Do typefaces really matter? To most people, typefaces are pretty insignificant. Yet to their devotees, they are the most important feature of text, giving subliminal messages that can either entice or revolt readers, says Tom de Castella. But can different shaped letterforms really convey those values?
The power of the font goes back to the Greeks, says Julie Strawson, director of Monotype Imaging, an international type-design company. "The Greeks created handwriting and that's one of the most personal ways of communicating."
A typeface may never quite be able to replicate the intimacy of pen and ink but with an estimated 200,000 fonts to choose from today, there are no shortage of different styles to choose from.
Selecting a font is like getting dressed, Ms Strawson says. Just as one chooses an outfit according to the occasion, one decides on a font according to the kind of message you are seeking to convey.
One of the crucial dilemmas is whether to opt for serif or sans serif. In a serif typeface the letters have extra curls and bobbles, reminiscent of calligraphy, whereas in sans serif (literally without serif) the letter forms have clean lines without any protruding bits. "Some people find serif best because, like handwriting, it helps the eye to link the letters," Ms Strawson says. "With sans each character is completely separate, there's more white space which is why some find it more readable."
The typeface matters because of its power to create a sense of recognition and trust, she argues: "Everyone recognises the BBC just from three characters in Gill Sans. It's an icon. If you wrote BBC in a flowery font people wouldn't recognise it." Banks are particularly aware of this, with companies like Barclays creating their own branded font to reinforce a sense of security at a time when fear of fraud and scamming is high.
But Jonathan Barnbrook, founder of the website Virus Fonts, believes the power of typography goes beyond such utilitarian aims.
"A good typeface creates an emotional response in relation to the message it is conveying. You're trying to get that tone of voice right - you can shout or whisper. And you want to sum up the spirit of the age, because they do date quite quickly." People have become more aware about the impact of fonts because of computers, but the power of a typeface is still largely subliminal, he argues. Mr Barnbrook is best known for producing provocatively named, subversive fonts such as Exocet, Bastard, Prozac and Nixon.
Indeed there's no limit to the emotional range a typeface can reflect. "Typography is so closely associated with language so you can express irony and get the whole complexity of emotion in there," adds Mr Barnbrook.
Typeface or font?
A typeface is the specific letterform design of an alphabet. A font is a collection of all the characters of a typeface, including capital letters and lowercase letters, numerals and punctuation marks.
For letterpress printing, using hot metal, a font was produced for every size and style of typeface, but today fonts are delivered as a digital software file that caters for all sizes of a typeface.
That is why the words font and typeface are often interchanged
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Via Hubert Cosico