Selecting Typefaces Shouldn’t be Scary

Computer Screen

Selecting typefaces is often perceived as being in the territory of graphic designers. But these days, almost everyone makes typeface choices, whether it is to use the default typeface on Google docs (not choosing is a choice), or select a font for a Keynote presentation.

Think about getting ready for work in the morning. What you do with your hair, the clothes you pick — what’s going on in your mind is not too different from what goes on in a designer’s mind while making a typeface decision.

When dressing up for an important meeting, you might select neutral colors and a blazer with high-quality material.

Similarly, if your slide presentation is for a corporate client you would choose a more formal typeface than if you were making a birthday invitation.

All of that is fairly intuitive but many people don’t feel confident choosing type, simply because of the mindset of “I’m not a designer.”

But everyone has basic visual common sense that they can enhance and develop with knowledge and practice. You don’t need to be in the design profession to develop a keen sense of design.

1. Be clear on purpose.

Be clear about what you are trying to achieve, before worrying about typeface choice.

You may not have a formal project brief but before you go on, make sure you are clear about these details at least:

  • The purpose of the piece
  • Objective of the piece
  • Audience

2. Eliminate the clutter

There are a gazillion typefaces out there, so don’t be overwhelmed thinking you have millions of choices. You really only have a few.

A lot of typefaces are free but low quality. A lot of good typefaces come with a price tag, but for your project may not be worth paying for (simply because you can get perfectly good ones with your Mac.

3. Know your choices

Fortunately there are many typefaces already on your computer and are free to use for personal and commercial purposes.

The fonts that come with your Mac, according to Apple, may be used for commercial purposes.

‘The fonts made available in Font Book may be used to create, display and print content on OS X running on a Mac. Such content may be used for either personal or commercial purposes. Users are, however, prohibited from copying and distributing the electronic font files made available in Font Book for use on non-Apple hardware.’

Here are a few of them:

Sans Serif fonts

Sans Serif fonts

Serif fonts

Serif Fonts

Others

Others

You can create perfectly functional and beautiful work with these. You don’t need any more than what is available on a Mac, unless you are doing a graphically adventurous design, or doing branding work requiring custom type or the exploration of other typefaces.

And how you use the fonts — your use of hierarchy and spacing — are just as important as choosing the fonts that work for your project.

4. Use the right typeface for the medium

Many serif typefaces are iterations of classic typefaces from the metal type era, designed specifically for old-school machine printing.

During the low-resolution screen era, Georgia was created for Microsoft by Matthew Carter. They envisioned an elegant font that would be legible in the screens of the day (which were low resolution by comparison to today). After that, the gorgeous Georgia became a standard web font.

You may want to think twice about using Baskerville or Times New Roman for screen presentations. The serifs are so thin, they disappear at certain screen resolutions or type sizes.

5. Know the relevant factors

Aesthetics / look and feel

Similar to creating your own personal look and feel, your typeface contributes a lot to the general appearance and vibe of your work. Do you want it to look classic and credible? Modern and exciting? Straightforward, no nonsense?

Just as people with a keen fashion sense and browse clothing sites in their free time are highly aware of trends, aesthetic sense for type is developed by exercising and exposing your eye — regularly looking at good design work, exploring and experimenting with what is out there.

Design culture

Why do classic fonts work so well as body text? Because our eyes are accustomed to them. We’ve been reading text in serif fonts since childhood. Newspaper and magazine body text is often in serif.

Type taste and reading comfort is relative and changing.

In the 1600s, because normal handwriting was much like today’s calligraphy, people in those days found paragraphs and pages of calligraphic writing easy to read. Whereas today, we can only stand reading them in short bursts — as headlines or titles for example.

The first book was in a typeface that resembled handwriting; it would be considered headachey today but back then it was perfectly acceptable.

This shows the importance of being sensitive to the culture of the time. And what your audience is comfortable with reading.

Legibility

As an example, I recently did a layout for a Directors’ report for an NGO/ ministry.

(I can’t show the images here as it is not being circulated online at the moment.)

