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.