My relationship with typography is roughly the same as that with the French language: I know enough to express my enthusiasm, but a couple of sentences in to any conversation and I stumble awkwardly into the limits of my knowledge.
An extract from a new book on typography by Simon Garfield, Just My Type: A Book About Fonts, serves as a very useful and entertaining introduction to the topic. Ranging through history and science while taking in anecdotes about Easyjet, The Beach Boys and Dad’s Army, it is a great primer on the subject.
People take fonts very seriously indeed, you realise (don’t let this quote put you off, the rest of the extract is less technical):
Some type vocabulary has an internal beauty of its own (or it did when all type was metal). Much of this is anthropomorphic, treating letters as living life-forms: the whole character is known as the body, the blank space below the raised letter is the beard, the flat side of the metal type is the shoulder, while the whole raised letterform is the face. Traditionally, a ligature has meant a light linking flourish between two letters that are joined together (such as fl or ae, which require less white space between them than if the letters were used on their own). These days, commonly, a ligature (a feature of both serif and sans serif faces) refers to the two letters themselves, used as if they were one.
Recently, I bought a license for a font for the very first time. It marked the beginning of a new project and felt like a statement of serious intent to myself as much as anyone, a bit like buying a domain name or ordering letterhead. Very grown up indeed.
The font in question was Gotham, a choice inspired by my iCrossing colleague Amo Bassan, a true connoisseur of type and currently working on his own set of masterpieces. Gotham’s modern, stylish and uncluttered, and first came to prominence when it was used by the Obama 08 campaign team, so there’s some resonance for me, given the role the social web played in their efforts.
: : If you’re a font newbie like me, this collection of links to information about fonts looks very useful…