The Art of Typography

Print is a "visual homogenizing of experience", declared Marshall McLuhan in the 1960s, and he went on to argue that the printing press made it possible for democracy, nationalism and capitalism to develop. Print gives us a collective identity, as opposed to the fragmented, oral cultures of long ago.

Typography is not merely decorative but pivotal - especially in the electronic age - in how a reader perceives what they're reading. Type affects the reader's eye by creating a mood, by making words readable, coherent and visually satisfying.

In this post from his NYT blog, Canadian author Douglas Coupland talks about experimenting with type in his novels and proclaims his love for the font Helvetica. "It was designed to be 100-percent emotionally neutral," he writes. An indie documentary about the font was even made in 2007.

This WSJ article takes a fascinating look at the much-hated Comic Sans font and talks about a woman who broke up with her boyfriend in a typewritten letter using Comic Sans to soften the blow

UK airports and tube stations use a font called New Johnston, a variant of the original commissioned by London Transport in 1913:

Let's come back to this in a moment. Can you spot what's wrong with the typefaces below?

As points out, "there is a major disconnect between the visual personality of the font selections and the words written with them. You would almost never see the world’s leading ultimate fighting champion exclaimed in a pretty script font."

Consciously we don't think about the relationship between words and type but it does exist and is a powerful influence.

I perceive New Johnston (the tube sign font above) as sensible, clear and easy to follow - just like I want my experience with mass transportation to be. The font communicates reassurance.

Type is often called "visual poetry" because, like a poem, it is meant to convey a feeling.