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The Journey of Typography

What is Typography?


Typography is an art form applied to the layout of design elements of letters and typeface. Typography has always been apart of human culture. Dating back to the 1400’s and even before, the art of type has been used to create symbols, text and great masterpieces of design.


History of Typography


From the first letter punches, dies and cylinders used to make seals and currency, the creation of cuneiform text to movable type, throughout human history typography has been an important part of society. During the second millennium B.C., imprints were created using brick stamps that were then applied to wet clay to create symbols and letter imprints. Moving forward into the sixteenth century, we see letter punches being created individually (sometimes through the technique of casting) for vast quantities of copies that went through Gutenberg’s printing press. As time moved onward, typography continued to develop with typesetting systems. Typography has always had a common need to be designed not only with artistry but efficiency. Legibility of text is always been the most important thing and has constrained typography limits.


Leading into digital times, with the invention of personal computers, typefaces were created using software and now more than millions of libraries are available for use online. With this freedom, more people, designers included, have access to typefaces. The creation of font libraries and online sites open a stream of fonts to everyone.


Principles of Typography


The different styles and sizes of typefaces create fonts.


In design, these fonts have two differentiations: serif vs. non-serif and variable width vs fixed width. Serifs are the distinctive finishing strokes, horizontal and vertical, that can be applied to letters to produce a chiseled cut look. Times New Roman is an example of a serif font. Arial is an example of a non-serif font. Variable width fonts use proportional spacing between letters, bunching them together in certain cases while widening them out in others, like in the example of the Nimrod font-family. In contrast, fixed width fonts, ie. Letter Gothic use the same spacing between letters regardless of their size or shape.


Points are the size of a typeface.


One point is equivalent to 1/72 of an inch. Hence, 72 pt font is exactly one inch in height. The height is measured from the ascender (the top rising stroke) to the descender (the bottom plunging stroke). Styles attributes includes bold, italic and underline. Layout of the overall typography design also includes spacing, kerning, leading and tracking. Leading determines how text is spaced vertically in lines. Kerning is the space between two letters. Tracking changes the spacing between each letter of an entire word equally.


Using basic principles like these in typography mixes artistry with effectively communicating your message. Using the right styles of fonts in a given design, print or web will assist in your message goal with proper emphasis and attention.


How do we apply these typography principles to design?

Graphic Design vs. Web Design?

Our second blog will discuss this in more detail.

Want to learn more about typography? Trying to apply typography design to an existing project or website?

Let us help.


Article by Zipporah Schumaker