Introduction to the Book
So many fonts, so much choice.
"Why are there so many typefaces?" is a question often asked of typographers and graphic designers. Spoken language is so rich in its ability to express and communicate the myriad conditions of the human experience that it seems fitting that designers should seek to squeeze every conceivable nuance and emotion from the characters that make up the written word - in order to give visual speech greater feeling, depth, and power. By harnessing the attributes of human language and senses it can be seen that the urge to design new typefaces will be unending.
Just as the author struggles to find the right words to convey a meaning, so the graphic designer
struggles to find the right typeface to match, support, amplify, or enhance the words that form a body of text and other typeset matter.
Finding different or alternative fonts to do the right job is not always the easiest of tasks. Despite the fact that many graphic designers will claim to work with a worthy list of maybe a dozen faces, there are plenty of opportunities whereby they could greatly increase their choice if only they could quickly lay their hands on fonts that they feel would be fit for the purpose. Working with a small number of fonts, albeit tried and tested, is akin to an artist working with a very limited colour palette which, over time, becomes boring and uninspiring. Paradoxically, the process of choosing a font is hampered by the sheer number of fonts available to us. This has a debilitating effect on our ability to make rational judgments - thus, we tend to stick to our favourite tried-and-tested fonts. It is worth bearing in mind
that some fonts have to work harder than others depending on the project at hand. It may, for instance, be a lot harder to select a suitable font for a telephone directory than for a club flyer - the durable vs. the ephemeral. It is rare to be able to choose a typeface by aesthetic value alone without regard to utility and practicality.
The simplest way of selecting fonts is through a process of elimination. For some, the first round of elimination is discarding those fonts not on their computers. If purchasing new fonts presents no problem, then a quick glance at a font supplier's list will soon show that the majority of fonts on offer can be discounted for obvious aesthetic and practical reasons. For instance, when looking for a good text font - having first decided on sans serif or serif - we may eliminate every font that is for display purposes, decorative, or eccentric. By possessing a highly idiosyncratic set of features many fonts become unsuitable for text setting. Thus a relatively short list may be quickly produced, though this may still contain many fonts that, ostensibly, might do the job.
So we need to find ways of narrowing down our selection. What do we want from a font that might make it suitable for the task? Our choice will be governed by a mix of emotion and practicality. The good functioning of a font should come first. Once we are satisfied that a small selection of fonts meets our function criteria, we may let our emotions take over and the final decision may then be based on our own personal taste or an aesthetic suitable for the readership. Let us look at just some of the function criteria.
Readability is not to be confused with legibility. While we may be able to discern every character printed on a page (or displayed on screen), that does not mean that the set words, headings, paragraphs, or pages are comfortable or easy on the eye. The more text that the reader is expected to read, absorb, and understand, the more important it is that the eye and brain don't tire - thus our selection of font (together, of course, with attention to leading, tracking, and line length) plays a very important role.
it is no coincidence that individual letterforms are called characters and, like human characters, letters have their own unique vocal identities. Providing there is clarity, we may find that a special tone, quirky style, or emotional projection , is just as important for our typeset delivery as a
I verbal delivery would be.
The use of textural colour allows the designer to create areas of interest and contrast on a page. Most typographers will be familiar with the methods of changing the gray value of a piece of text on a page (colour) by modifying the interline spacing (leading), inter-character spacing (tracking), and gutters between columns. Also, different typefaces of the same point size will display more or less ink on the sheet. So we may be able to start a project by determining the desired textural colour and add that to the criteria.
Within a setting of text or display matter there may be special requirements. Stationery or data, heavy with addresses and phone numbers, may benefit from non-aligning numerals (often termed Old Style numerals), whereas tabulated accounts may benefit from fixed space-aligned numerals. Some projects will, similarly, require heavy usage of certain characters such as question marks, ampersands, currency symbols, brackets, asterisks, bullet points, or fractions -keeping an eye on these details maybe critical to the overall appearance of your design.
Further tasks may include the fitting of large amounts of text into relatively small areas, spreading small amounts of text over large areas, finding fonts that work well in special colours and
reverse well out of dark backgrounds, and, often overlooked, finding fonts that work well with others. Let us not forget aspects of headlining, indexing, signposting, captioning, highlighting, colour compensation, good screen rendering for websites, optical character recognition - all of which will require special consideration.
Choosing the right font for the task is fundamental to a good piece of graphic communication. If you take the time and trouble to consider and list your criteria it is surprising how many fonts you are able to eliminate and this makes the task of font selection more fun and less onerous. 1000 Fonts has been designed to help the reader identify key font features within clear categories. Just get your criteria right and the rest will follow.
1st edition 2009, hardback, 512pp, full colour throughout, 15.8 x 20.6 cm