It was 8 pp, text heavy. I used a mix of Avenir (section headings) and Georgia — body text and cover title. Type size 10 because I knew a lot of seniors would be reading it.

Tex on most pages appeared in 2 columns for shorter line lengths of type.

I didn’t have to spend anything on type licenses (it was a pro bono project). I got a lot of great feedback, including a 70+ year old saying “it’s so easy to read!”

You may tend to worry a lot about whether your work looks good, but remember, the priority is that it works well.

Available characters or family

Some fonts—display types or fun fonts—only have one type style such as Regular, and so if you plan to use italics or small caps, better check if the font is capable of that.

Another example is a John Robert Powers book I designed over 10 years ago. Readers: 20s and 30s. Typeface selected: Minion. Why: It has all the type styles needed, and has small caps. Classic but modern. Great for graphic text, also easy to read for body text for a pocket-sized book.

Personality

Typeface personality is created by unique details in the typeface. For example, American Typewriter and its curly, rounded ends give it a certain playful personality. It’s something you probably won’t use for an office contract.

Try to get a sense of the personality of the fonts you are choosing from. Googling their history will also help you understand their story and use fonts wisely.

Relationships

Font pairing is not necessary for basic office paperwork but for a powerpoint or keynote slide, for example, you can pair two different fonts to create more visual interest.

Again, it’s much like pairing clothes, creating visual interest. The basic principle is if you will pair two typefaces, they shouldn’t be too similar, otherwise what’s the point.

Arial and Helvetica in the same document don’t make sense (most people won’t even notice the difference). A serif and sans-serif work well as a pair, as you will see in many websites.

Experiment regularly and keep learning

When I was new to cooking, I would follow recipes to the letter. If the recipe said I need capers, I would buy a bottle of capers, thinking the recipe won’t work without it.

But after gaining experience cooking from recipes, I began to understand what certain ingredients would contribute to overall flavor. I learned how to substitute when recommended ingredients were unavailable (or so expensive, like capers).

I began to rely less and less on recipes.

So hopefully, you will rely less and less on tips and gain newfound confidence as you develop your sense of type.

Typeface Anatomy Simplified

IMG_2886

“ I love learning but I hate studying.” – my former boss

I echo his sentiment. Especially where typefaces are concerned.

I love learning—learning by doing. Drawing letters. Experimenting with font software.

But I, ashamedly, I don’t know the parts of the letters by heart. I didn’t study that part hard enough. I didn’t memorise them like a good student of type would.

So instead, I thought I’d learn them best the way I learn most things—by doodling.

Drawing or doodling helps me get to know something better and cement the learning in my mind. Drawing something makes you more familiar with it.

When I study typefaces, reading books are not as helpful as me drawing Helvetica, Baskerville, Rockwell on paper. Staring, observing, analysing, doodling type.  

So here are my educational doodles. Hopefully they will help you too.

Level 1: Easy/common words

  • Ascender (the part of a letter that goes above the x-height)
  • Descender (the part of the letter that goes below the baseline)
  • Crossbar
  • Stem
  • Diagonals

1

Level 2: Body part-sounding words

  • Spine
  • Tail
  • Shoulder
  • Arm
  • Leg
  • Throat
  • Ear
  • Hairline
  • Waist
  • Throat
  • Upper lobe
  • Lower lobe
  • Eye

2

Level 3: Advanced super hyper typophile words

  • Aperture
  • Counter
  • Spur
  • Link
  • Loop
  • Hook
  • Sheared terminal

3

*Most of the above terms are from Karen Cheng’s book “Designing Type,” in which she clarifies that “there is no official nomenclature for the unique structural features of type.” But “type designers, do in general use the specialized terms” she shared in the book.

Why learn names of the parts of letters?

 

They help you find the right words when discussing type

Instead of saying – “the thin thingie of the “o” is making this typeface hard to read in small sizes.” . You can say, “This typeface won’t work well in small formats because the hairline is almost invisible”

“We need to increase the leading because the descenders are hitting the ascenders on the next line.”

“Can you change it to a typeface with heavier stems?”

