Typography and Meaning

Part art, part mechanics – typography is a complex practice. Typography is a vehicle, the visualization, of language. It is made more complex by history, and through each decision, we add new layers of meaning to the future usage of letterforms.

There are two basic designations of typefaces: Serif and Sans-serif.

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Serif typefaces, generally considered the more formal in nature, are derived from historic elements of writing. The serif is a visual reference to the termination of a stroke in the written word and the implement used.

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Sans-serif typefaces are firmly rooted in the mechanics of their creation. This classification originated with the elimination of extraneous information, and a vision focused on geometry. While serifs can be viewed as cold and institutional, humanist sans-serifs provide a softer, more approachable option. Because sans-serif typefaces are more minimal in nature, the overall offerings of the type family can be more complex, with some boasting a dozen or more weights and styles.

Typographic usage relies on the context in which it exists.

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Without an explicit name, this example shows how typography comes alive through its context. The word Company accrues meaning through its pairing with imagery. The sans-serif Futura Bold typeface is modern – with a touch of corporate – and it implies that coffeeshop it represents has the same feel. Perhaps it’s a chain.

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This image reads Wall Street. It feels institutional, old. Pairing the Freight Big Book serif typeface with the photo here indicates that this is probably a financial company with years of history. It implies trust and tradition.

Visual context is influenced by typographic choice.

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At the same time, a modern sans-serif typeface can directly impact the impression of any visual context surrounding it. In the above examples, the same Futura Bold typeface is applied across images. Suddenly, the financial firms is younger. The surf company is more thoughtful. The equine brand is quiet and refined. And so on.

This is the final installment in our series Word is Bond, an exploration of language as design. Read more here.

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