The Art of the Letter

October 29, 2015 amywaggs No comments

Art of the Letter


“There are people who go to a movie and get agitated because, while the movie is supposed to be set in 1962, the restaurant awning shown in the background of some scene is printed in Arras Bold, which wasn’t invented until 1991, so clearly the producers of the movie are insane and should be beheaded.”
– Jessica Park


Yes, there is art in every letter you see. You might not think so given that we do almost everything quickly and on a computer these days. But originally, each type face was hand-drawn, and there was an elegant grace that went into the creation of each letter of the alphabet.

BlackletterThe very first font was called “Blackletter” and was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the 15th Century. His font took it’s cues from the dark dense handwriting of that period. It has thick vertical lines and thin connectors which made it great for inscribing! But not so great for printing because it was so dense.

JensonEnter, Nicolas Jenson, a Frenchman who said “ENOUGH! We need a type face that is clear and legible!” Jenson was inspired by lettering that appeared on ancient Roman buildings. He liked straight lines and smooth regular curves.

The development of typefaces then became quite stagnant until the second industrial revolution where advertising created a need for new and interesting letterforms.

Let’s Talk Letterforms

What is a “letterform?” Defined, a letterform is: “the graphic form of a letter of the alphabet, either as written or in a particular type font.” Let’s look at the anatomy of letterforms:

Anatomy of letterforms

When a designer is putting together a logo or a headline or any design where typography is highlighted, the anatomy of the letterforms and the interplay between fonts is always a large consideration.

So is the feeling you get from a particular typeface. Yes, FEELINGS… oh my.

Let’s pretend we are designing a logo or a headline for an elegant and upscale health spa. Which typeface exudes “elegance” and “luxury?” Why? Think about that answer based on what you’ve read above. You might not know it, but you make these assessments every day, subconsciously.

The first choice, Bastion, is a sans serif and has very thick vertical lines with high contrast between connectors. It has a vintage feel to it. The second choice, Centaur, is a serif font with thin delicate lines and smooth curves. It has a light and airy feel to it. Which one is a step closer to getting an audience to understand the luxury associated with this spa?

There is art in every letter, yes. Every designer makes choices on font usage based on many different requirements for the final piece. It is not a job to be taken lightly because fonts are important.

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