The World of Fonts. Introduction | WebReference

The World of Fonts. Introduction

[Dmitry's Design Lab]
Dmitry Kirsanov's monthly column
February 1998
The World of Fonts
No other design discipline requires so much learning and training as fontography, and by no other aspect can amateurs be so easily distinguished from professionals.  To be font literate, a designer has to study the history and the principles of font design.

So far, fonts as a design topic have received only occasional mentions in the Design Lab pages.  This is not because I was unaware of their importance; on the contrary, I just didn't feel comfortable with such a huge and complicated topic.  Finally, I've pulled together enough material to write a coherent font design introduction, a set of basics which (in my opinion) one should master to be able to use fonts the right way.  I hope this article will become a valuable addition to the design course that this column has become.

The article is not, of course, nearly as comprehensive as a good textbook on the subject.  There are lots of books about the design and use of fonts, probably not much less than about design proper; the field is, so to say, very densely populated because of its practical importance and rich historic traditions.  So I feel justified in dropping many of the finer points that you can relatively easily find in other sources.

Instead, as it was with color, my goal now is to show you the anatomy of font perception, to help you feel the soul of a font.  I'm discouraged by the great many designers writing on the subject only to come up with some very partial, and very peremptory, rules-of-thumb instead of just sharing their feelings about fonts---which could really be much more instructive.

In my opinion, one thing absolutely necessary for working with fonts is knowing their history---what came after what and, more importantly, why.  Actually, you may be surprised to learn which of the typefaces installed on your computer are old and which are relatively new.  The helix of font history has already made more than one full convolution, and many fonts that seemed almost forgotten were then successfully revived.

Thus, the first sections of the article outline the history of serif and sans serif faces and disclose some general trends in font development.  The last section deals with the most important practical problem of choosing and matching fonts in a design composition.


Created: Feb. 22, 1998
Revised: Feb. 22, 1998