And when critiquing type / discussing type design

“Do you think the crossbar of the t is a little too wide?”

“The spine of the S is a little too thick.”

“The shoulder of the lowercase n could use a little more weight.”
And hopefully the more we use these words, the more they will be cemented into our vocabulary. And we won’t need the word thingie anymore.

Marketing Principles Every Creative Needs to Know

Marketing is an unavoidable part of life—we sometimes love it (when we love the products being marketed), and many times we hate it (all those annoying emails! unsubscribe!). But knowing and applying marketing principles can transform a creative career.

Clients and creatives don’t naturally see eye to eye. But when we make the effort to understand our clients (and customers), we’re able to make every project meaningful for both parties.

Marketing is about adding value to one’s customer. And ironically, when you think less about yourself and, make it more about your client and their audience, it becomes a win-win.

1. What your client values is the most important thing

Knowing what your client needs the most or values the most from the project is the most important thing. Whether it’s to maximize the budget, or simply to get a poster printed on time—that is the thing they’d do anything for. That’s what they are happy to pay for.

When you know what’s at stake for them, and what they need to be successful, you’ll be able to prioritize tasks with more wisdom and make better decisions throughout the project.

I had a client last year who needed a brochure for an event that was happening in 2 weeks. (Don’t ask me how I got into such a sticky situation).

So the client needed the brochure designed and ready for print in about a week and a half. Because it was for an event, the deadline date was non-negotiable. That was the most important thing in this situation.

She produced the content immediately and wanted the cover professionally shot. Eventually she had to sacrifice that because the photoshoot was not feasible, time-wise. In the same spirit, in honour of the deadline, I made sacrifices as well. As soon as she emailed me with revisions, I worked on them right away. (Even though 1-2 days are the normal turnaround time).

And after final artwork was done, and I was out, travelling, she called me from the printer asking me to change something, I did the revisions right away, in a moving car. Because I knew what was the most important thing, I could decide what was worth the sacrifice. The result: an ecstatic client who made sure I was fully paid within days after project completion.

As a side note, you might be thinking (and rightly so) that it’s a toxic project to get into—yes, I normally may not have said yes to such a rollercoaster project, but in contrast to other projects that drag on forever, an occassional sprint is actually quite refreshing. And being able to help someone with a task that most people would say no to—there was some kind of thrill in that too.

2. Audience insights are key to communication that works

Market research is everything. Marketing revolves around the target market—their needs, where they are, how to reach them. The 4 Ps of Marketing, “product, price, place, promotion,” are all in service of the market who will be attracted to the product, pay for it, and use it.

The more you know your target audience, the more on-point your communication will be.

And it doesn’t have to be major research work. Short interviews and conversations with the audience are even better when the right questions are being asked.

With market research familiarity, you will be able to review a strategy as to whether it’s sound. How many times have creatives been misdirected and creative brilliance wasted because of a wrong understanding of the audience? What’s worse is that the business suffers and ends up wasting resources.

Resources are often wasted by working based on assumptions. If you are knowledgeable in marketing processes, you’ll be able to see which statements are assumptions, and ask for verification. By being able to confirm that data is verified, you’ll be able to work confidently, and make your work — and the entire team’s and client’s work — worthwhile.

3. The metrics that matter to the client should matter to you too

Marketers spend a lot of time measuring and analyzing data. But before that, they decide what are the metrics that matter.

What matters is what is going meet the marketing objectives.

Marketing objectives are different from communication objectives. Marketing objectives are directly related to sales targets. Being aware of targets gives you the big picture of what’s at stake in a campaign. You’ll be able to work well with the marketing team on aligning the communications strategy with the marketing strategy. You also get to see exactly where the creative work sits in the campaign and that will give you a better understanding of what you need to do.

Knowing the potential ROI and success metrics of the items you are working on will help you prioritize. We creatives make the mistake of spending time on which parts of the project are fun and can showcase our brilliance. But prioritizing what is most important to the marketing objectives are in the best interest of the client.

Being involved in various stages of the marketing campaign gives you a taste of how relevant your communication is.

