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Typography: Floundering in a Sea of Design

By Joe Miller | August 12, 2014

Typography: Floundering in a Sea of Design

I have a great fondness for typography, especially type layout. Since I can’t sketch or draw or design, in the office I’m a text-generating island floundering in a sea of designers. And I swallow a lot of water fighting to stay afloat.

The last time we wrote about typography I wrote of my love for Arial, the finest of all fonts. This time I rant about designers who don’t seem to care for text. It seems to have become a semi-distasteful chore.

I get asked to cut copy to make room for a photo. I get told to just use headlines or bullets. I’m scolded that too much copy interferes with the feature “image”. But in my mind messaging and content are the meat and potatoes of communication, especially in the business to business world, so I don’t understand the mindset. I’d like to, though. Then I’d be able to work with designers without pissing them off so much when I ask for readable type sizes and more words.

William-Blake-The-Marriage-of-Heaven-and-Hell | typography, css, web design

The next time you have a minute to look away from your cute cat videos and that funny Happy hack, Google a peek at the illumination in the Gutenberg Bible, or the incredible text layout in The Talmud. Or peruse William Blake’s The Marriage of Heaven and Hell (or any of his illuminated texts). Or pick your favorite publication. Let the interplay of text and imagery sink in. See how wonderfully readable it is.

Helmut Krone VW Ads | typography, css, web design

To bring it closer to home, browse through Bill Bernbach’s book and bask in the gleam of the advertising he and Helmut Krone did back in the ’60s and ’70s. Yeah, the content was a little Mad Men-ish, but the exquisite marriage of text and design is what’s important. Because it worked.

That’s my beef: the loss of some of that subtle beauty and elegant nuance in text.

I know that books and all manner of printed materials are going the way of, well, meat and potatoes and vinyl records (wait, those are back!), but people still need to be able to comfortably read a block of text and understand it. The understanding part is my responsibility. The comfortable reading is the designer’s.

I suppose I can just blame digital — It’s the damn internetz with all those web sites and mobile screens. It’s the digital design programs. No attention span, no one reads anymore (been hearing that one for a long time, still not true). And all people over the age of 35 hate digital, right?

I know that very little of that is true. Through the years, I’ve worked with ridiculously talented designers. The good ones always read the copy. So why don’t they like laying it out? Maybe it’s because for hundreds of years laying out and setting type was such a specialized skill. Now, with the right program, anyone (thinks) they can do it. Maybe they don’t spend very much time on it in design school? Maybe some of the knowledge of the art of type design has been lost?

I think to some degree it’s all true. But I take solace in the fact that there are still beautiful examples of type with image out there in the marketing world. And, when I want to read in splendor, I open a volume of Toynbee’s A Study of History, put on a record and eat a steak and a baked potato.



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