The role of type is to be read (simplicity #2)

October 12, 2009

My father was a graphic designer, perhaps best known for the red and blue “Bazooka” bubble gum package.  He told me clearly — both in words, and by example — that “the role of type is to be read”.

The sign in the street on the right has such crazy letter spacing that an unsuspecting pedestrian would probably spend more time looking at the type  than at cars coming from the direction least expected.  Reading this text is very difficult — and this is supposed to be a warning sign!  I expect it was painted by well intentioned citizens after an accident or near accident.

On the other hand, this type was clearly squashed together by somebody trying to be fancy.  It may be an interesting graphic, but it’s hard to read.  Just because our pc’s let us  use a thousand fonts, modify the leading (line spacing), kerning (special character spacing), etc., doesn’t mean that we should do all these things.

If curving type does not make it easier to read, don’t do it.  If extra rules or boxes or borders don’t improve readability, they don’t belong on the page. There are plenty of treatises on good typography that explain in detail what we should do, how different fonts work in different ways (some are better just for headlines, for books with lots of text, for quick readability on signs, etc.)  One principle they all exhibit is that simpler and more straightforward is generally better.  That’s all my father was trying to tell me.

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One Response to “The role of type is to be read (simplicity #2)”

  1. Two fun examples of poor typography. I have a couple of photos of my own on my blog showing poor type & layout decisions: http://bit.ly/4BVEOj and http://bit.ly/3DS8u3

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