Thinking with Type – Letter

1. How did computers change typefaces? How were they made before computers? And after?
A typeface is the design of a letterform, while a font is the delivery mechanism. In the past, the typeface was the design from which molds were made (i.e. the mold they made fonts/types out of). The fonts were the cast metal printing types (i.e. the actual blocks they rolled ink onto). Nowadays, the terms font and typeface are nearly interchangeable because both are software, which is not physical and thus difficult for some to differentiate.
2. What is the anatomy of a typeface? What are all those little bits of letters called?
Typeface begins at the baseline, on which all letters sit. Extending upwards from that is the x-height (height of the lowercase letters; x is usually used) and the cap height (height of the uppercase letters; also determines point size). There will also be ascenders that go above the cap height (such as in the letter l) and descenders that go below the baseline (such as the letter y). There is also overhang, which exists in letters that have a curve at the bottom so they appear balanced (such as the letter o). There are stems, which are the straight, main segments of letters (e.g. the letter F); bowls, the rounded closed parts of letters (e.g. a calligraphic a); spines, the curved, main segments of letters (e.g. the letter s); crossbars, the straight horizontal segments (e.g. the letter B). The little bits of letters are called serifs, which are found at the edges of some letters. They are both decorative to look at and helpful for reading.

3. How do designers choose what font to use?
Designers should think about the history of their typefaces (e.g. Blackletter used a very long time ago, could help denote antiquity), their current connotations (e.g. ew Comic Sans), as well as their formal qualities (e.g. x-height, serifs). They should find a match between the style of the letters and the style of what they are trying to express, whether it is a textbook, advertisement, or invitation.

4. What is a type family? What are its parts?
A type family is a set of fonts that have the same basic design. They vary slightly from one another, such as in boldness/weight, widths (wide, regular, or condensed), italics, or small caps.

5. Remember one font from this reading, or elsewhere, that you like. Find the name. Think about why you like it.
Welp, I’m going to be very uncreative here and say that I like the Scala font they use for the majority of the body of the book. The x-height is quite high, it has a good width, and it has serifs – these qualities make it easy to identify letters and read quickly. The letters look very balanced and form clean lines along the base, thanks to its flat serifs on the tops and bottoms of the letters, as well as the short distance between x-height and cap height.


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