Friday, December 19

Typography Philosophy!

All of this winter weather has got me down. I was in Phoenix to study color science last week (to ensure that eInvite's printing continues to be exceptional) and I returned to a week of storms here in New England. As I write, the snow is flying outside my home office. The weather has been so unforgiving that the President declared parts of Massachusetts to be disaster areas!

The unpleasant season has given me the chance to get back into my design and art textbooks. In my opinion, much of the art of inviting is focused on four things: the graphic design of the card, the construction techniques, the layout of the type, and the typeface itself. Lately I've been thinking about type and had an interesting discussion with Emily about it.

Two of the many philosophies in typography are "modernism" and "post-modernism." Unlike the art movement of the same name, post-modernist typographers aren't "weird for the sake of being weird" but rather, have drifted away from the modernist belief that type should be completely transparent.

What does that mean, exactly? Well, one way of thinking about it is the difference between a lightbulb and a chandelier. Light bulbs illuminate a room, but we generally don't pay them any thought. It's the light we're interested in. On the other hand, a chandelier gives off light, but also is meant to be looked at, and has aesthetic qualities that change the whole feeling of the room.

Type is similar! Modernist (lightbulb) thinking gave way to the development of typefaces like Arial and Helvetica, whose purpose was to be completely neutral, and to render no particular atmosphere to the writing. In theory, a person who read something written in Helvetica would pay attention only to what the words said, rather than how the words looked.

Post-modernists said, "Hey, you know what? You can't ever get RID of how type looks, it always creates atmosphere. Let's embrace that." Naturally, most of the people at eInvite are post-modernists, because we're concerned about the emotion and feeling that a piece of stationery conveys. On the other hand, I am a (recovering) modernist.

I am coming around to post-modernist thought in type design, though! It's somewhat difficult to explain how to recognize the difference between a modern type and a post-modern type. One way to do it is purely on emotional instinct: does the type feel faceless, meaningless? Then it's probably modern. Does the type seem to contribute to the atmosphere of the design? Well, it's probably NOT modern.

Think about driving down the highway: the roadsigns are all Helvetica (or something thereabouts). They're meant, in theory, to only give directional information, and not to convey any feeling about the sign itself (or the place to which you're being directed). Now think about the sign at your spa, or stylist. I would bet that they have some sort of really interesting type that conveys feelings of luxury or relaxation. So here's an example of type used to create a luxuriant atmosphere:

1 comment:

Emily Quillen said...

I like your lightbulb and chandelier analogy ;}