Does type really matter to us? And if so, then why does it matter? The average person may have trouble answering that question, even though we are constantly surrounded by type. Most of us simply take type for granted and don’t give it much thought. It’s just there. We see it, we read it and we don’t really give it more thought than that.
The truth is that type is much more than just text on a page, poster or sign that we read for meaning. The shape of the type has meaning as well… it gives us an impression and sends us a visual message. Not only does type have a linguistic meaning, but its meaning should also be emphasized visually as well. Therefore, selecting appropriate typefaces take some thought. When typesetting, we must ask ourselves a couple of questions. “What do these words say linguistically and how can I reflect the message using an appropriate typeface…What visual message will this send?”
First, we need be familiar with the two main categories of typefaces – serif and sans serif. When I ask my students if they know the difference between these two categories, they often look at me with a blank expression. Yes, they’ve heard the terms before, and they may have a vague idea about them, but most don’t know what exactly they mean.
SERIF: A ‘serif’ is a kind of typeface that has small extenders attached to both the bottom and the top of each character, such as Garamond or Times Roman or this paragraph! These small extensions actually help the eye to flow through the text with ease and is often used in books and magazines. Serifs often lend a traditional feel to text, and give us a sense of reliability.
SANS SERIF: A ‘sans serif’ (French for ‘without’ serif) is a kind of typeface that is blocky in form and is very popular for headings and smaller areas of text, as it is simple, clean and very readable in small chunks. Examples of sans serif typefaces are (my favourite) Helvetica, Verdana and Arial, which are all very popular on the web. However, in areas with a great deal of text, such as a book or magazine, a sans serif is actually harder to read, and therefore is less suitable for these applications. Sans serifs have a clean and modern feel to them.
Now that we understand the basic categories of type, we can make better choices when formatting our type.
Go ahead and make a BOLD statement, or whisper it softly to your audience.