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Jacci Howard Bear

Typography or Topography?

By January 26, 2013

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For quite some time I've been amused by the use or misuse of "typography" when the story or article I'm reading is actually referring to "topography." They aren't interchangeable words. However, you may sometimes find the two terms used together in a discussion of design and layout.

Typography in the broadest sense is the design and use of typefaces as a means of visual communication from calligraphy to the ever-developing use of digital type. However, the art and practice of typography began with the invention of movable type and the printing press.

Typography is sometimes seen as encompassing many separate fields from the type designer who creates letterforms to the graphic designer who selects typefaces and arranges them on the page.

The dictionary usually refers to typography as the technique of using movable type for printed matter and the resulting composition.

I can't find any dictionary or thesaurus that uses typography to mean topography which is defined as the description of the surface features of a place, graphic representation of surface features (such as a map), or a description of the regions of the body or a body part. Yet, I continually run across statements such as:

" 'Compass school, is the study of the site or typography of the place" (article on Feng Shui which is referring to the topography or lay of the land)



"The drawings exhibited show the artist's talent in transforming the vignettes of human anatomical structure, the perception of body typography, the figure of human in relation to light, shade and space." (article on artist K C S Paniker which is referring to the topography or description of the body's anatomy.)


Typography and topography sometimes appear together when discussing page layout and composition.

Typography refers, of course, to the use of type and topography borrows from the "surface features" meaning of the word to describe the overall appearance and composition of the page elements -- both type and graphics and other physical features such as paper color, thickness, and texture.

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