Creatives are normally spared from having to worry about ROI, audience engagement statistics, all those numbers, but that is not necessarily a good thing. Creatives (graphic designers, copywriters) are rigorously trained in communication strategy and execution. Adding marketing to that equation adds tremendous value in terms of collaborating with the client, seeing eye-to-eye on their concerns, understanding them better, and being able to formulate solutions that work from both a communication and business standpoint.

4. At the end of the day, your job is really to help your clients sell

The more you can help your clients sell, the more value you are bringing to their business, a wise coach once advised me.

Focus on increasing the value of your client.

The more you can help your clients sell, the more value you are bringing to their business.

“A copywriter is a salesman, not an artist,” says Robert Bly in The Copywriter’s Handbook

Content marketing has taught me essential principles of communicating to sell, not to impress. Studying the art and science of content marketing, the logic behind keywords, and being able to track everything, really hones your skills as a communicator. Because of the instant feedback you get on your posts’ performance, you can easily assess and tweak, make improvements as you successfully contribute to the growth of your client’s audience. And knowing content marketing principles will teach you to effectively direct creative teams in executing on-strategy.

Same thing for designers—a lot of what designers do has a marketing function—selling an idea, attracting eyeballs, telling a story, which all can lead to a sale.

Creatives value things like aesthetics, taste. We see subtleties that others don’t. We have a sense of pride over the colors we choose, the typefaces we use. The beauty of our work. That’s our turf. But pride that should not get in the way, or in front of, doing effective communication work.

Design Quote Steve Jobs.jpg

5. Relationships trump everything else

At the end of the day, marketing is just a job. People are more important than profit. But strangely, when you’re all about people, that’s when projects come. That’s what makes people want to work with you.

It’s not about you

Compare a marketing person’s CV with a design person’s portfolio—a marketing person’s pride and joy are the brands they helped transform—the results.

A designer’s portfolio (most of the time) highlights visuals. Cool graphics. Jaw-droppingly gorgeous, envy-inducing work. But we can learn from marketers on how to see and tell the full story.

Make it more about the client, their story, the amazing results you helped achieve for them. That will increase the value of your services.

Make sure that clients see your work as an investment, not an expense.

When you’ve succeeded at adding value to your client—increasing their potential to sell.—then you have added value to your own work and to yourself as a creative as well.

 

 

How to Find Time for Your Side Projects

Most creatives have at least one side project they’re working on—a poetry collection perhaps, a giant tapestry, or an intricate painting. Maybe a book, an ebook, or a short film. If you’re reading this, chances are you have one.

Perhaps you were so pumped about it at first. Then life got in the way. Regular overtime at work. House repairs. Taxes. Business issues. Family emergencies. Freelance projects. All kinds of interruptions and delays. And each day, once you finished all your tasks, you had no time or energy left for your beloved project.

So now your hair turns gray, and you wistfully say (in a soft shaky voice as your hand vibrates while you lift a finger to your temple), “what was that thing I started creating long ago?”

One type of project I often had trouble finding time is typeface design, because typefaces can take a really long time to complete.

A typeface can take from 7 days to 7 years to design, depending on complexity.

So how do we find the time to do things we love?

I’ve learned that there are three things crucial to completing a side project:

  1. Ability to manage your time
  2. How badly you want to complete it
  3. Ability to focus

Let’s skim through some popular time management techniques, then I’ll share what helped me get committed and focused on type design work.

Time Management Approaches

 

  1. Decluttering

 

Things that clutter our lives can become a hurdle if we’re not careful, and they actually keep us from reaching our goals and completing meaningful projects.

It’s surprising how much in our lives is unnecessary. For example:

  • Social media accounts you don’t need
  • Credit cards you don’t need
  • Boxes of old stuff (mental clutter)
  • Obligatory meetings

Think of them as bags that you carry with you wherever you go. If you let go of them, you can move with more ease and freedom.

Removing unnecessary things in our lives does wonders.

