File under: Typography, Knowledge Drop
Why Fonts Matter
Fonts are old. But not Pyramid of Giza old. Technically speaking, it depends on your definition of what a “typeface” or “font” is. This article will just focus on fonts as we know and use them today. Do cave paintings have fonts? I don’t know and to be honest, right now, I don’t really care.
In any case your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandpappy, that’s eight “greats” if you skipped over those, were the first people to see and use fonts. They arose more or less out of necessity; inscribing Bibles by hand is slow and boring. The typefaces of the 1600’s, when your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandpappy lived, are now known as part of the “Blackletter” family.
But wait. Lets not get ahead of ourselves. Let’s step back and ask a simple question, “What is the purpose of fonts?”
It’s All Just Tools
Like all crafts, design has its tools and tools always aim to serve as aid to accomplish a goal. For example, a carpenter hammers with a hammer in order to drive the nail into the board in order to build the house. Of course, the use of the hammer is itself not the goal; tools are merely a means to end.
The tools of design are not hammers and nails but fonts, space, color etc. As tools, each of these work towards the goal final design. Sometimes design is used to reelect Ronald Regan. At other times design is used to make your divorce papers legible. And in other times design is used to immerse you in the wild world of Elmer Fudd and that Whascally Whabbit. Whatever the end goal may be, the tools of design, like the tools used to build a house, must be carefully selected.
Select Yer Tools
A carpenter doesn’t hammer with just any old hammer. There are small hammers, big hammers, huge hammers, and gimungous hammers. Not to mention the countless varieties of saws, screws, nuts, bolts, and other little doo-dads. From the tiniest screw to the heaviest hammer, they all work together towards some end goal. The same is true for fonts – you can’t pick just any old one of the shelf.
Remember those fonts your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great grandpappy used called “Blackletter”? About those…
Pretty Bad Right?
Blackletter fonts are increasingly rare today. If you look at the example above you can see why. They’re not terribly easy to read and it’s, well, just kind old looking. Right? Imagine if your dentist used Blackletter fonts. You would be right to think they operate an eerie morgue on the side.
And that’s why typefaces matter. Seriously. It really is as simple as that.
Even you, who probably doesn’t work with type all that often, can see how inappropriate it would be for a dentist to use Blackletter. Good job! A+
But that’s just one family of typefaces. What about the grotesque sans, neo-grotesque sans, humanist serifs, transitional serifs, glyphic and a whole host of other typeface families that I’m name dropping to try to impress you? Do you know how best to use those tools? Of course not nor should anyone expect you to. You probably aren’t great with the tools of a movie director, carpenter, or ghost hunter either. And that’s fine! That is is why we are here. At least to help you with fonts. The ghost hunting we’ll leave up to you.
To sum up:
Typefaces are tools.
No tool is interchangeable with every other tool.
Trust the “experts”.
And if you still don’t believe us, Apple, Google, Netflix, and Uber all use custom fonts that cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to develop. Now that’s how important fonts are.