People usually roll their eyes upon hearing that a person is into typography. They don’t call it that, of course, they call it “fonts” which doesn’t make any actual sense but is the thing they know and might have even used themselves. It’s akin to saying someone is into MP3s instead of music; fonts are a format container, a bucket for glyphs – sounds – which together make a song. A typeface then, is perhaps one such song in a suite – a family – of compositions. Similar structures or notable features, but with different uses. Maybe bold is one song in a different key or in major rather than minor, changing the mood.
And glyphs themselves are funny to think about individually, as are notes. There are many instruments that can play the same note but it would be inappropriate to use the same instrument for every kind of song, just as it would be inappropriate to use the same type treatment for every kind of word or brand. There are trends in each – an era of intense popularity – and perhaps we could call Helvetica like the Beatles: really popular for a decade or so and then drifting off into recognized but backseat brilliance as other, newer things come up. They are undeniable classics and heralds to new ages, but we can’t keep using them for everything. We still play them sometimes and are still caught up in the melody or the way the square period looks, but people would give us weird, annoyed looks if we interrupted a rave with them. It would be contextually inappropriate.
The shapes themselves are made up and meaningless but have been repeated so many times they form their own standard. Microtonal music sounds off or wrong somehow, just as a Japanese hiragana symbol might to an English writer. Our minds fall into patterns of language, be them visual or audio and we gloss over the individual parts in favor of the overarching melodies. Typographers, then, are like very obsessive luthiers, trying to make that perfect note ring on every fret and then making them all match each other and dance when strummed in chord.
There are words that look good in some font families, just as there are chords that sound good in some keys. To design type, then, is to design a scale structure to accommodate certain types of chords; words. The notes are picked and played individually but the scale is the coherent thread woven through them, where you could play any note in that scale and it would match any other.
What I’m trying to say, really, is that beauty as I see it is the organization of the arbitrary into systems where there are rules for individual interactions to create the whole.
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