Typography is so much more than letters and fonts and there already exists a myriad of resources out there dedicated to the fine art of typography. You likely have a favorite font or perhaps one you despise (you definitely do if you are a designer!). You may have noticed the resurgence of calligraphy and hand lettering popping up in different places. The world of type is huge and there is plenty to explore, but the purpose of this post however, is to give a very basic introduction into a few of the visual elements that describe and make up typography.
We’ll begin with a few terms. First of all, typography is the visual component of the written word. Like most systems, typography is made up of building blocks. Our basic element, a letter, is also known as a glyph. In typography, a glyph an elemental symbol within an agreed set of symbols, that represent a readable character for the purposes of writing.
Each letter also has its own components, such as a foot, stem, terminal, beak and so on. The featured sketch above is a labeled example. This is important in type design to better identify the different parts of a letter and how to manipulate them to create different styles.
Font vs. Type
A lot of designers will raise a big stink about this differentiation, and there is a difference, but for the average person, these two terms are often used interchangeably. So, for all you sticklers, the terms are defined as follows.
A typeface is a design created by a typographer (or type designer). It incorporates the specific letter-forms that include several variations (stroke weight, serifs and counter shapes, etc.) that differ from one type design to another. Designers choose typefaces to create their projects. Each typeface has a name (Helvetica, Bodoni, Arial, etc. The term “typeface” originated from movable type, whose blocks of wood or metal each contain an image of a character on one surface (the “face”).
A font, on the other hand, is a digital representation of a typeface. It is a collection of all the characters of a typeface in one size and style. For example, Times New Roman in 12pt size is a font, Times New Roman in 18pt size is a font, and Times New Roman bold in 24pt is also a font. In other words, “one weight, width, and style of a typeface.”
Below I have created a visual index of a few other type elements.
You may have never thought about it directly, but selecting typographic elements makes a huge difference, not only for readability, but also for the feeling that a particular design piece creates. Bold type can portray strength while scripts can feel formal or elegant. Pairing typefaces together is also a science in an of itself and can greatly affect the mood and tone of a design. Pictures may say a thousand words, but words themselves can also say a lot more than the content of a sentence. When used effectively, type can become its own work of art.