Stop making lazy type choices

Our Gallery has no sense of application: it’s about colour and shape, pattern, and position. The images are generated by the computer from a supplied text. The text is broken up and the position of the elements is randomised, together with colour and size. Only some of these ‘happy accidents’ make it to the Gallery, with a view to capturing the eye and hopefully provoking some fresh, unexpected thoughts in the designer’s mind.
Don’t be misguided by tricksy letter shapes seen large if you’re intending to use the typeface small for text. Some nice letter ideas that work well when seen big look like mistakes when seen small, or they’re overlooked and ignored.
Hundreds of ‘new’ fonts are put out daily. I put ‘new’ in sarcastic quotes because things are rarely truly new, in the sense that nothing remotely similar exists. To unlock the full creative power of a typeface, you need to look harder at the details – the visual effect it presents in word shapes and text patterning.
It’s part of a designer’s job to use their eyes, question and build up a library of references and inspirational material to use. This aids your design work and sets one designer apart from another. How else will a client notice you and your work? Why else would someone choose to hire you? By cultivating your enthusiasm for the industry, it will pay you back in the work you produce.
And Explorer is a window on a wider canvas. Text is collated around a theme and placed as though in a glass cube, or large bath of water. The texts move as you move around; floating, colliding. There is no ordered sense of design: again, it’s about how juxtaposition, colour and overlaid shapes can show the potential of a typeface, but in a more fluid way. We provide Demo Fonts: complete, fully functioning, fully kerned and hinted, with all the OpenType features intact. They do carry a watermark across a percentage of the character set, but from these you can easily decide which to license to test further, or to license and use in your design work.
Not every typeface is destined for this, but if you as designers push for that little bit more, your determination can only be rewarded.
Foundries like ours are there to sell you a typeface, but if you get past that and speak to the right person – generally the designer – they will enthusiastically talk about the type and indeed typography at large. If you’re looking to invest in something, it’s worth finding out as much as you can. Software applications make generating fonts quite simple. What they can’t do is automate a creative idea, which probably explains why a lot of type is beginning to look the same.
Build up a proper budget for fonts. That way, when the opportunity arises to develop something new for a client, you can comfortably reach out and expand your own cherry-picked type collection from your favourite foundries. You don’t have to rely on past type, old classics or ‘me too’ designing.
Maintaining a studio budget enables you to upgrade computers, applications, add to your reference library, maintain office supplies, and of course increase your font collection – one of the core tools of your trade.
MAKE TIME FOR A DISCUSSION Once you’re in tune with the type you’re using you can unleash its power. When everything comes together, there’s beauty in its perfection. Sure, it may take a bit of extra time to broaden your font knowledge, but this will ultimately make you a more confident designer.
My challenge to the designers reading this is simple: take a step back and consider shaking up your typographic tool set. There’s no need to resort to the ‘safe bet’ of a previous job.
I Love Typography is a great place to source fonts from indie foundries. It has a tool called CEDARS+, which enables you to search based on key characteristics including Contrast, Energy, Details, Axis, Rhythm and Structure. You can fine-tune more technical aspects such as serif shape, crossbar height, and the ratio between x-height and cap height. And even specify if you want a single or double storey ‘a’ or ‘g’, and how defining features for characters such as ‘c’, ‘e’, ‘r’, ‘m’ or ‘k’ should look.
Always look to see the full character set. Every character. How do the @ or # look for social media? Are there variant forms of these for all-caps, or all-small caps use? Are there any characters that niggle you, or catch your eye in a bad way? How does the client’s name look in the typeface? As we emerge from the pandemic, there’s a huge opportunity for designers to help brands of all sizes refocus for the future. So why is it that so many are throwing out their assets and individuality in a strange sheep-like approach? Where are the brand leaders with their strong visually different voices? Who is brave enough to mark their territory, and define themselves in a unique way?
One issue is that there’s so much access to so much stuff. Some designers freeze, cornered. Opening Pandora’s box is too much of a gamble and headache. Where do you start? People panic and do what they did before.
Time and time again we see the power of design in helping to change and develop culture. The visual language of type and typography is going through unprecedented expansion, change and democratisation. Type has so much creative potential – whether it’s quietly directing and informing, or loudly grabbing attention.
Each job has different needs, but it’s all too rare for designers to properly stress-test a typeface. An important part of the brief is to discover what the client needs to achieve. For instance, does the typeface need to support wider languages or additional scripts? How about tabular setting, or small capitals? What range of weights do you genuinely need?
I’ve long wanted to talk about type in a more abstract way, principally to inspire and challenge designers to do more when the opportunity allows. For instance, we offer two alternative ways to browse our own typefaces in a more explorative context. FIND A MORE CREATIVE WAY TO CHOOSE
Gone are the days of rough sketches, Pantone pens or rubdown dummies. Being digital, client presentations are more polished now and can easily be interpreted as pretty much the final design. The risk is that the ‘stand-in’ typeface suddenly becomes accepted, and the opportunity to try different types falls away.
It’s important to note that not every font is available as part of a subscription package. Design shouldn’t be left to a few automatic algorithms that an application or quick browser search may offer. You owe it to your clients, yourself and your industry to take that extra bit of time and commitment to build your design assets and make them work for you.
No-one wants to see the work they’ve spent months on replaced in a few years. If type is designed well, and used appropriately, it can be of benefit for decades. Think of the continuing success of Johnston on the London Underground. Due to be replaced in the 1970s, it was saved and has gone from strength to strength. It has become not only core to London’s transport system but personifies London itself – which shows the power and versatility of type.