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How Does Your Fontface Speak?

R Proffitt
by Richard Proffitt
iopan design

Everything has it's own voice — It's own voice as well as it's own image. In fact, if you indulge in a little personified thinking, then you will be able to create a whole life for your font of focus. As an authour fills out the body of a character, so you develop authenticity of the character that is your font. Now, does that font have a voice that is in keeping with your overall æsthetic?

In this article – I shall be looking at a number of different typefaces in order to find the voice and character of each font. This can be a little subjective, of course. It can be a subtle art to detect the voice and personality of a font - but it's worth learning since there is evidence that when a typeface ‘personality’ acurately matches the feeling & sensability of the text, then people engage with the text to a far greater degree. The opposite is also true: where a font-face and text-content are incongruous towards each other (ie. they don't match) then people are more inclined to simply give up reading and leave.

In the following section; I'll be considering 10 different type styles and their respective range of voices. Some have deep and serious tones, others are pragmatic and optemistic but they are all evolutionary steps in the continuing link between word-forms, images, communication and ultimately, textual-meaning.

The Category Is…

1. Humanist

Humanist (Venetian) faces are like a neatly handwritten italic form - named after the first roman type faces that appeared in Venice in 1470. Humanist type faces were initially designed to imitate the handwriting of Italian Renaissance scholars. The voice is composed, intelligent and scholally.

Four examples of Humanist typefaces: Adobe Garamond Pro, Minion Pro, Gill Sans and Calluna Sans

2. Garalde

Garalde (Old Style) were designed centuries ago by such masters as the French printer Claude Garamond and the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius. Garalde type faces include some of the most popular roman styles in use today. These faces have rounded serifs and moderate contrast between strokes. The letters are open, rounded and very readable. The voice is clear, senior, literary and established.

Four examples of Garalde typefaces: Sabon, Palatino, Goudy Old Style and Livory

3. Didone

Didone (Modern) faces typify the profound affect the course of typography would take as a result of improvements in paper production, composition, printing and binding during the late eighteenth century. It was possible to develop a type style with strong vertical emphasis and fine hairlines; this is what the French family Didot did, and what the Italian printer Giambattista Bodoni perfected. This style has thin, straight serifs, with an extreme contrast between the thick and thin strokes; curved letters are balanced and slightly compressed. Didone has a 'classy' voice, younger; slightly playful but still clear and informative.

Four examples of Didone typefaces: Didot, Abril Fatface, Bodoni and Walbaum.

4. Transitional

Transitional faces reflect the fact that the eighteenth century was a time of transition. During this period, type designers were more likely than their predecessors to rely on mathematical or scientific principles to create new letter forms. Containing elements of both Garalde and Didone styles, these faces have rounded serifs which are less formal than Didone, but more formal than Garalde and therefore reflect the transition from Garalde and Didone. The voice is more masculine than Didone, literary and clear.

Four examples of Transitional typefaces: Baskerville, Georgia, Times New Roman and Libertinus Serif.

5. Lineal

Though the first sans serif type face was issued in 1816, another hundred years passed before this style gained popularity. Then, in the 1920s, when typography was heavily influenced by the 'Bauhaus' school of design, designers began creating type faces without serifs. A popular type face for all classes of publicity and advertising work due to the large variety of weight and styles available and because their structure suggests newness and attention-awakening appeal to a remarkable degree. They possess simplicity and neatness since there is little variation in the thickness and weight of the letter strokes. A modern voice, androdyenous, crisp and optemistic.

Four examples of Lineal typefaces:

6. Mechanistic

The Industrial Revolution of the early nineteenth century encouraged the development of very bold printing types that could be used for a new vehicle of communication: advertising, posters, flyers and broadsides, which all completed for attention. They were often created using slab serif type faces, which, with their strong, square finishing strokes, proved very effective for commanding reader's attention. The voice is loud, attention-grabbing and clearly intoned.

Four examples of Mechanistic typefaces:

7. Blackletter

This style of type mimicked contemporary manuscript handwriting which was drawn with a wide, flat pen popular in much of Europe at Gutenberg's time. You may also hear it referred to as Old English, Gothic, or Blackletter. Although this style is still used extensively in certain European countries, in the English-speaking world we find the structure of the letters complex and therefore difficult to read in paragraph form. For this reason, text should seldom be used in small sizes. The voice is old-fashioned, accented, dramatic and senior.

Four examples of Blackletter typefaces:

8. Decorative

These type faces are also known as novelty faces and are primarily designed to be used for a word or words in display or headings where the product needs a close-matching type face. Therefore their use is not suitable for the setting of text since they lack legibility. One kind of decorative type face seeks to create a mood and is therefore highly emotive, another kind is designed to represent something. Decorative voices vary considerably but are all usually more playful and informal.

Four examples of Decorative typefaces:

9. Script

All script faces are based on different styles of cursive or current handwriting and is frequently ornamented with flourishes. Letters of this form are usually highly rounded, slant to the right, and either connect from letter to letter or have a tail on the letters which leads to the next. Because these types imitate handwriting, two of the main essentials when using Script are not to have too much space between the words and to take additional care when considering leading. The voices are relaxed, friendly and more feminine.

Four examples of script typefaces:

10. Manual

Similar to the script classification however it has a more natural and handwritten approach. The typeface is usually based on different styles of cursive or current handwriting and usually has a flowing look to it.. Letters of this form are usually highly rounded, and either connect from letter to letter or have a tail on the letters which leads to the next. Handwritten scripts are usually informal and are characterised by the looser, less restrained formation of characters. The letters appear to have been casually drawn by either a pen or brush.

Four examples of Manual typefaces:

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The Novelty Voices of ‘Decorative’

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