  1. Prioritizing

Prioritizing involves planning your calendar with a hierarchy—distinguishing clearly what’s important and what’s not. And managing the urgent tasks so they don’t take over your whole day.

You may be familiar with the Eisenhower matrix, popularized by Stephen Covey:

Eisenhower MatrixIf you want something done, you need to assign importance to it.

But it’s often not that simple. We’re caught in a hamster wheel of the pursuit of a balanced life:

Diagram

Do you ever feel like you need to choose only 3 of these?

Oftentimes it is only possible to achieve 3 of the above in a day.

Prioritizing is the key, and spreading activities across the week, not pushing yourself to do everything every day.

  1. Creative Techniques

Use what you know about yourself and get creative with your self-motivational techniques.

If your energy is highest in the morning, block out out morning time to work on your project.

Or set up all your gear or working materials the night before and put them next to your bed so once you wake up, you find yourself stimulated to get started.

Binge-watch tutorial videos related to your project.

Make it fun and set up reward systems. For example, prepare some amazing looking food that you only get to eat after you accomplish your planned project task for the day.


 

Time management skills alone are not enough. And it does take time, practice, and discipline to find your groove and show up consistently.

Despite how busy you get, there is always time for what you love.

Seal the deal

So here’s what you need to do to seal the deal.

 

  1. Decide that you want it

 

One of our biggest stumbling blocks in getting some things done is we’re not sure we want to in the first place. Count the cost: know the time and resources you need and ask yourself if you still want to do it.

Am I really committed to finishing this short film? Is it worth my time?

For me, even in my busiest days as a full-time employee (when I was one), I still found time after work and on weekends to learn and practice type design and lettering, and produce self-funded print projects.

  1. Decide you will stick with it in the long run

Committing to something long-term changes your whole demeanor about it. Deciding that I wanted to do type design and pursue similar projects for at least the next decade—it is actually quite relaxing. It switched my mindset from scarcity of time to abundance of time.

I feel less time pressure and more confident that I will finish things.

Long-term commitment can change your perspective from “time is against me” to “time is on my side”.

  1. Divide projects into phases and chunks

Planning your project tasks becomes so much easier when #1 and #2 are achieved. So once that was settled for me, I made sure I spent at least 20 minutes every day on my type projects—even just tiny tasks—to keep my momentum going.

But at least once a week, usually Saturday, I dedicate a big chunk of time to it, to make sure I can get into deep work and get a substantial amount of work done.

One of my inspirations is Erik Marinovich, Jessica Hische’s studio partner at Title Case. He is now a full-time letterer, but before he got to do that, he had a day job unrelated to lettering. Every evening at 6PM as the work day ended, he would joyfully proclaim, “Lettering time!” and then spend the whole night doing his lettering work.

There are few things that you can give time to every day. And a project or pursuit that’s important to you should be one of them.

  1. Declutter constantly

Decluttering is not a one-time, spring-cleaning thing. Everyday I’m making decisions about what not to do; what to cut out of my schedule, to make room for the important.

Decluttering is about knowing what’s important and what is clutter. It keeps stuff from overcrowding your life or eating up brain space.

Letting go of things frees up energy and space in your life and in your mind and gives you a refreshed ability to focus.

“Deciding what not to do is as important as deciding what to do.” – Steve Jobs

Here’s a quote I read years ago from The Rule of Four, that has always inspired me when trying to finish long projects.

Screen Shot 2019-04-27 at 9.05.32 AM

Just remember these three things:

 

  • Manage time well

 

  • Commit to it—want it baaaad
  • Focus

 

 

There you go. Now make it happen!

 

Classic Typefaces and Their Anti-Aging Secrets

Anything labeled “Made in 1757” should be in a museum, right?

But typeface designs have defied expectations. A typeface can be both classic and modern at the same time. It can be made in 1757 and still be in use today.

In my first job in the early 2000s, I had no idea how old some of the typefaces I was using were.

Take a look at these typefaces, indicating their birthyears:

Can you identify these classic typefaces?

