In 2009, scandal rocked the world. Well, the font world.
IKEA, the Swedish furniture chain known for its cheap pieces, complicated Swedish names and (most importantly) meatballs, changed it’s signature font. Customers were outraged. Media outlets were flabbergasted. The world was well and truly rocked.
The brand’s change from Futura to Verdana, as subtle as it was, was one of the first instances of widespread font discussions, and marked one of the first times the public was truly aware of a typeface’s impact.
Just My Type by Simon Garfield capitalises on that conversation. This 2011 book’s main purpose is to make recognizing fonts and understanding the nuances of typeface accessible to everyday civilians. If you don’t normally consider the design behind street signs, tube maps or coffee cups, Just My Type is the tool to help you pay closer attention.
To help readers understand the recent fascination with fonts, Garfield argues for the influence of Apple (because, who else?) As a calligraphy geek, Steve Jobs built a drop-down font box into the first Macintosh computers and thus, a bevy of font options were suddenly available to everyday users. If it not been for that decision, perhaps we wouldn’t have the same powerful opinions on fonts that we do today. As it is, Garfield offers a way to understand the conversation.
The book is evenly balanced between technical design explanations and anecdotes about the font’s histories or notable uses. He straddles this well throughout the book, beginning with an in-depth exploration of Comic Sans (it wasn’t always the meme it is today, folks) then follows with a chapter detailing the intricacies of serif and sans serif fonts. Some notable chapters also focus on the socio-political impact of fonts, like how Gotham impacted former President Obama’s presidential campaign and lead to his strong messaging and branding.
In the past twenty years, fonts have become a divisive issue. They went from an interest that only niche industries like advertising or design truly cared about to something of a phenomenon. Look at Saturday Night Live, who even dedicated an entire sketch to the passion many audiences felt about the Avatar font.
However, although Just My Type is the perfect primer for training your eye to recognize subtle typefaces, don’t expect to walk away with much nuance on the intricacies of design. You may be able to differentiate a serif from a sans serif, but you still might be lost on which you should choose when starting a project. One of the more disappointing aspects of the book was how little it delved into a font’s impact on design. When it did, it focused on the colloquial sense, rather than any sort of technical exploration. While this is certainly helpful for keeping the average reader interested, it left something to be desired for aspiring designers.
As leaders in design and digital marketing, HdK are highlighting this book to shed light on a topic we’re well-versed in, hoping to continue to make the decisions behind our design choices more transparent. When working on a new website, one of our primary goals is to make the site as accessible as possible to visitors. One of the most essential choices is choosing a font that relays the message of the production while still being immediately legible. We hope that, if you read Just My Type like our team, you’ll get a greater sense of understanding our choices.
At HdK, we’re all about breaking down complicated digital topics we tackle every day into language accessible for mainstream users. Follow us on Twitter to read more simple tips every knowledge using our hashtag #FountainofKnowledgeFriday or keep up to date with our journal as we offer more insights into the digital marketing realm.