Typography: From Billboards to Street Signs

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Typography is everywhere we look, in the books we read on the websites we visit even in everyday life, from billboards to street signs, product packaging and even on your mobile phone. It is the art and technique of designing and arranging type. Today the with the explosive growth of electronics and the internet, the art of typography exploded in a thousand different directions. Never before in history has the printed word shown up in such abundant visual diversity. Particularly with the enormous range of font options available in recent years, the opportunity to facilitate, magnify, impede, decrease, intensify, or subdue the impact of a message by altering typographic variables has never been greater. It is a form of communication, that can strongly affect how people react to a document, but is the way typography presented more than design and layout?

Beatrice Warde who was known as an American typographic expert wrote an essay in 1932 called “The Crystal Goblet or Why Printing Should Be Invisible”. In the essay she suggests that on the printed page, the text is like a fine wine, and typography is the vessel that contains it. Beatrice Warde links typography to goblets, she argues that that those who knows something about wine, will prefer a clear crystal goblet. The various elements of the drink can be observed, color, fragrance, without unnecessary concern for the vessel that the wine is in. she goes on to mention that those who prefer a gold, guilded, ornate goblet put more importance in external appearance than in the wine itself.

Beatrice Warde states that the drive of written text is thought transference and that any sort of type that does anything to divert from that goal, is a disappointment in its purpose, the type is there to shine a light on the thoughts and ideas contained in the written word. In addition to wine glasses, she compares typography to window panes. She claims that while a stained glass window may be attractive to gaze at but if you are trying to view the world outside, it’s much more desirable to look through a plain transparent glass. According to Warde, ideally typography should likewise be invisible, letting the basic qualities of the text show through. But without typography, a text has will have no visual characteristics.

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The Bauhaus movement can be similar to the clear crystal goblet, the Bauhaus was an art school in Germany that combined craftsman, fine arts, and design during its operation from 1919 to 1933. The Bauhaus movement was influential in modernist architecture and modern design with geometric designs, minimalism, respect for materials, hand-crafted to the extent it had mass marketing in mind. The movement was not about decoration; it was about the pure expression of form. If you look at Bauhaus art, it is almost constantly rectilinear geometric shapes and austere. 

It was all about the importance of clarity and simplicity. the most important Bauhaus exports came from the mind of Josef Albers He believed the important formal qualities of the day were: harmony or balance, free or measured rhythms, geometric or arithmetic proportion, symmetry or asymmetry and central or peripheral synthesis. This is very similar to what Beatrice Warde mentions about the crystal goblet..

Marshall McLuhan, the invention of the moveable type and a well-known Canadian philosopher argued otherwise. In his book The Gutenberg Galaxy, The Making of Typographic Man, 1962, McLuhan discusses the effect of mass media, the printing press on European culture and human consciousness. The book uses typography in a remarkably aggressive way. Five years later, he produced the radical mass paperback The Medium Is the Massage with graphic designer Quentin Fiore, amplifying his early visual experiments to new levels of bombast.

McLuhan argued, that both product and producer of the most influential technology in the history of the modern West: typography. The use of uniform, repeatable texts transformed the way people think, write, and talk and triggered the rise of a money-based economy and the Industrial Revolution. Having the greatest impact are the “media,” a term which McLuhan uses to include more than the traditional methods of conveying information such as speech, print, or the visual arts. For McLuhan, a medium is any extension of a human sense or faculty.

The important point about media as extensions of human senses is that the introduction and development of such media will alter what McLuhan terms the “ratios” between the senses. In other words, a medium such as print, which appeals to the eye, will shift the ratios in favour of the visual sense, thus producing in human beings a perception of the world which is visually oriented, perhaps to the point of distortion. McLuhan entireties the process of this in his book, The Gutenberg Galaxy: “If a technology is introduced either from within or from without a culture, and if it gives new stress or ascendancy to one or another of our senses, the ratio among all of our senses is altered. We no longer feel the same, nor do our eyes and ears and other senses remain the same. The interplay among our senses is perpetual save in a condition of anesthesia. But any sense when stepped up to high intensity can act as an anesthetic for other senses.”

Typography today has developed a lot since then and is in a whole different spectrum. I would have to say that typography is far more than type design and layout. Like Mcluhan mention the “ratios” between the senses, typography has the ability to evoke the right emotion and it has been proved that typographical choices have a great influence on the audience. The choice and placement of text isn’t just to create a nice-looking, usable, readable style. The different typographical elements like selecting the typeface, font, leading, kerning etc. all work together to help produce effective content marketing. In conclusion, people associate the way a word visually looks in other words, it’s visual context — with what they think it says, and what they feel about it. Typographical elements directly influence how consumers think and feel making typography much more than design and layout.  

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Typography: From Billboards to Street Signs. (2022, March 17). WritingBros. Retrieved December 11, 2023, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/typography-from-billboards-to-street-signs/
“Typography: From Billboards to Street Signs.” WritingBros, 17 Mar. 2022, writingbros.com/essay-examples/typography-from-billboards-to-street-signs/
Typography: From Billboards to Street Signs. [online]. Available at: <https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/typography-from-billboards-to-street-signs/> [Accessed 11 Dec. 2023].
Typography: From Billboards to Street Signs [Internet]. WritingBros. 2022 Mar 17 [cited 2023 Dec 11]. Available from: https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/typography-from-billboards-to-street-signs/
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