TYPE Birthyears Alphabetype-01.jpg

Here are the answers:

TYPE Birthyears Alphabetype-02.jpg

We see these age-defying typefaces everyday—in books, magazines, newspapers. Some are centuries-old but still very active, still being tweaked and refined for modern-day use.

As design and print technology evolved, typefaces maintained both their appearance and their appeal as they evolved from actual metal pieces to pixels and codes in software.

That’s one of the most beautiful things about typography. It reflects the culture of the day, and as it evolves it stays deeply rooted in its—well, roots.

Giambattista Bodoni’s typeface, its very first version skillfully carved in metal in the late 1700s, is still in use in year 2019.

Designer influence type relevance

In the graphic design world, type designers are truly immortalised, and their work continues to be useful and relevant. Bodoni probably had no idea that centuries later, every graphic designer would know his name.

The secret is not in the type itself but in design culture. The way designers use type and reinvent design. How a typeface is used influences how it is perceived. For example, Comic sans has been terribly misused. It was intended for kiddie graphics but has been used in office documents and powerpoint presentations, and has become one of the most scorned typefaces of all time. 

On the other hand, Bodoni has been used by luxury magazines and premium brands, which has honored the design and purpose of the typeface, and allowed it to remain relevant throughout time.

Typefaces have the potential to be timeless, by being useful, and being well-used by designers of every generation.

 

a

1*mzoBiJ9wnRoYHXpAGfO0iA.jpeg

“I hate the two-storey “a” said my seatmate at the signage company where I worked as a designer.

He was upset that a two-storey lowercase “a” created complications as part of internally-lit dimensional signage. At a not-so-big size, the shape of the “a” made it difficult to install lighting inside it. He preferred typefaces with the single-storey “a”.

But I love the two-storey “a”. So much so that I even wrote a short story about it.

It’s one of the best-looking letters in the alphabet. Even if you doodle it casually, you can still get it to look pretty cool.

It’s just classy, and classic.

Now look at the one-story “a”. Looks simplistic and a bit boring against its more classical-rooted counterpart.

The two-storey “a” evolved from Roman letters, which started out as a uni-case alphabet (or all-uppercase, as we would recognize them today). The uncial scripts, which was the popular way of writing sometime between the 4th to 8th century AD, were evolving into a mix of letters we recognize today as a mix of lowercase and uppercase, and the “a”, by this time was evolving into half uppercase and half lowercase. Of course during that time it was just a normal “a”.

uncial letters (the “a” is like a hybrid uppercase and lowercase)

Unless one is a letter-obsessed type geek, one would hardly distinguish the two a’s, when reading anything from books to blogs, or signs, whether the a is uppercase or lowercase. As is the case in many functional designs, when you don’t notice anything — when nothing sticks out — that’s when you know it was done right.

And the double story a, despite its more classical appearance, is not confined to old-fashioned serif fonts. Even modern fonts use it. For example, Helvetica from the 50s uses a double-storey “a,” and the little teardrop of negative space has become an iconic shape.

Type geek trivia:

In serif fonts such as Georgia, Times New Roman, and Baskerville, the Regular version appears in double-story a. While the italics are in single storey a.

(That’s how you distinguish fake italics from real italics. Fake italics is a computerized slant applied on letters. Real italics were drawn that way by the type designer, not altered by the computer)

And check out the title of this piece (which I simply called “a”) — The title and subtitle have different a’s. Because the subtitle is the italic version.

Strangely, the double-storey a looks great in typography, but a little odd when handwritten:

Thankfully, both the single-storey “a” and the double-storey “a” have stood the test of time. They make the typographic world more interesting.

And I’m grateful for the two and a half years I spent as part of a signage agency where I dealt with type in large scale, learned how to use geometry as a language, and had interesting conversations about which typefaces perform best in the world of 3D. I got to daydream about type and call it work.

How Do We Really Choose Typefaces?

The rules we love to break

1*zXbFJdPnJM46VEKvnPOHqQ.jpeg

There are common rules in choosing typefaces, factors that influence why we choose certain typefaces for certain projects.

Like legibility, of course.

