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December 30, 2009 / Kuan

Reading: 13 Ways of Looking at a Typeface

Why choose a particular typeface? I have probably 5 or 6 reasons:

  • it works better
  • it flows nicely
  • it echoes the project
  • i like it
  • it feels right
  • that’s it. no more browsing millions of typefaces in Suitcase…(this is all it comes down to)

After studying typography for a semester (many thanks to my professor Greg Hedges), I came to the realization that different typefaces have particular voices. (Dah?) Well, you may laugh, saying “oh come on, of course they do.” But it took me a long time, really long, to begin to grasp what it really means.

It is easy to say that Bodoni looks fashionable while Rosewood can be used on a circus poster. But when I have to choose a typeface that works for a certain project, those understandings doesn’t seem to be enough. Also, I always struggle between using great typefaces and using new unknown typefaces.

Although it is true that great typefaces always work, as Massimo Vignelli has proved that 5 typefaces are enough, I sometimes want to break the rules and try something new. Either the new typeface will work, or not. There is a 50% chance there, a pretty high rate for success, comparing to gambling.

But in 99.99% of the time, I come back to those great typefaces in the end of the experiments. Why? I can’t backed myself up with enough reasons to use new/unknown typefaces. Design is rational, isn’t it? Since I can’t convince myself that it will be good fit, I return to embrace the great typefaces, as many others.

This situation might change, starting today, after reading Michael Bierut’s article Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Typeface on Design Observer. It’s an old article published in 2007, I wish I’d seen it then, but it is now to me more helpful than ever.

Why Michael Bierut choose a particular typeface?

1. Because it works

2. Because you like its history.

3. Because you like its name.

4. Because of who designed it.

5. Because it was there.

6. Because they made you.

7. Because it reminds you of something.

8. Because it’s beautiful.

9. Because it’s ugly

10. Because it is such an interesting read, that you should read the article.

I can now choose a typeface because it’s ugly. It feels great.


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