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Two Types of Typefaces

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What would an orchestra be without tuned instruments? A meal without quality ingredients? A building without sturdy bricks? A good composition is nothing without the fundamental elements that make it whole. Like anything that is built from individual parts, graphic design falls flat without great typography. While graphic designers are typically interested in putting pieces together, typeface designers are more interested in building the pieces themselves, as Christian Schwartz pointed out at an AIGA lecture last Wednesday at Parsons School of Design in New York City. Paul Barnes and Christian Schwartz of Commercial Type Foundry spent the evening sharing some of the painstaking process of typeface design as well as the beauty of experimentation.

What stood out the most was when Schwartz mentioned that there are two kinds of typefaces: ones that do whatever you want them to do, and ones that do all of the work. For instance, the typeface they designed for Bloomberg Businessweek, Neue Haas Grotesk, works with the various images featured on the covers. It gives the designers flexibility when designing with a range of images. Dala Floda, on the other hand, is a typeface they designed, whose intricate features let it stand alone. As you can see in the image above on the right, the forms themselves are so complex and unique that they actually become the image and the message.

As designers, it’s our job to work with what we are given, and when the materials are crafted with such attention to detail and enthusiasm, the end result is that much better.

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