Friday, August 23, 2013

Words are important

Words are important, right?
Well most of you must agree as threading words together forms a fundamental basis of our business  - book publishing.
So words are important.

But the way words are presented are often equally important especially in our visual culture. Typography is described as the process of setting and arranging letters but it is so much more than that. 
For a book cover type choice, positioning, colour and size can have a huge impact on the message:
"I'm a big masculine, brassy cop book with slab letterforms. You have the right to remain silent."
"I am a saccharin romance novel with slim, curved letterforms and bowed serifs. You may have my hand in marriage."
"I am a robot sent from the future to destroy the past. My letterforms are efficient, simple and square. Come with me if you want to live"
So you see typefaces contribute to the scene being set by the cover.

I am lucky enough to teach a beginners typography class at Billy Blue College of Design and one of the assignments I give my students is to design a movie poster using only type. For students with no prior background in design this is a huge stretch as most people, even seasoned design professionals find themselves relying heavily on images to tell the story. But ultimately those students who challenge themselves with this brief realise the strength and craft in typography. 

One thing I find in my beginners class is everyone knows what a 'font' is. Thanks to the early Mackintosh computers with their wide choice of fonts (a collection of Apple commissioned and classic typefaces) and later Microsoft's own release of operating system fonts, type choice and the knowledge of typefaces was no longer alchemy weaved by designers and printers but was quickly picked up by the masses. 

These days most people have a favourite typeface. From your granny pecking away writing a letter in Word, to your 11 year cousin and her Instant Messenger font set at Comic Sans. Font's are tools of your every day. 

And yet, it often surprises me when I see mention of a typeface or font in popular culture. Sure us designers have a chuckle at 'Comic Sans is the devil' memes, looking down from our educated type perches, but for me when I encounter instances that aren't necessarily connected to design or the visual it stops me in my tracks.

I am talking about typeface mentions in songs.

Songs like Vampire Weekend's "Holiday", mention Futura:
she'd never seen the word bombs blown up to 96 point Futura

While other song's sole focus (in a round about way) is a typeface, like this one by Towa Tei feat. Kylie Minogue "GBI (German Bold Italic)"

Or this rather fabulous version of Lady Gaga's "poker Face" twisted to become an ode to House Industries' Neutraface: "Neutra Face : An Ode On A Typeface (A Bearded Poker Face Parody)"

I'd love to add to this list, do you know any other typeface mentions in songs? Or better yet, any other odd places type has appeared? 

-- Astred


  1. Great post Astred. Thanks for contributing. I will look out for more type references in music videos and hope others do the same. (There happens to be The Music Video exhibition on at ACMI at present too. I can also recommend the excellent read in the book by Simon Garfield that came out a couple of years ago, 'Just my Type'.

    The fact that to sold so well and went into paperback is testament to the universality that has come to type – and yes, I think we can thanks Apple for that mostly.

  2. Yes! Just My Type is a favourite of mine and my go-to commuter read. Love it.

  3. Cool post, I'm very glad you introduced yourself, Astred. I'm a bit font-obsessed, so I totally get the attraction. I don't know if I've seen a font mention in a song, but I do know that Helevetica would make one hell of a good villain name in a book someday!