Pic of the Day: November 13, 2011

The Hidden Language of Font     view archive

I have dabbled in learning a variety of international languages: French, German, Spanish Italian and Hebrew. I've never mastered one of these languages to the point of being conversational, but studying them has opened new, untapped thought paths in my mind. Travelling and hearing a different spoken language, used in everyday life, has trained my ear and voice to be more adaptive and aware of the nuances that set different languages apart.
There is more to learning a new language than just being able to read it, write it and speak it. There is a milestone that one achieves when they have their first dream in a newly acquired tongue. Unless you've tried to learn a different language, this subconscious process might not seem plausible, but many of my bilingual friends have shared their "first time" stories with me, and I envy the excitement (or weirdness) of their experience. 
To an artist, publisher or marketing professional, the choice of type used to display printed words is of utmost importance. Like a foreign language, a font style can express a single word in thousands of different ways, each with its own culture and emotional affect. We are exposed to a huge variety of type styles, even as children looking at picture books, long before we can actually read. Understanding the "hidden language" of fonts is something that everyone possesses it in varying degrees.
Our technology-centric culture has enveloped us into the world of visual arts. Many of our abilities to decode the 'extra language' of a font come from association, having seen it repeatedly used in a particular way. An example of this is the blocky type face associated with "FOR SALE" signs, which are chosen to be easily seen from a distance. Other stylized font choices may emulate imagery, like the word "ZOO" written with primitive outlines and filled with zebra, leopard and giraffe hide patterns. Fonts are also chosen for the emotions they evoke, like the steely letters that spell "TRANSFORMERS," or the vulnerable, child-like 'handwriting' font used by charities asking for your help.
I'll leave today's Pic of the Day commentary with some thoughts on fonts, for your future consideration...
First, take a moment to look around you at all the fonts and type styles that are within your line of vision. Check out your keyboard letters, the fonts on your phone, your email, your favorite websites, or your junk mail. These elements are all tutors in learning the hidden language of fonts. Embrace them or disgrace them, but they are always influencing the way you decode the extra information that accompanies the printed word.
My second thought goes full-circle back to my opening comments about foreign languages. People tend to think that their own language has the most choices of font styles, and that other countries have a choice of only six or eight fonts. Think again!
My final thought is that 'font awareness' starts young. After a child learns the mechanics of writing, they create their own font 'style' - handwriting, which further evolves as they get older. Our handwriting is in essence our own personal type style, and it carries many signs of who we are, and the emotions we are feeling when we are writing. 
For extra credit: If you are are really good at remembering your dreams, try to recall situations where you are reading something in your dream. What was the font that was used, and how can you tie that subliminal thread to a similar type style that exists in reality?


Font style and type face choice can say the same word in a million different ways.

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