A group of us here at Red Chalk just reviewed a batch of portfolios from local students, and were happy to see a new pool of talent rising up. But the next morning we had one overwhelming criticism: almost all the portfolios revealed that their typography needed a shot in the arm.
What is ‘Typography’?
Typography is the way language looks. For the sake of brevity, we’re going to talk about; typeface as a visual voice, respecting the written language, and typeface choice. Like good artwork, good typography can make or break any design . But how can something as invisible as typography do that?
To get in the right mindset, think of typography as fashion. Typeface selection can make as much of an impression as the clothes you wear everyday. Some type should just carry information and go unnoticed (think t-shirt and jeans). Some carry authoritative strength of importance (police officers and CEOs). Some make statements concerning different sub-cultures (punks, valley girls, and hipsters). Sometimes the message isn’t as important as is just being noticed (Lady Gaga). The way language (text) looks affects what we think of the message, and the wrong choice can muddle your message or confuse your audience completely.
Knowing the alphabet and punctuation don’t end with the keys on your keyboard is invaluable to a young designer. American English is sadly not as decorated with accents (diacritics) as other Western languages like French, Spanish, or Danish. Respecting these accents is what separates folks from handing a potential employer their ‘resume’ versus their ‘résumé’. Not including these accents waters down these meaningful words and can even change their meaning completely. A good designer will recognize these characters and honor any language the Latin alphabet can support. They may not be able to speak it, but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be visually misrepresented.
Is this your résumé? No need to resume your job search. Let’s naïvely celebrate at The Grand Ole Opry while eating jalapeños and shouting, “Olé!” as performers maintain the façade that all is well.
With all the possible messages in the world, there has to be something to simplify the decision process. Again, just like fashion, there are well crafted choices suitable for multiple solutions and will last you a while no matter what trends come and go. These typefaces are the “little black dresses” or “tailored jackets” and can be good in a wide variety of applications. They look good, they are noticeable to people paying attention, and get the job done. A good typeface works well at large and small point sizes, has all the accented characters you need, and will look good while doing it.
There’s tons more to talk about with typography, but this is a great place to begin. Find a typeface that has the right voice for your message, always check to see if it has the accents you may need for other languages, and start your small collections of a few good workhorses to have ready to go for any occasion (and Comic Sans should not be one of them!).