What’s Your Type?

February 6, 2015
Sabrina Pfautz

I’ve been thinking a lot about typography lately. That probably doesn’t surprise anyone who knows me well. But, while I’ve been drooling over fancy ligatures and stylized ampersands since design school, it’s the history of fonts that has recently captivated my attention.

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I’ve been reading Just My Type by Simon Garfield, and along the way I’ve discovered countless intriguing stories behind some of my favorite typefaces. Who knew that Mrs. Eaves left Mr. Eaves for John Baskerville? Or that furniture giant IKEA actually caused a public outcry when it changed its primary typeface from Futura to Verdana?

Typography is one of those things that tends to fade into the background. While clients often have strong opinions on colors, images, and even the layout of a design piece, type decisions sometimes slip under the radar of priorities. Most people view fonts in a long list from a dropdown menu as a part of their personal computer. Few stop to consider the colorful history and the hours of time spent creating each individual character.

Enter graphic designers. Most of us went to school, studied art history, or maybe even took a class on the history of design. We don’t just like type, we’re obsessed with it. Why, then, do we so often take its history for granted? When was the last time you chose a typeface for a design based on its historical context as well as its aesthetic and marketing value?

I challenge not just my fellow designers, but everyone who has ever written an email or created a PowerPoint presentation – research your type. You’ll learn what subliminal messages your font choices are sending, and you just might discover an extraordinary story.

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If nothing else, you’ll never look at an advertisement, magazine spread, or roadside sign the same way again.