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Typography Quotations

In Others Words... the Meaning and Purpose of Typography


The text: Beauty and the Beast... set in a fancy type.

Typography -- good or bad -- isn't all about the fonts. Without changing the specific fonts, what other typography changes could improve this image?

© Jacci Howard Bear; licensed to About.com
In my glossary I describe typography, in part, as the "design and use of typefaces as a means of visual communication from calligraphy to the ever-developing use of digital type..." and go on to explain that typography encompasses many specific fields or areas of interest.

But let's look at some more magical, artistic, cute, and clever ways of describing typography. While these typography quotations don't necessarily need further explanation, I've provided some commentary and my own thoughts following each one.

These are a few typography quotations found in much longer lists compiled at various Web sites. This select group focuses on the definition of typography.

Typography is Not a Font

"Typography is two-dimensional architecture, based on experience and imagination, and guided by rules and readability. And this is the purpose of typography: The arrangement of design elements within a given structure should allow the reader to easily focus on the message, without slowing down the speed of his reading." Hermann Zapf
The first sentence is widely quoted as a description of what typography is but the additional sentence in this Zapf quotation relates the purpose and how our choice of typefaces and how we place it on the page enhance the text that contains the message.
"Typography has one plain duty before it and that is to convey information in writing." Emil Ruder
What, to me, Ruder is saying is that perhaps we get just a little too wrapped up in finding the perfect font when we need to remember that it's the message, the information that is the most important part of the billboard, brochure, magazine, or Web page.
"As the saying goes, type is a beautiful group of letters, not a group of beautiful letters." Matthew Carter
Again, it's not about choosing a really cool font (although you can do that). Typography is more about how you arrange your fonts.
"Wouldn't it be interesting if there were only one typeface in the world? Designers would really have to think about the idea behind their designs instead of covering it up with fancy typefaces. One, universal typeface would really strip away all the flashy emptiness in design. And, of course, that one typeface would have to be Helvetica." Erik Kessels
This goes well with Carter's statement about beautiful letters. If there were only one typeface (perish the thought!) how much more attention would be paid to how we arrange our words and spaces? Try designing with a single typeface. If you can't confine yourself to just one, can you whittle your list down to 5 Must-Have Fonts?
"Typography is a hidden tool of manipulation within society." Neville Brody
Extracted from a longer statement in which Brody describes our typographic choices as a means of setting the mood for the text, the message. Consider how your choice of typeface and its arrangement combine to create a sense of playfulness, formality, urgency, or familiarity. Manipulating the typography is manipulating the reader. It's a hidden tool because, when done right, the average reader doesn't consciously notice the typeface or text composition.
"Most people think typography is about fonts. Most designers think typography is about fonts. Typography is more than that, it’s expressing language through type. Placement, composition, typechoice." Mark Boulton
Boulton reinforces for us that typography isn't just about Times vs. Georgia or serif vs. sans serif. Choosing a font is only part of typography, just as choosing a paint color is only a part of decorating the living room. The font (or the paint color) are what some designers fret over the most, but just as important is how that font (or paint} is applied. How it juxtaposes with other elements on the page (furniture in the room). The space that is devoid of fonts (or paint) can make or break the design.

The phrase "expressing language through type" is also a fitting segue into our next section of typography quotations that deal with the sound, yes the sound of typography.

Typography Is Not Silent

"Typography is what language looks like." Ellen Lupton
This is one of my favorite typography quotations. If people's words appeared in speech bubbles above their heads, what fonts would they use? Would you speak Helvetica or — ack! — Comic Sans?
"Typographical design should perform optically what the speaker creates through voice and gesture of his thoughts."El Lizzitsky
Similar to Lupton's quotation, Lizzitsky is telling us that typography is the written form of what we are thinking or saying inside our heads. Are we speaking distinctly with perfect punctuation or are we throwing out words in rapid fire punctuated with pumping fists and facial grimaces?
"Typography at its best is a visual form of language linking timelessness and time."Robert Bringhurst/
Again, we have the connection between our typographic choices — what we see — and language — what we hear. And there's the time element too. Like fashion, certain types of typography and typefaces go in and out of style while others are classic, timeless. Often books, newspapers, or advertisements visually tell us when they were created without even reading the words or noting the date because of the typographic style of the times in which they were designed.
"Typography needs to be audible. Typography needs to be felt. Typography needs to be experienced."Helmut Schmid
Try substituting "the message" for "typography" in this quotation from Schmid. If you can hear, feel, and experience the message in the documents you create, chances are you got the typography right.

As I don't have ready access to the original source materials for most of these typography quotations, I've tried to find multiple secondary sources. Most of the quotations used here are not disputed. Unlike the Frederic W. Goudy quotation about letterspacing and stealing sheep. This Typophile discussion thread on Famous Quotes From Type Designers shows how many versions are out there of the Goudy quotation and some commenters attempt to explain why.

Resources and more typography quotations:

Pick Your Path to Desktop Publishing
Get Started:Basic Guidelines and Requirements for Desktop Publishing
Choose Software:Desktop Publishing and Design Software
Make Something: Things to Make Using Desktop Publishing
Tips & Tutorials:How to Do Desktop Publishing
Training, Education, Jobs:Careers in Desktop Publishing
In the Classroom: Back to School With Desktop Publishing
Use Templates: Templates for Print and Web Publishing

Readers Respond: Best Ways to Mix and Match Fonts

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