Text and Fonts

I already know that I am not an artistic person but I felt embarrassed of how boring I am and how little I know about designs. And this time, it’s about designs in “letters.”

Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton showed me to a new world of typography. I never knew how much you can play with letters. You can play with spaces, fonts, and alignment. And you can even express hierarchy by letters. Let’s put aside about whether I can actually apply it to my project or not, but I was excited to know about many options and ideas to express in a text.

But at the same time, I felt confused when I watched the film, Helvetica. The most popular font that is used in advertisements and everywhere was described as the most “neutral” and powerful typeface. The film also described how typeface have advanced but I felt that the film stressed that helvetica became a standard font before the designers started playing with letters. (I had a hard time understanding the film, so please help me out if I am misunderstanding the message.) Moreover, one of the person in the film mentioned that “the meaning should be in the context, not in the font.” So I am puzzled here. Is there such thing as a “formal” font?  Should we avoid using Comic Sans in a PowerPoint presentation? You can do so many things with text but what do we, especially historians, need to be careful in web designing?


I commented Sara and Martin’s blog for this week.


  1. Mika I think you bring up a good point about the Helvetica movie. I think the film did stress that Helvetica has become the standard and it appears literally everywhere. I had never realized that all of our street signs are in helvetica and that companies such as American Apparel and American Airlines were using it. They seemed to stress that helvetica had become the standard because it is so clear and easy to read but I think what they were trying to get at is that the style of the font shouldn’t take away from the context of the message. I think as historians we really need to think carefully about font. We have to choose a typeface that is stylistic and appealing to the user but that fits our message and isn’t distracting. And while it needs to be appealing it shouldn’t be distracting. I think its a fine line for historians and something we have to learn to make decisions about because it is something we normally wouldn’t think a lot about.

    1. I agree what you said that historians should think more about the fonts. And yes, these decisions are something we don’t usually think a lot. Choosing a typeface is something I had never paid closed attention until I took this class. I would use Times New Roman, 12pt font every time without thinking why I am using it. But if we are living in the age of digital media, historians should know a little more about design and typeface. I believe that digital history is one way to make history more interesting. And design, typeface, or building a website is all important skills to spread history to the world.

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