Creative Anarchy: Type Is Everything

Do you break the rules of design? Enter your design work into the Regional Design Annual, one of America’s oldest and most prestigious design competitions.


Who needs rules? Engage in a little anarchy!

But, before you toss all rules to the side, you must understand that design rules are critical to good design. Sometimes, however, breaking a rule or two is just that extra something needed to fully magnify a design’s visual impact.

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Denise Bosler’s latest book, Creative Anarchy, encourages designers to break the rules.  In the first nine chapters, she chronicles various design rules, from legibility to hierarchy. After all, understanding design rules and their role improves a designer’s skills and bolsters a design’s influence. But in Chapter 10, she quite literally turns the rules of design upside-down (seriously, the second half of the book is actually upside-down) and explores an all-new perspective on design.

In the following excerpt from Rule 4 of Creative Anarchy, Bosler expounds upon the necessity of typography. She notes its relevance in our culture and daily routines and why strategically selecting the right typography for a project is one of the most crucial tasks a designer faces.

TYPE IS EVERYTHING

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Inspiring quotes and hand-lettering make for exquisite results.

Type is everywhere. From the moment we wake up and look at our alarm clock to the moment we brush our teeth before we go to bed, we see typography. Don’t believe me? Go through your daily routine and make a list of all the times you come across typography. I did it for one day, counting each item only once, and encountered 536 instances of typography: from coffee to words scrolling across the bottom of the news; from road signs to the words you’re reading right now. We take type for granted. Imagine for one moment that all typography is wiped from existence. Looks weird, doesn’t it?

Humans communicate through the written word. Typography is how we express ourselves, sell products, distinguish food from poison, separate one brand from another, understand instructions, stick to the speed limit, bake a soufflé, help our kids fall into fairy tale-induced dreams… You get the idea. The easier it is to read and understand, the better. We rely on typography, so it is important to use it properly.

TYPE SPEAKS VOLUMES

The poster typography explores questions about gender theory and pro- motes the elimination of all gender label, proposed by singer Morrissey, through typographic and image exploration.

The poster typography explores questions about gender theory
and pro- motes the elimination of all gender label, proposed by singer
Morrissey, through typographic and image exploration.

Typography communicates beyond the words it spells. Typography is an expression of those words. It evokes a feel- ing from and connects with the viewer through the letters’ aesthetics. Typography controls how words are perceived, which, in turn, controls how products, brands and businesses are perceived. It’s a domino effect. A rigid-looking letterform will project a conservative feeling, whereas a loose, flowing one will feel organic or elegant. A distressed letterform will feel, well, distressed. Picking the right typeface is challenging, but when you do, the result is the perfect marriage of concept and design.

The late Steve Jobs, CEO of Apple Inc., understood this. In his commencement address to Stanford University graduates on June 12, 2005, he spoke of his realization of the importance of typography and that its expressive application could enhance a brand.

“Reed College at that time offered perhaps the best calligraphy instruction in the country. Through- out the campus, every poster, every label on every drawer was beautifully hand calligraphed… I de- cided to take a calligraphy class to learn how to do this. I learned about serif and san serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great. It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.

None of this had even a hope of any practical application in my life. But ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts… and personal computers might not have the wonderful typography that they do.”

 

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Snask, a Swedish design agency, turned what to communicate
into how to communicate by creating a visual identity and
communication by hand.

Choosing the right typeface makes a word sing; choosing the wrong typeface makes it whisper hoarsely, or worse yet, say something wrong. This is tricky stuff. One typeface’s connotations to me may be very different for you. How do you choose? There are three steps. First, understand your client’s needs. What style of typeface does the client view as professional or sophisticated or flirty or some other adjective that describes her business? Knowing that the client believes Comic Sans is an acceptable professional typeface is valuable information. You have the chance to figure out how to explain why your typeface choice is more appropriate than a comic-inspired font. The second step is to understand the audience. You can’t interview everyone in your audience, but you can get an overall sense of their aesthetic by looking at all the other products and services marketed to them. Finally, and most important, is the message itself. A serious subject demands serious looking letterforms. A playful subject yearns for lively letters. Experimental letters can sometimes be the solution for the appropriate message.

So how do you choose the best typeface? The wrong answer is to sit in front of the computer and try out every single font in your software’s library. This is time-consuming and rarely generates the perfect typeface. The right answer is to educate yourself in the who, why and what-for of typography and letterforms so you can choose a font that speaks your message with feeling.

If you’re interested in reading more about how to break the rules of design, Creative Anarchy is available in My Design Shop in both print and ebook formats.


Learn more from Denise Bosler in her online course, Mastering Typography, from HOW Design University!

 

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