Then, there’s purpose (for example, the typeface Frutiger was designed by Adrian Frutiger for use in signage. The large x-heights allow easy reading from a distance).

Then we are guided by our content. What the content is, and how much of it. Serif typefaces work best for extended reading (due to the eye’s familiarity with classic serif fonts in books.) Some typefaces are just softer on the eyes than others, so we may tend to choose those. Sabon, for example is a typeface I love for reading.

There are also guidelines for pairing. In the same way red wine complements your tender juicy smoked beef brisket, a serif paragraph text elegantly complements a sans serif headline.

We are also advised to limit the number of typefaces.

And not to mention the chorus of designers echoing the request to please do not use comic sans.

Choosing typefaces requires logic, sense, and experience. Knowing how typefaces work based on experience allows you to make better choices.

But at the end of the day, we pick typefaces the same way we do our shopping. We make choices based on emotion. Then we justify them with logic.

Our own perceptions, intuition, biases, and tastes rule the game.

The general public is aware that Comic Sans is highly discouraged for official documents and presentation slides. But alas, Comic Sans still dominates the office and the projector screen. Because users love it and nothing you say will convince them that it’s a typeface for kids, not adults.

The late great Massimo Vignelli would choose from only a handful of typefaces. He said the world didn’t need any more than 12. So he ignored anything that wasn’t Garamond, Bodoni, Century Expanded, or his all-time favorite, Helvetica.

“I don’t think that type should be expressive at all. I can write the word ‘dog’ with any typeface and it doesn’t have to look like a dog. But there are people that [think that] when they write ‘dog’ it should bark.”

Massimo believed that “Design is utilitarian” and not art. His design focused on understanding problems and solving them logically, providing for “needs, not wants.” His philosophy in typeface design was an extension of these ideals.

“We like design to be visually powerful, intellectually elegant and above all timeless.”

And because of that, he kept in his design arsenal only fonts that were timeless.

Pentagram’s Michael Beirut, who worked for Massimo and was restricted by his boss’s typeface views, said that after he left his job with Massimo, “Suddenly I could use any typeface I wanted, and I went nuts. On one of my first projects, I used 37 different fonts on 16 pages.”

In a Fast Company article, he cites 13 reasons for using a typeface, and they are a mix of factors based on intuition, taste, and sense. For example “Because you like its history” or “because you like its name,” or “Because of who designed it.”

At one point I started to question why I was using Gill Sans because of a debate I read about whether you can separate a designer from their work.

“The industry needs to show people that bad behavior won’t be tolerated. We shouldn’t celebrate the work of a morally reprehensible designer; it sets a terrible example. It says that even if someone has done something awful to someone else, they’ll still be championed,” Erik Carter argued. Paula Scher, on the other hand, said, “but you can’t make a visual judgement about a typeface because the person who designed it is a predator. That’s insane. It’s pointless, actually. You could say that they shouldn’t get a royalty for it, but that’s another story.”

I haven’t used Gill Sans since.

Typographic choices reflect conviction, and in today’s age of heightened cultural awareness, and how everything you do, or choose communicates something, every little thing you do must support what you stand for.

We all love to break the rules

Michael Beirut himself ignored the “limiting typefaces” rule for the design of his own book, 79 Ways to Read About Design. “When I published my first book of essays, I wanted it to feel like a real book for readers — it had no pictures — so I asked Abbott to design it. He suggested we set each one of the 79 pieces in a different typeface. I loved this idea, but wasn’t sure how far he’d want to go with it.”

A lot of other things trump the rules — ideas, a sense of adventure, a story, your mood. And nothing is more powerful than the emotional drive behind the choices. How the typeface makes you, the designer, feel.

Typography is human after all. We rely on our eyes to make judgments. And despite how mathematically perfect and proportionate typefaces look, they look that way because of the human touch. Every detail adjusted and perfected by a typeface designer’s experienced eye.

That’s the beauty of typography and graphic design. The type is part of our language, influenced by perception, by pop culture, and even things we didn’t suspect influence our choices. That is why it’s fun, fulfilling and why we do it with so much passion, care, and obsession.