Sunday, March 29, 2009

You're just my type

Haven't you ever had the dilemma regarding the typefaces (or fonts) to use for your documents? I think that the typeface says a lot about the final look of letters, papers, emails, websites, and, yes, even books. I used to work for a book publishing house here in Manila, and one of the things that can be really stressful was when we decide on the fonts to use for our books. Should we use type with serif or one without the serif? What's the best combination of fonts to be used that will make for easy reading? What sizes should these fonts be? Coming up with the final template for the layout is much harder than you think. The Art Department would say one thing about their chosen typefaces, whereas we at the Editorial Department would have other ideas.
For those who aren't that well versed with fonts, serifs are those fonts that make use of structural details at the ends of the strokes. Times New Roman, Bookman, Garamond, and Palatino are some of the type faces that make use of serifs. Sans serif fonts (literally meaning "without serif") include Arial, Helvetica, and Comic Sans. Most websites use sans serif type faces, whereas printed text are usually in serif types. The reason for this is that printed matter, especially books and newspapers, have smaller texts, and it's easier to read them if they employ serifs. Sans serif type faces are best for text that appear larger or set in a lighted background such as computer screens. Road signs use Helvetica (a sans serif type) and our emails are set in Arial or Verdana (both sans serif types) as default.

Road sign using Helvetica

In books, what we do is try to use sans serifs typefaces in titles (chapter headings, subheadings, section titles) and then use serifed ones for the body text. I observe the reverse in webpages, where body text usually are in sans serifed typefaces (Verdana or Arial) and the page title texts are serifed.

Book body text in serifed typeface

Personally, I get turned off by printed matter that have several kinds of type faces. They appear so amateurish and, contrary to what their art designers may think, unimaginative, as if they're trying to compensate for the lack of content with the visual assault brought about by the varied fonts. I've learned that experienced layout artists use, at the most, three kinds of typefaces per page. I have to agree; I don't want to be distracted by fancy typefaces that don't really add value to the content.

Very, very bad use of typeface in cover
(bordering on tacky actually)

The typeface is probably one of the reasons why I prefer reading hardbacks to mass market paperbacks. Aside from the larger typefaces used in hardbacks, the kind that they use lends a certain "personality" to the book. Mass market paperbacks simply use Times New Roman; hardbacks employ different kinds. Also, I particularly look forward to reading about the history of the typeface used at the back of the book. One of the books I'm reading, The Northern Clemency, uses the typeface Janson, which dates back to the 1600s. Just imagine, this typeface has been around for several years!

And more interesting stuff...

One artist has used books (well, specifically book covers of pulp novels) as models for his exhibit. This is amazing. The images literally jump out from the covers! Check it here. Nevertheless, I somehow feel torn about all this book mutilation. The artworks do seem very eye-catching, but I'd think twice before cutting the covers from my book collection.


Thomas said...

I love typefaces. Their variety, their history, the way they look. And I hate typeface misuse (e.g., too many in one document).

You should check out the documentary Helvetica. It is awesome.

One of my favorites is the one they use on the London Underground. I believe it is called Johnston. It is a sans serif type based on Futura. And Futura I believe is what Penguin is using on their latest versions of their modern classics.