This week’s design tip is a reflection on one of the silent, unsung heroes of graphic design; that most common of graphic elements: Formatted type.

When type is well set, it becomes more effective in its delivery of communication; more efficient. A well-set page of type will also become more transparent: By that, I mean it does not call attention to itself, but defers completely to the message, becoming a conveyor of content.

Sure, some of you reading this may come from a graphic design background. You know who you are–quick to identify that obscure, but classic font used on a beverage can; or, taking a closer look when your favorite magazine changes cover stock… To everyone else, I’d like to pause and offer a reflection on the vital role played by typography: Without it, the simplest of routine tasks becomes a struggle—from reading an ingredients list at the grocery store to filling out an IRS tax form. To live in our age is to be submerged in information. Without skilled typography, the “wheels” of civilization turn more slowly, and we all experience more pain.

An exaggeration? Perhaps, but not by much.

One example I’d like to offer, known to all, is the modern Dictionary. The printed dictionary—and even digital ones, to some extent—brings the full weight of typographic styles to bear on the very substantial problem of making a vast and dense repository of written information fairly easy to access. In the image below, the first few lines of text make use of no less than eight, distinct type styles; can you spot them?

The lower example illustrates those same lines of text without typographic formatting. Can you imagine trying to use a dictionary made up completely of un-formatted text? Or, how about filling out an unformatted IRS 1040? (Wish I had an example!)

The take-away? I suppose if I had to summarize, it would be, as follows: The typographic elements of any project (Website, printed or other) can be compared to the movement of a clock: both complex in their interrelationships and subtle in their “tuning”. A certain respect for these relationships is both healthy and warranted. The difference between a properly-tuned wristwatch and one that simply “runs” might be several hours (or several days!) a month. How many of us have websites that are “off” at the end of each month, and what might this look like in dollars?



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