Typographic Woes

Hey guys! Even though I’m an art student, I realize that I’ve talked about many things except my art classes! So I thought I’d spent this post describing one of my classes in particular: typography.

So the way Sam Fox is organized involves the freshmen taking foundation art courses: Drawing I, Drawing II, and other similar classes. These are based very much on building up your core skills like life drawing and color theory before you move on to more advanced classes. Thus, in freshmen year, there is little to no digital work done except for the occasional 2D design project; most mediums we use are charcoal, pastel, etc.

As a sophomore, we begin to take more advanced courses to prepare ourselves for the true communication design program. I took a studio called digital design last year, where I learned the basics of Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. Now this semester, I’ve entered the realm of typography.

My background is much more in illustration, and my strengths lie in my drawing. Before this class, I had never really given a thought to typography before; it was just one of those things that other graphic designers did. I knew it wasn’t easy, but I didn’t realize the extent of its difficulty until my first typesetting assignment.

Leading is the space between lines of text, and kerning/tracking relates to the space between different letters. As I’ve learned very well, these are incredibly finicky elements. Changing the size of text even a little means that I need to change the leading, and changing any of those elements affects the readability of the text. I also learned that, contrary to the age-old “Times New Roman in 12 point font” setting, default text settings are almost never used because they’re, well, just not good. 12 point font may look good in one typeface, but switch to another typeface and you’ll need to readjust everything again.

I can never look at any kind of text, headline, or signage ever again without judging its typography. In fact, I’ve noticed as I walk across campus that many of the building names engraved onto the buildings themselves are badly typeset; they probably just used default type settings. Every time I open a book, my eyes go straight to the rag (the ends of lines of text) to see if there’s anything I can fix. As I’m typing this post right now, I’m noticing the terrible rag my paragraphs create!

Is this a bad thing, though? I don’t think so. I’m glad that this class has taught me so much that I now have a much better eye for typography. I’ve also become much more skilled in InDesign, and I’ve done everything from designing books to creating posters. Even if I want to study illustration, typography is essential because it’s so subtle. It’s like the bass drummer of a band; you won’t notice a good drummer, but you’ll hate a bad one.