the typography alone – that you are in the universe of a particular company or brand. That is the power of typography today.

How to select from the current array of choices? Know and understand the voice in which you wish to communicate, then carefully choose a font that works to that end. Typography can subvert itself. It therefore becomes crucial to be aware of the current cultural suggestions a typeface can make. For example, lots of people think Helvetica is a clean modern font, but many others see it as a dull and uninspired choice.

Use typefaces in a smart but restrained way, and always be aware of your choices in terms of how a font can be perceived by those viewing it, technically and emotionally.


JONATHAN BARNBROOK is a British designer and typographer. He keeps a blog on virusfonts.com/news/ He will be presenting at DesignThinkers 2010 on Friday Nov. 12, 4 p.m.

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About rgddesignthinkers

The Association of Registered Graphic Designers of Ontario (RGD) is the professional body for graphic designers in Ontario. RGD grants graphic designers who qualify the right to use the designations Registered Graphic Designer and R.G.D., a quality signal of standards of professional practice. RGD has approximately 2800 members. Attracting over 1,000 participants and a full line-up of fascinating speakers, DesignThinkers is Canada’s largest, most important graphic design event. It’s an occasion to listen, learn and interact with peers from across the country.
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One Response to Good typography can communicate a state of mind, so choose wisely

  1. Linsay says:

    indeed, choose wisely: Courier was not the best font choice for your blog (considering it is about design)

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