Category Archives: School

Thinking with Type – Letter

  1. How did computers change typefaces? How were they made before computers? And after? Typefaces were changed with the proliferation of computers due to the discrete pixel rendering inherent in digital displays. Typefaces for computers started as a pixel by pixel basis, and would display correctly only at very specific sizes. Later, advancements such as anti-aliasing and vectorization allowed for smooth on screen fonts that resembled physical type blocks. Before computers were ubiquitous, types were made by hand, carefully crafted with pen, paper, and etched into press-blocks.
  2. What is the anatomy of a typeface? What are all those little bits of letters called? A given letter contains various aspects, for example many types have serifs which are little protrusions on all letters that are an artifact from handwritten letter forms. All typefaces have a baseline, an x-height and a cap-height. Most letters perch on the baseline, the x-height is the distance from the baseline to the top of a lowercase x, and the cap-height is the height from the baseline to the top of a capital letter. Letters that poke through the baseline have ‘descenders,’ and likewise lowercase letters that extend passed the x-height are ascenders. The negative space within closed letters such as  ‘o’ or ‘e’ is called a counter. A round end to a letter, such as the top of an ‘f’ is a terminal. A terminal augments are serif typeface, and is not usually present in sans. A sharp and to a letter, as if written by a pen trailing off, is a finial. An example of a finial is the loose end of the letter ‘e’.
  3. How do designers choose what font to use? Designers choose a font based on the message they are trying to convey. Every font has its own associated emotions, and a keen designer will choose a typeface that enforces the literary message of a chunk of text. Otherwise, a font may be chosen to lack a specific response, such as when designer’s choose to set work in Helvetica. However, it is rare that there is such a plane message that can not be complimented with a well chosen font.
  4. What is a type family? What are its parts? A type family consists of a collection of fonts that all contain the same bones. A type family may consist of different weights of the same typeface, from light to ultra-bold. Likewise, letters may be modified for a condensed, or italicized member of the family. Throughout the family, elements of the typeface carry through such that the defining elements of the characters persist.
  5. Remember one font from this reading, or elsewhere, that you like. Find the name. Think about why you like it. Futura is an awesome typeface. Although not the most readable, the uniform weights and pure geometric shapes are well suited to creative arrangement. The font is simple, but clear and has a bright, modern feel to it. Between the perfect circles and sharp points, Futura can be a little oppressive as the body of a document, but for titling or other general purposes, Futura is a cool font.

Tracing typefaces

AMB garn in various typefaces
Tracings of Garamond, Helvetica, Bodoni, and Futura.
AMB garn set in various typefaces.
AMB garn, as composed in Illustrator for tracing.
  • What are the differences between these typefaces? What do they have in common? What is unique to each?
Futura and Helvetica are first and foremost sans-serif typefaces. Garamond and Bodoni are serifed. Futura and Bodoni both have strong geometrical features – Futura with its circular g and a, and triangular and pointed A and M, and Bodoni with its purely rectangular serifs. Garamond is more organic than any other of the typefaces in this selection, with its bracketed serifs and lightly italic form.
  • Where do they get thick or thin? Which ones have a lot of contrast?
The thicks and thins within the serifed fonts are motivated by a nibbed pen. The sans-serif typefaces have less variation in thicks and thins, comparatively. Garamond and Bodoni have the largest amount of contrast, followed at a distance by Futura. Helvetica has the least contrast of the group.
  • What is the angle of stress for each?
The angle of stress for all of these typefaces is vertical with the exception of Garamond. Garamond has a more acute angle of stress, as is characteristic of Old Style typefaces.

Tracing letterforms

the letter m - traced in palatino, century gothic, and bauhaus 93
I chose the letter m to use in the demonstration of the following three fonts.
  1. palatino: a serifed font, and the one with the smallest x-height of the three.
  2. century gothic: a sans serif font, and the one with the largest x-height.
  3. bauhaus 93: a decorative font. This font has a constant thickness and is styled after the german school of art and design.

Resnik’s Design for Communication

When considering a new design problem, the first step is to generate as many ideas as possible. At first, lists of words and webs of concepts are helpful in getting out a large number of ideas. Next, many thumbnails should be generated. Enough should be made such that it is challenging to create new, unique solutions. Upon concluding the thumbnail sketching phase, layouts can be created to show the effect of a composition at full scale. These layouts are not of final quality, but are meant to give a general feel for how a design will read. Next, critiques of a few layouts should occur. The feedback can come at a time when it’s necessary to step back from the design. Upon giving a composition a break, fresh eyes will make for a stronger final iteration. The final iteration, or comprehensive, is finished to high quality such that the idea is clearly conveyed.

Identifying Communication Design

Effective Design:

AED Sign
A sign employing the universal defibrillation symbol.

This signage is clear and simple. It displays information that can be interpreted quickly, as its moment of applicability occurs only in emergency. The symbol of a heart with the symbol for electricity signifies the purpose of the sign. The three letters AEB, abbreviating Automatic External Defibrillator, are known by a wide enough slice of the population to be meaningful.

Ineffective Design:

LS-PrePost Screen Shot
A screenshot of a very non-intuitive piece of software

During the summer I was making use of the above piece of software. The interface was awful. Without any prior experience with this program, understanding its functionality, capabilities, and purpose was very difficult. The layout of the various buttons, text fields, and graphical elements made for a nightmarish user experience and hurt productivity. Elements of the interface were truncated beyond comprehensibility. Abbreviations, acronyms, and ambiguous labeling without appropriate documentation made the software unapproachable and frustrating.