The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Choosing the Right Type

I have an affection for type that cannot be simply described or explained. I'm not a professional designer, writer, or editor, yet when I see words set on a page or screen, there is a feeling that comes over me.

If the type is well set, then it’s a surge of appreciation. If it’s obvious that very little thought has been given to the layout and character of the text itself, then I have an unbidden disdain for the content within. And most often, I have the desire to design something, anything and to start with typography.

A good example is reading my Bible. It's decently well done, but often when reading I'll have the urge to design a Bible related web app. I have no vision for what this app would do (some kind of a study & notes app), but I want to take the words I care so much about and make them sing.

I've been (finally) working my way through Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style. In section 1.2.4, sub-titled Choose a typeface or a group of faces that will honour and elucidate the character of the text, he says this:

This is the beginning, middle and end of the practice of typography: choose and use the type with sensitivity and intelligence.

Oh, how that resonates with me. Yet I can't help but wonder, how does the apprentice or novice designer make that choice? If you've had little to no training in the art of typography and want to start a blog, how can you possibly choose your type with sensitivity and intelligence? I'm not sure that you can.

Obviously, you could read a book like this. But not everyone will take such a step, so how can we make typography a little less daunting? How can we reduce it to the basics so that people with little understanding or awareness of typography can make better choices?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, at least not whole ones, fully fleshed and ready to be acted on. But it’s something I’ve been thinking on a lot lately. Thankfully, this is a subject that has already received a lot of attention in the blogging world, so there are some great resources for getting started. Here's a few of my favourites:

Hack design emails

These emails are design focused in general, but they had a good series on typography. Be sure to check out the archived versions of the newsletter.

The Typecast Blog

A good read in general, the folks at Typecast had designer Robbie Manson write a couple of good posts on this very subject. Check out How to Bring Great Type Into Focus and A Practical Look at Choosing Type.

This is a fantastic resource as you get both theory and the practical advice on how a real designer works.

The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web

If you can't take the time to read Bringhurst's book, this is the next best thing. It takes the principles from the book and applies it to the web, complete with example code.

Like anything, getting started is the best way to improve. Only time and practice will most likely give someone the ability to choose type with sensitivity and intelligence. But I think there's still room for a tool or resource that teaches newcomers the basics of this art.