How People Approach Typography

How People Approach Typography

DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-0152-9.ch007
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This chapter considers how the typography used for presenting information exerts a profound effect on the effectiveness of the communication. The white area in figure 1 shows the area of the HII model relevant to this chapter. The design goal is to ensure that the typography gives proper salience to the important information and does not distract the reader with poor readability. In many failed designs, the typography itself gets in the way of communicating information.
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Design is not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works. —Steve Jobs

Figure 1.

Information and typography


This chapter looks at:

  • Legibility: Describes the research into what make fonts legible and what factors impair it.

  • Readability: Describes the research into what make fonts readable and what factors impair it.

  • Font Elements: Describes the basic structure and terminology for fonts.

  • Paragraph Layout Elements: Describes the basic terminology of paragraph layout with respect to fonts, such as leading, and type alignment.

  • Typeface and Emotion: Describes how fonts evoke emotions in people and how design teams need to match the perception of the font to the information.



Typography forms the base of all communication. Any written message must appear in some font. However, with an appropriate choice, the font recedes into the background rather than calling attention to itself (Benson, Olewiler, & Broden, 2005). It is one of the interesting contradictions of design: when properly done, it is invisible to the reader.

Schriver (1997) discusses the role of typeface mood, personality, and tone, and emphasizes the importance of connecting these to a document’s genre, purpose, and context. As she argues:

. . . designing legible documents is not enough. A second important characteristic of well-chosen typography is rhetorical appropriateness—the relationship between the typeface, the purpose of the document, its genre, the situation, and the audience’s needs, desires, and purposes. (p. 283)

She continues by pointing out the main reason driving typeface choices.

Designers select typography that will make it easier for readers to see the relationships among the parts of the document. Good typography can enhance the reader’s ability to infer the purpose and organization of the document (p. 284.

Two measures of how people can read fonts are their legibility and their readability. Legibility measures how easily people can resolve single characters, while readability measures how easily people can actually read the text. Legibility has a strong influence on both initial impressions of a text and, if the font has legibility problems, a strong influence on the readability.

Beyond legibility and readability, fonts bring a personality to a document, a personality which must be allowed for and matched to the text content.

Box 1.
Fonts as invisible servants
I watched a period movie set in the Gilded Age in a British lord’s house. It was interesting how his servants had become essentially invisible to him. He sat down to eat and food simply appeared before him. He walked toward a door and it opened. The people serving the food or opening the door didn’t exist as far as he was concerned. The only time he noticed them was when something happened which drew his attention, such as the clang of a dropped plate.
Likewise, fonts should be invisible to the reader. They carry the text to people’s eyes and evoke the proper emotional response for the text. The only time they get noticed are when they are inappropriate (wrong font choice, too small/too large). If a font is noticed, then a design team needs to reconsider the font choice.

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