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Willi Kunz, world renowned designer and theorist, has found that modern typography has evolved into a powerful medium for visual experimentation and personal expression. He believes typographic design begins with a concept as well as a set of information.
The designer faces a blank sheet of paper or a computer screen, and is anxious to take the first step. While the basic elements of typography provide an obvious starting point, the building blocks of communication can be ignored, misunderstood or misapplied (Kunz, 2003).
Visual Language Through Typography
All of the letters in the alphabet have a unique structure. There are upper case and lower case letters. Some lowercase letters have ascenders or descenders to give the letterform meaning and differentiation from the others. Each letter has its own strokes, providing immediate recognition to that letterform. Without these strokes, the message would be lost.
For example, a horizontal stroke combined with a vertical stroke at 90 degrees creates the letter T or L. Also, horizontal strokes combined with diagonal, slanted strokes create letters like M and N. All letters need these unique strokes to be read.
However, at what point can designers use typography and letterforms to create something that is visually compelling, drawing readers in? Furthermore, when does a letter become unreadable and lose its form?
Throughout the years, I have done several studies and experiments to try and understand each letter. The insight I have gained from these experiences help support my design theories on logos, brands, and symbols.
Ascenders & Descenders
An ascender is the part of a lowercase letter that is higher than the font’s x-height. A descender is the part of a lowercase letter that is lower than the font’s x-height. Ascenders and descenders combined, increase the readability of words.
The Counterform Of Letters
Every letter consists of positive and negative space. In this experiment, I emphasize what letterforms look like in its reversed state. Notice that some of the letters are clearly visible, while others lose their form all together.
The Letter M
In this exploration I was curious to see at what point the letter M becomes unrecognizable. The same shape is used to utilize both positive and negative space. As the experiment shows, the results are quite different depending on the background color.
Typography is not a simple process that only spells out words. It is a language within itself. As a designer I’ve learned that it communicates more than just words, but rather an entire visual message.
Typography is a powerful element in design. It has the ability to attract a reader from a great distance and captivate its audience. Through the relationship between space and the proportions of the different letterforms, the simplest piece of information can be transformed into a sophisticated message.
Clearly, typography is an essential element in the principles of design.
Kunz, Willi. (2003). Typography: Formation + transformation. Zurich: Niggli.