An in investigation in to typeface consumerism.

During the first year of my BA in graphic design I received feedback from my tutor on my strengths and weaknesses as a designer. She generally stated that I had a well-rounded high standard of skills, but highlighted that my use of typography was particularly poor. I found this feedback in some way surprising, as I had never really thought that much about the typeface I was using, I was more concerned about colour, shapes and layout. However I understood straight away that my type skills where next to non-existent.

From this critical feedback I began to strive to make my self a better designer through improving my typography skills. I would spend hours tinkering with kerning, leading, drop capitals, hyphenation, etc. The feedback I then received at the end of my second year was that my typography skills had improved immensely, but one thing would always halt me in my tracks when producing a new piece of design work, what font do I use?

This would often give me a headache as there are so many fonts to choose from, many of which are very unique and have a distinctive character which has very limited application. What I mean by this is that many typefaces are themed, for example Wild West where the typeface is riddled with bullet holes and has a wood cut look to it.

It’s therefore very easy to spend hours trawling through endless font foundries looking for that perfect typeface which would frustrate me immensely and would result in me using tried and tested typefaces and holding my faith in a select few.

The other factor that would also frustrate me when searching for typefaces was the issue of cost. One typeface in a certain weight could cost up to £50 on its own and many of these font foundries would portray some typefaces as “the next best thing” which personally angered me slightly as I don’t believe that a typeface should be bought and used simply because it’s the latest must have and everyone else is using it. It should be bought because it’s suitable for the message the designer wants to convey.

This peer pressure placed on designer’s to download the latest fonts at fairly high prices has now turned the typeface business into a consumer driven industry with designer’s paying hundreds of pounds each every year to have the latest typefaces, in the same way fashion driven teenagers strive to have the latest trainers or jeans.

This got me thinking about the designers behind all the typefaces out there and what their ethics are? On the one hand I think that it’s fantastic that technology now allows typeface designers to produce their designs and make a living from them in a market that is clearly booming, but do any of these designs actually go deeper in to typeface design? Are they designed specifically to be particularly legible? Can they be transferred from Latin to Cyrillic easily?

Ultimately I want to investigate whether typefaces are designed today simply to generate money for the huge foundries out there, or do they a go a bit deeper. I also want to investigate what makes a good typeface stand the test of the time? Such as times new roman for example, are there any typefaces today that will still be recognised in 6 months time?

I will go about my research by hopefully interviewing a lot of both graphic designers and typeface designers. I want to understand what their values are on typography? Do the typeface designers see themselves more as artists that are producing typefaces for the moment? I will also look at the typefaces themselves, extract elements from my favourite typefaces, break them down analyzing what makes them so good and use that to piece together my own typeface with the ethics I believe typeface design should have and then try out this typeface and research through creating.

I also require a vessel to portray my findings and conclusions and I would like to do this by producing a magazine, which has the intention of outlining the importance and essence of good typography. I believe myself to be a well, rounded typographer, (not typeface designer) in that I can design words on a page in a relevant and well thought out manner, which I believe is essential for anyone in the typeface business to understand whether they are producing the typefaces or utilising them as a designer.

Ultimately I want to produce a magazine that teaches graphic designers the important techniques and rules of typography with interviews with graphic designers as well as tutorials. I would also like to create my own typefaces to accompany the publication which includes an introduction and rationale into why they where designed and how to use them.

This gives me another avenue in which to research as there have been similar magazines and journals which run on the same basis, such as fuse magazine which looks at creative typography and artistic typeface design based around a quarterly theme. For my magazine however, I would like to generate a similar format to magazines such as computer arts or design week.

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