The Invisible Word, or, The Importance of Typography

Typography is EVERYWHERE.

But, it’s not always good. There are rules — which one can break, with intention — rules developed over centuries of written (and printed) words. Hierarchies of information help guide readers through, and into, a document or flier or advertisement; legibility and readability and the arrangement of text facilitate the reading experience, and provide visual cues to the tone of a piece; typefaces — many of the most popular are elegant in their simplicity — convey a mood that enhances or contradicts the intended message. Good typography, generally, does not distract from the message or story; it keeps the reader… well, reading.

IT IS, in many/most/all cases, INVISIBLE.

It is Definitely Less Irritating

I hope that many of you were able to read through that horrendous, but intentional, example of the exact opposite of good typography. Hopefully, you’re still here, asking “Why the hell did he do that?” My point is to illustrate that we spend a lot of time reading:  newspapers, magazines, posters, street signs, cereal boxes, and books — with or without chapters, tables of content, footnotes, pictures, and page numbers — on countless subjects. And, if any of you are anything like me, you rarely stop and say, “Whoa, this was really easy to read” (somehow, you just know); you have no problem, however, pointing out typos, a confusing hierarchy, or text that just does not “look right.”

There is a reason headlines are short and large, as a matter of fact, and body copy uses both upper and lowercase letters. There is a reason that we place extra space between paragraphs, but not too much (or too little) space between words. Typography deals with these and many other issues, all meant to achieve one purpose: to send a message that is clear and concise, that engages an audience, and that (hopefully) garners positive feedback.

So, if Good Typography is Invisible…

What’s the point of telling you, someone who may never have noticed good or bad typography (or, at least,someone who may never have thought about it for too long)? I’m telling you because, I want you to look for, to see, to notice the importance of typography in our everyday lives. How we read and process the written word is the result of a long history of developing and normalizing the arrangement of text on the page — and, today, digital screens — which directly affects the way we share and organize information. Typography, more often than not, also affects what we choose to read. Changing typographical elements such as font size, kerning, and line-length can have a dramatic effect on the mood of what you might be reading (more elaborate descriptions of typography basics are the topic of a later post); if you use sound typography, you can add tension to a crime novel or airiness to a whimsical romance.  Your words will have an emotional impact before your readers even start the first sentence.

And your readers, looking at the invisible words, won’t even be able to say why.