Faizuddin Shariff Mohammed

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What makes typography great?

What are the key ingredients that make typography great? What makes fonts memorable? What makes them stick in our minds? What allows them to create mental associations in our mind?

  • Aug 12 2013: You ask an interesting question. If you are talking about modern fonts, they are all outline fonts (check out the original work by Don Knuth -"TEX and Metafont" won the award for best math paper in (I think) 1978). Earlier fonts were designed by hand and the typeset master was carved by hand and used to create the molds which then generated the typeset molds.

    In my opinion, there were 2 things that made the fonts great - how pretty they looked and how readable they were. Also they had to match the basic form of the font - all the bodoni had to resemble each other. Now here is the interesting thing and why the old bodoni does not match the current bodoni (like Adobe's). Current systems use the same math outline and "shrink" to match the point size. It was found in the 17th century by trail and error that the human eye sees a "fatter" font in smaller point sizes.

    Most experiments used the "e" and the traditional bodoni 6 point had a squatter and fatter outline (different) than the bodoni 12 point.
  • Aug 31 2013: I think comments here have missed one very important psychological aspect .... notice that nearly every novel and the vast majority of non-fiction all use a serif font... Why? When you find that answer you'll realize why there are so many different varieties and the purpose behind them.

    I'll leave it up to you to find the reasoning, as like the type the answer will stick in your mind...hope you enjoy the journey.
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    Aug 14 2013: Clarity and beauty.
  • Aug 14 2013: Hi Faizuddin!
    I worked as a graphic designer for years, and depending on the usage, a font needs to be either neutral, or have a certain amount of 'personality'. Mixing too many fonts on one layout is a big no-no, so is combining too many font sizes.
    It's all about clarity and legibility. Serif or sans... I find that a serif font often has a more serious tone than a sans. A sans, on the other hand, is often more legible due to the amount of space between the letters.

    When asking what makes a font great, I wonder, what makes a font NOT great?
    Are you aware of the controversy behind the 'world's worst font', Comic Sans?
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comic_Sans
    Two graphic designers, Dave and Holly Combs, have even launched a website to ban it:
    http://bancomicsans.com/main/
    So according to many people, this is a font that is ugly, over-used, and even offensive when used inappropriately, like on informative posters about cancer and letters from the Pope, for example. Why?
    It seems its ubiquitous use combined with its 'bright-eyed and busy-tailed' character was eventually responsible for its downfall...

    The BBC makes some interesting points about fonts here:
    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-10689931
    "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."
    Well-used fonts appeal to our senses, our emotions, (and in many cases, our pocketbooks).
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    Aug 14 2013: Ambiance.
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    Aug 13 2013: To me great typography and symbols, only purpose should enhance the message.
    I need to stick with ADA (American Disabilities Act) compliant fonts and international symbols, but even within those restraints I have the flexibility to enhance the message. I love being artistic, but I’m not into typography-art. I’m more of a technical graphic communication professional, using fonts, colors and symbols for the benefit of the viewer. So like anything always focus on your target audience, and not your own desires.

    Here is a tip; when doing something in color I always print a test copy in grayscale, so I will be sure even those that are colorblind can easily read it.
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    Correction: I just learned that ADA no longer has a compliant font list, so thanks Faizuddin this thread has expanded my options for graphic communication .