The Art of Type and Illustration

I love type. I admit it’s a weird subject to love; however, it’s the tool we use to solidify languages and pass on ideas. Most of today’s innovations were built on the ideas and dreams previously developed by others. Whether it was a monk copying manuscripts or a scientist jotting notes, writing has always been used to convey ideas and information into the short and distant future.

This whole writing idea started with paintings on cave walls, carvings in stone and writing on clay tablets. People wanted to record their ideas, dreams and aspirations. Passing these along to the next generation – to remember something or simply make life better – has always been the ultimate goal. Whatever the reason, the development of type started with illustrations and if we think about it, type hasn’t ventured too far beyond that. A letter or character is a single illustration that represents a sound. When placed in a line of other letters, we form a meaning. BAM! You have words!

In short, type is an illustration. Yes, this means when we type an article or an email we are creating an illustration that has meaning.  Neat, huh?

Like any illustration, there is an emotion or tone. We can convey any emotion like anger, sadness, confusion, happiness, etc. using writing. Sadly, I think everyone has sent or received an email or text that was misunderstood. That’s because type is flawed. Type in its most basic form only conveys what you say. What’s wrong with that? Experts say 60 to 70 percent of all communication is perceived through the filter of body language. If we aren’t there to convey the message in person, there’s no body language to temper what we wrote.

Typographers and graphic designers developed fonts to help readers interpret what is being read. Often fonts are used to make something look better. It’s a mistake that is more commonly done then you would think. Slapping a nice looking font on something doesn’t always help convey the message effectively. But by using the wrong font, you can make a happy, affectionate, little note sound aggressive or serious.   Each font has a personality. A script font, for example, looks hand written and authentic. We often use a script font, like Scriptina, on wedding invitations to personally invite someone. It shows we put extra care into the invitations because the event is special.

Next time you craft a message, imagine you are creating an illustration instead of a message. Think about what you wrote both visually and contextually. When we write, we need to think about how we come across visually. The ability to communicate is not always about how well we write. It’s about how we present what we wrote.