With her permission, I am copying one of Olivia Taylor’s recent first reflective fieldbook entries as a model of the genre.
Reflective: Print II
What’s in a font?
When I was young, word processing was a game. Playing with WordArt was as fun as playing with barbies. In 4th grade, I joined “computer club” - we paired clipart and fun fonts, then printed bookmarks with our introductory graphic designs. This goes to show that my fascination with the use of the perfect font goes way back.
However, I cannot say I realized the intricacies of the use of font until now. Reading Thinking with Type, I found Lupton’s descriptions of the rules of type overwhelming. Every small detail was important to evoke a particular emotion in the viewer. From the way certain letters curve just under the line to the use of space between letters, everything is designed with purpose. It was not until in class that I had an a-ha moment about this phenomenon. Professor Cordell described that as fonts were sized down on the letter press, they lost details due to mechanical limits of the equipment. As many things in letterpress, word processing mimics this quality. Suddenly, I realized the reasons for my complicated relationship with the font Arial. I have always hated the look of Arial 12 while I type, yet Arial 10 is my favorite font for common use. Usually, to satisfy both size and preference, I use Arial 11 as a happy medium. I never understood how size so strongly effected my feelings for the font, but I did not question it deeply. Here, in class, I got my answer. I realized that in my everyday life, these choices of font did indeed influence my perception of what I was reading and writing.
I shared in class my research on the font Apercu, relating it to its use in the branding of the makeup company Glossier. The article in the Font Review Journal describes it as a “an awkward tween of a typeface that is both trying too hard yet not at all.” Although I can’t perceive a font as an awkward teen, I enjoyed this imagery. The second half of this statement felt related to Glossier, who use makeup to go for a “natural” look. As I read through the article, I felt like everything related to Glossier’s quirky yet subtle branding. When describing this in class, I was asked if I thought someone who didn’t know Glossier would feel this way about the font. I honestly could not answer this, as I can only see it from my biased perspective. I know fonts have the ability to make us feel certain ways, for example as I searched for the perfect font for my resume after last week’s discussion. However, I do think that our cultural associations with fonts and font families heavily influence our perception. Would we really all hate Comic Sans if we did not know everyone else hated Comic Sans? Someone out there is still using it- have they not caught on to the hate, or do they really just see the font differently?
My new obsession of fonts has naturally come up in conversation with friends. One friend showed me an SNL skit that was both funny and relevant to my reflection of last week’s class. The skit is a pseudo horror clip, where Ryan Gosling questions the use of the Papyrus font for the movie Avatar. While it seems ludicrous, there is truth in it - the font used in the branding of a movie can influence the viewer’s perception. You can watch the clip here:
When starting my project for the printing press, I wanted to be really thoughtful about what font I chose. I decided on English Serif, a classic serif font that resembles Times New Roman but with a little more nostalgia. This was to accompany the sentimentality of my project- a Shel Silverstein poem that was from my favorite book growing up, Where the Sidewalk Ends. “Pancake?” is a playful poem about, well, pancakes. It felt a manageable length for my print, and something I’d be happy to have prints of. As I worked, it turned out the poem was a little long for the timeline of class. Still, things moved faster as I got the hang of the letter case, and I was able to finish in time to print (although I did forget to put the author’s name).
Using the printing press was a magical experience. It was a little tough getting going, but easy enough when I got the hang of it. It was a moment of pure joy when I took out my first print- it turned out exactly how I had hoped, looking quaint in navy blue font.
In my journey to define the book, fonts add an interesting layer to our perception of a book’s content. The way font makes us feel proves that books are greater than the words they communicate, having a visual message beyond the content. From now on, I will be even more deliberate with my font choice.