An Introduction to Type

Some people like to look at fancy sports cars, elaborate houses or sparkly diamonds. I like to look at type. I’m the designer nerd who sits in movies and tells people what typeface the credits are in, or opens up a menu at a restaurant and complains about the lack of good design. Apologies to all my friends and family – I just can’t help it. While I may love typography, not everyone shares the same passion as I do. So I thought, “Why not give a taste of design to our clients and non-designer friends?”

Firstly there is a difference between the term “typeface” and “font.” Designer snobs will scoff at your misuse of these terms, but I won’t judge. Promise. We use the terms pretty loosely around KEEN Creative.

Typeface refers to the design of a collection of fonts, or the way it looks, such as Garamond or Helvetica. For example, there is only one Garamond typeface designed by Claude Garamond.

A font refers to the collection of letters, numbers and symbols of a typeface. This could be a case of metal pieces used on an old letterpress or the files your computer uses (such as True Type or Open Type).

Steven Coles speaks of a great metaphor on the topic:
‘When you talk about how much you like a tune, you don’t say: “That’s a great MP3.” You say: “That’s a great song.” The MP3 is the delivery mechanism, not the creative work; just as in type a font is the delivery mechanism and a typeface is the creative work.’

Clear as a mud? Now you may ask, what is the difference between a serif and a sans serif? Everything! In fact, typefaces create a specific mood when used in graphic and web design. The characteristics of the constituent parts of a typeface give them character and style. Let me introduce some friends of mine help make things clear.

Serif typefaces are easily identified by the small lines on the ends of many of the letterforms. Serifs originate from the Latin alphabet when the Romans carved inscriptional lettering into stone. Serifs generally create a mood of richness and classical styles often used in large bodies of copy due to their varying line weight; however, bold or slab serifs can create a more robust tone well suited for headers.

Imagine serif typefaces as your conservative uncle who is always dressed in slacks and dress shirts:


Sans serif means just that, sans serif, or without the small projecting lines at the end of strokes. Sans serif typefaces also tend to have less line width variation that their counterpart, as a result they generally create a modern mood and work well in large applications. Sans serif typefaces offer a wide variety of widths and weights, giving them a more friendly or severe tone. Think of sans serif typefaces as fraternal twin sisters. While the same, they are very different individuals.

One is petite and bubbly:


While the other is tall and model-like with her intense stature:


Where do hipsters fit into the equation? Hipster types are impractical, yet fun, and have their place in special circumstances. Typically, this fun lettering is referred to as display type because it works best in short phrases or words and at a large point size.  Script typefaces also work best when used in larger applications, as they can be difficult to read at small point sizes.



So why do we choose the typefaces we do when designing logos, brochures, website and other things? To create a specific mood, emotion or feeling. It is also important to pair contrasting type to create visual interest and hierarchy in a design. For example, you could pair Gotham Light with Gotham Bold, or use Gotham Bold as your header and Garamond Regular for your body copy.

Doesn’t the logo on the right feel wrong?



Loving all this type terminology? Then you should check out Counter Space.  This site goes into easy to follow visual detail about all the bits and pieces that make up a typeface. And if you’re feeling super confident give kerning a try here.

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