Visual and Verbal Aspects of Typography with Andrea Emery

As editors, we look at words all day and while we’re often concerned with their meaning, the appearance of words also contributes to our understanding. That’s why we had graphic designer Andrea Emery join us for our March speaker night—to talk to us about typography.

Andrea displayed her passion for the topic by wearing a dress printed with words.  Typography, she explained, is the art of selecting and arranging type. It is distinct from lettering, which is usually hand drawing words, and has a history that goes back to the invention of the printing press. Thus, our impressions of different typefaces are often informed by their histories.

Like editing, typesetting can be invisible work—it’s more notable absent than present. Good typography doesn’t need to be defended or explained; it simply works, making words easy to read and understand. To underscore this, Andrea spoke of an event where students prepared a publication and those who’d contributed writing, discussed their work. Her typography students wondered if they should speak about their design choices, but the answer was no. The design and the typography should speak for itself.

Andrea calls fonts “unconscious persuaders” for this reason. If done right, font choice aids with conveying the message of the writing. A serif font, like Times New Roman for example, is easy to read in print and typically denotes serious writing while a sans serif like Helvetica is unassuming and friendly. Comic sans, which is often derided, also has a purpose: it was designed for Microsoft Bob to be friendly and appealing to children.

In addition to describing how type honours content, Andrea spoke of typography’s respect for the letters. Good designers don’t stretch or squish letters to make them fit, they pay attention to how the words sit on the page and ensure that easy reading isn’t sacrificed for cool design. In fact, she said that uninteresting type is often the most useful type. I guess that’s why Times and Calibri are often defaults in word processing software.

A highlight of Andrea’s presentation was her movie posters. She took films such as 300 and Mad Max Fury Road and switched out the typeface, then asked us how it changed our perception of each movie. The results were comical—a gritty action movie can appear like a kid’s adventure comedy with the right font!

Reproduced with permission from Andrea Emery

The presentation ended with a round of questions in which we discussed font choices, readability, on- screen reading, and our favourite typefaces. It was a fun way to wrap things up and I’m sure many of us would have liked the evening to be a bit longer. Luckily, Andrea gave me one final bit of information: if you’re interested in typography and want to read more about the subject, she recommends Thinking with Type by  Ellen Lupton.

Join us at our next Speaker Night on April 17th when we’ll hear from David MacDonald on Web Accessibility Guidelines for Web Authors.

By Emily Stewart

Editors’ Association of Canada / Association canadienne des réviseurs

Celebrating 40 years of editorial excellence / Célébrons 40 ans d’excellence en révision  

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