HISTORY OF T Y PE. Pictographs. Before there were letters there were pictures. The first type message that we find in history was a series of pictures that told a story, known
Before there were letters there were pictures. The first type message that we find in history was a series of pictures that told a story, known
as pictographs. Native Americans and Egyptians separately developed ideographs; in the case of Egypt, this led to the famous Egyptian
The Greek alphabet, which was
derived from the Phoenician alphabet, marked
the true beginnings of our modern alphabet and
the Romans contributed the serifs and the first
thick and thin strokes.
A font is the one size, weight and width of a typeface: for example Arial Narrow 11pt is a font.
Typeface is usually mistaken with font. But they are different.
The term fontrefers to a specific member of the typeface family; for example: roman, bold or italic.
Typefacerefers to the consistent visual appearance or style; for example, Helvetica or Times New Roman.
Typefaces can be divided into two main categories: serif and sans serif.
Serif and Sans Serif Fonts
Serifs are the small tick-like lines at the end of character strokes. Every letter in a serif font includes serifs. The serifs assist the eye to read the text.
A sans serif font doesn’t have serifs and is typically used in headings and titles.
Type families are the complete set of one typeface. The roman font is the initial font from which a family of typefaces derives. Every font style has different type families. For example:
Condensed Bold, Condensed Black, Ultra Light, Ultra Light Italic, Light, Regular, Roman, Italic, Extended
classification systems. These systems were devised in the nineteenth century to assist printers
in identifying type. By doing this it has helped us to recognise typefaces and learn the different
functions suited to the various type families.
Initially we can divide typefaces into:
• text type (what you would typically use in the
body of your text)
• display type (what you would typically use for
Display type came about in the nineteenth century because existing fonts were primarily used for books and therefore not always suited for billboards, posters and pamphlets. Bolder, stronger
faces were required for this new context; Ultra Bodoni is an example produced in that era that is still used today.
Text type can be placed into three broad categories: firstly, Old Style letterforms, which are closely connected to calligraphy and the way our hand naturally moves to create letterform. Then there are Transitional and Modern; these typefaces are less organic and are inspired by original and abstract forms.
Art Deco was an art and design movement of the 1920s and 1930s. Its classic geometric style heavily influenced typography. Straight lines and sharp angles began to be used as the basis for sans serif designs. As this was the ‘Machine Age’, typography
began to take on an industrial, streamlined and futuristic appearance. All things Egyptian were very much in vogue at the time and this trend also influenced the style of typography created, even leaning towards Egyptian hieroglyphics.
In Art Deco graphic design the effect of overlapping type and
shapes is a common feature. You can use this technique of overlapping type and shapes in your own design work, whether using an historical or contemporary approach.
The Bauhaus is another example of a historic movement that impacted on the design world. The Bauhaus immerged as a post war design style that favoured simplicity and had its own unique way of using type and imagery in print design and publications. Herbert Bayer was a very influential typeface designer during the Bauhaus period whose experiments with typography sought to reduce the alphabet to a single case. He favoured
geometric sans serif types and perhaps his most famous font is the Bayer Universal. Posters of the Bauhaus period often had interlocking type and imagery.
Figure 5.6 is an historical example. Figure 5.7 shows us a contemporary application of the same concept.
Constructivism was a movement that originated in Russia in the early part of the twentieth century. It impacted on architecture, graphic and industrial design, theatre, film, dance, fashion and, to some extent, music.
Many graphic designers worked on the design of posters for everything from cinema to political and propaganda.
Posters for cinemas were often brightly coloured with geometric imagery and included
Other distinctions of the Constructivist style included jagged angles, contrasts, an
emphasis on geometric shapes and experimentation with subject matter
Constructivist design work could also be quite minimalist. Constructivist typography had its own unique style with letters and words at right angles to each other and often framed
by bold rules and borders printed in one or two primary colours.
As students you can also be inspired to incorporate the geometric style of constructivism
as seen in Figures 5.11 and 5.12.
Type is a powerful design element that can be used to evoke a mood or emotion. Used appropriately,
type can not only inform an audience but also provoke feelings and emotions. Reading text is
a combination of the aesthetics of a typeface together with its readability and the perceived
meaning of the text itself. Choose the wrong typeface and you may portray a different meaning
to the one intended. As part of your evaluation ensure you test your choice of typeface.
A type choice can make or break a message. Look at the examples below. Each one has had their message deliberately interrupted to highlight how, on a conscious or subconscious level, the wrong typeface can negatively affect the message in print.
Remember: typefaces have personalities. If their personalities don’t match the essence of what you are trying to convey you can create a conflict, which distracts your target audience. The typefaces used in Figure 5.24 for the Coney Island Travelling Festival Circus are appropriate in attracting the target audience of children and
families. The typeface is friendly and seamlessly sits in with the rest of the imagery and colours.
The list below contains some points for you to think about when selecting your next typeface. These are not the only points to consider and you should
always do your own research to choose a typeface that meets the need of your brief.
Consider the following:
• Serif typefaces
– These are easier to read off-screen and therefore are used commonly in print (books, magazines and newspapers). Serif fonts can
be useful for conveying warmth, personal, traditional and conservative emotions.
• Sans serif typefaces
– These are easy to read on-screen and are commonly used in headlines for newspapers and magazines, and in website text. Sans serif typefaces can be useful for conveying something technical, cool, clean, youthful
• Script typefaces
– Designed to look like handwriting, they are useful for display texts but can be difficult to read in large amounts (such as text for an
article in a magazine). Script fonts can be useful to suggest something personal, artistic and old fashioned.
• Display typefaces
– These vary in style and personality.
Depending on the font they can be difficult to read in large amounts; however, you can find one that will suit your purpose. They are commonly used for logos, headings