What's the Big Deal About Fonts? Far More Than You Might Think

First, let’s understand the definitions.

‘Font’ is the set of letters while ‘typography’ is the art of creating the letters. Typeface is the style and look of a certain font. We typically use the word ‘font’ when we really mean ‘typeface’.

Now, let’s get the history.

Throughout history, typefaces have been influenced by the technology available at the time, by the culture, and by the artist’s need for expression.

In the 1400s, Guttenberg invented the first typeface. Before his invention of the printing press, all materials were written by hand. His typeface was called ‘blackletter’ because it was dark and hard to read.

In 1470, Nicolas Jenson created a Roman type inspired by the style of writing found on ancient Roman buildings. The typeface became so popular that it marked an end to the use of blackletter.

In 1501, Aldus Manuticius created italics which were designed to save money by fitting more words on a printed page.

The 1700s saw the creation of more typefaces with thin and thick lines.

Serifs, the lines or projections attached to the end of strokes of a letter, were first used in the 1800s.

This was soon followed by creation of typefaces without serifs, called Sans Serif typefaces, which were popular in advertising.

The most popular typeface of our time, Helvetica, was created in 1957 by Swiss designer Max Miedinger.

That brings us to Modern Times.

The advent of computers and the internet gave rise to a huge variety of typefaces offering more options for different design looks and usage. Over 300,000 individual fonts are in use today.

Designers and advertisers have found that the typeface used can influence the reaction of the viewer or reader. A 2012 survey of New York Times’ readers sought to discover if the font used impacted the likelihood of a positive response. The results indicated that the Baskerville font, created in 1757, positively influenced readers.

Steve Jobs used Chicago (1984) in the design of the first Apple Macintosh computer. This typeface was easy to read even on a low-resolution screen.

Fonts are fun to select.

Selecting a typeface is a key element of design. Consider these factors when you select a font or typeface for your next project:

 Know your target audience. Knowing your audience’s age and interests will help you make a design decision that will engage the audience. For example, a simple font is best for young readers while a modern font will appeal to a technology-minded audience. Serif typefaces are easier to read.

Define your goal. Knowing the goal of your project will help determine the need for—a decorative font, a more legible font, or maybe an edgy font.

Graphic designer Emily Cvengros loves to mix fonts in her projects. “My favorite thing to do is to mix a handwritten font with a very structured font.”

• Understand the psychology. There’s a psychology behind the use of fonts because different fonts convey different emotions. Simply changing the font can make the message feel modern, historic, rustic, elegant, formal, casual, traditional, classic, or vintage.

• Consider the usage. Cvengros finds that fonts can affect the whole tone of a project. “Depending on the tone of your project, the font can make it feel fun, professional, or even creepy!” A font perfect for a website might be a terrible choice for invitations. Knowing how the font will be used is also important because some fonts are more suited to printed materials while others are suitable for websites. Font size and visual weight should also be considered.

Write Now Marketing’s Debra Becknell reminds us, “As the saying goes, ‘A picture is worth a thousand words.’ In the same way, a font can establish your story’s character.” The intentional use of specific fonts or typefaces is an effective way to help express your message in the most creative way, appeal to your target audience, and set your project apart from the rest.

Ashworth Creative Blog. (2014, July 3). A Brief History of Typography and Typefaces.

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McNeil, Paul. (2017, December 20). More than words: 6 typefaces that changed how we see the word.

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