Bringing Order to Life’s Complexity
There is perhaps no clearer contrast between artists and esigners than their attitudes toward the use of type. The
established conventions surrounding
the arrangement of words on a page
can seem boring, rigid, and lacking in
creativity to non-designers.
Design, like life, is governed by
rules and parameters. Artists like to
intentionally break rules to express
their individuality and creativity. Art
teachers have conflicting expectations
of fostering individuality and creativity, while maintaining orderly classrooms.
Designers have guidelines that promote legibility while pleasing the eye.
Artists will often sacrifice readability
in favor of individual expressiveness.
What appears creative to artists can
resemble the mismatched patterns and
colors of a used-car salesman’s wardrobe to designers.
While designers favor clean, legible
type arranged in straight lines with
only a few different fonts on a page, the
artistically inclined use many different
exotic fonts, unconstrained by a base
the line of other letters or they would
look too small.
Lines of type are separated by white
spaces called leading, because in the
time of manual typesetting, the separation was actually created by thin
strips of lead placed between the lines.
The ends of the lines are
justified left, right, or
both to create a pleasing
edge and enhance read-
ability. Blocks of type are
aligned with photos and
other elements on a page with the help
of an invisible grid to make a satisfying
Design, like life, is
governed by rules
The Organization of Type
There is an elegance and beauty to the
design of each individual letter in font
design. Fonts have names, creators, and
histories. In fact, filmmaker
Gary Hustwit created a
feature-length documentary called Helvetica to
pay homage to that now
The adjustment of
spaces between letters to create a pleas-
ing rhythm of white spaces is called
kerning. Letters that slant (like “W”
and “A”) or curve (like “D” and “O”)
must be kerned more closely together
to minimize the additional white space
their shapes create. Letters with curves
at the top or bottom (like “G” or “S”)
must extend slightly above and below
understand the subtle beauty of type.
Learning to use type is like learning
to play the musical notes of a song or
speak the lines in a script.
Lessons in which students “create”
their own typefaces and scatter words
about a page in the name of creativity
and self-expression don’t help them
Martin Rayala teaches at Kutztown
University in Kutztown, Pennsylvania.