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What is typography and why is it important for designers?

By Academy Xi

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Know your serifs from your sans serifs? The difference between font and typeface? Read on to get a taste of the world of typography.

What is the origin of typography?

Historically it is thought that cave paintings dating way back to 20,000 B.C are some of, if not the first examples of written communication recorded, with ‘formal’ writing being developed at approximately 3,500 B.C by the Sumerians. Then in rolled the Egyptians with their hieroglyphics and the Phoenicians with their phonograms (think symbols that represent words, eg: # for ‘number’). This same crew are credited with developing the first alphabet, also used by the Greeks and Romans. 

Fast forward to the industrial revolution and typography was used across multiple mediums and media to communicate to the masses – from posters to newspapers – and saw the beginnings of experimentation with various sizes and styles of typefaces. 

Why is typography so important to graphic designers?

what is typography

Any design that incorporates the written word requires the use of typography. An essential element of design work, the selection of typeface can have a massive impact and alter the entire mood and style of a piece. 

Here are some of the key reasons typography is a vital element of a designer’s process:

  • Attract attention

Not only can typography attract the audience’s attention, but it can also hold it. If a fitting option has been selected, the desired message and mood can be conveyed. 

  • Typography builds brand identity and recognition

When a brand is being designed, the choice of typography is incredibly important as it will remain with that brand for the duration of its existence. Yes, rebranding does occur, but ideally you want to start out with typefaces that you intend to continue with long-term. The consistent application of your typeface design across all brand items, in print and online, will build brand recognition and reinforce brand identity. 

  • It gives personality to a brand

Typefaces each carry their own personality, which in turn reflect on the personality of the brand. A light, playful brand would want to lean toward typefaces that reflect these aspects, as opposed to something heavy, structured and dark. What is the energy and mood you want a brand to convey? Which typeface might reflect this?

  • Typography influences decision making

Designers need to consider what they are communicating with their designs and therefore which typography would best convey those messages. Typography can be incredibly persuasive when used in a way that evokes certain emotional reactions and can certainly influence decision making. Think about food packaging design and its typography – enticing you to buy it, eat it, and come back for more.

How do you choose the right typeface for a brand? 

Having a very clear understanding of the brand identity is fundamental to all design work, especially the selection or design of the typeface. Versatility also needs to be taken into account – consider the various applications the typeface may need to be used for and if the font would work across them all. 

Learning about different typefaces and how they work together can be a huge benefit. By studying graphic design you will learn about typeface combinations.

Font vs typeface examples

Font vs typeface examples

There is a difference between fonts and typefaces. While the two terms are often used interchangeably, they are both referring to different things. Typeface is used to describe a style of lettering, whereas font is used in reference to the variations of the typeface, such as the weight and size. 

What most people refer to as a font, say Times New Roman or Arial, are in actual fact, typefaces. 

Let’s break it down a little bit more.

Serif typefaces

Font vs typeface examples

Serifs are little ‘feet’ added to the end of a letter stroke. Design wise, it can project a sense of sophistication. Times New Roman ticks this box. There are other serif fonts with a bit more character and warmth, such as Georgia.

Sans serif typefaces

Sans serif typefaces

The Bauhaus movement were big supporters and users of sans serif fonts with their minimalist appeal and more laid back feel. Examples of popular sans serif typefaces include Helvetica and Futura.

Script typefaces

Script typefaces

With a handwriting style, this kind of typeface can be quite carefree, playful or elegant, depending on the approach. 

Okay, so what’s a font again?

Font is the definition of the typeface. Some typefaces have a wide range of weights – ultra light, thin, light, medium, bold, heavy and black are some of the common terms applied. The size of the typeface can dictate a font, as can the letterform width and if the typeface is in italics. 

What is leading and kerning?

These are tools designers use to help make typefaces and fonts achieve the desired visual outcome, supporting the impact of the text. 

Leading and kerning adjust the spacing in an area of text. Leading focuses on the vertical gaps between lines of text, whereas kerning manipulates the spaces between two characters. The adjustments of these spaces can make or break the layout of a design and support the designer in getting it ‘just right’. When text is adjusted correctly it makes it easier to read and more aesthetically pleasing. 

How to get into Graphic Design 

Keen to learn more about typography? You can delve into the detail and the creative application of typography by studying Graphic Design. 

For those looking for a career overhaul, Graphic Design: Transform will ensure you’re job ready by graduation and offers access to a Career Support Program which helps over 97% of graduates get straight into the industry.

Looking to complement your existing skillset? Graphic Design: Elevate will get you there, with premium content built by in-house experts. 

If you have any questions, our experienced team is here to discuss your training options. Speak to a course advisor and take the first steps in your Graphic Design journey.