Becca Magnus shares her experience of February’s Trade Secrets workshop – this time with a focus on typography.
our latest Trade Secrets workshop, Mark Noad took us on a journey of written
language from the perspective of a designer. What a fascinating journey it was.
two hours, we began to understand how words take on form, weight and new
meaning through the eyes of a designer. How a simple choice of typeface and
juxtaposition with an image can change our understanding of a word. How
designers change words from fleeting, ethereal thoughts to art with physicality
and gravitas. How designers make our words real. It was eye-opening.
start us off, Mark introduced this simple formula to help us understand the
basics of how typography works:
forms = word choice
= tone of voice
= grammar and syntax
then dived into a potted history of the development of the English language,
specifically the mark-making that led to the letter forms we have today. Did
you know that the letter forms for Latin-derived languages come from an
inscription on Trajan’s column? I did not and I’m still processing that fact.
There’s a replica in the V&A that you can visit and ponder at your leisure.
fascinating little-known fact in the development of English – many of our wonky
spellings come from the printing of the Gutenberg bible. Any typos in a print
run were subsequently taken as ‘correct’, which is
why we now have some very odd words. Typos. Who knew?
The printing press was a seismic invention, opening up access to mass communication and permanently changing the structure of society. With writing, it also brought early typographic design from the monks to the masses. The nature of typesetting transformed words from page ornament to vehicles for meaning with heft and weight. As printing developed, new typefaces were created to convey different moods, influenced by the aesthetic ideals of the times. We moved from gothic blackletter to serif typefaces with conservative elegance to sans-serifs with geometric simplicity and clean lines. Digital design has hugely influenced our current visual ideals – Apple became the defacto choice for designers due to their wider choice of expressive typography. Designers have become rockstars due to their rogue use of type – like David Carson setting an interview in Dingbat for Raygun magazine. Typographic choices are visceral statements. They matter.
ended by exploring typesetting ourselves in a much less demanding activity with
postcards and old-school Letraset sheets – the tools designers used before
Illustrator and InDesign. By picking a typeface and physically setting our type
on the page, we were making new choices on the mood and idea we want our words
to convey. Adding dimension. Amplifying meaning.
makes you realise just how important the relationship is between words and
design, between writer and designer. And how often we work in silos, rather
than collaborating meaningfully. What could we create if we truly work together
to find new ways to add dimension, amplify meaning and make visceral statements
through the work we do? This writer would love to find out.
are some nuggets of typographic wisdom that you can start using today in your
The top qualities designers consider and balance
in their choice of typeface
Readability and clarity
Impact and strength
Rules of thumb for good readability
66 characters with
spaces is the optimal length for a line of text (roughly 10 words in English)