The History of Typography

One of the core elements of graphic design is typography.

Recently I stumbled upon this informative video about the History of Typography by Ben Barrett-Forrest:

This is a fantastic introduction to the process of typography; here and there you’ll get a hint to the reason why typography has transformed from the antique Blackletter to contemporary post-modern styles.

Graphic design is there to serve a purpose – in the end it’s a highly practical tool!  I routinely find typography that makes us stop and analyze its form and construction. I’d like to think I have a pretty good eye when it comes to type – but I wouldn’t put myself in the category of seasoned connoisseur who evaluates the type based on all sorts of criteria. Type can elicit all sorts of emotional responses, and the best fonts are the ones that are subtle and comfortable.

Type can be dynamic – even within single type families.  Most computer users are familiar with Times new Roman or Arial – and have no doubt played around with making the text bold or italicized. Other basic variables include underlining, capitalization, super-script / sub-script, and color.  Most of these variations have been around for over a century – but it has only been with computers that we’ve been able to wield these modifications around indiscriminately.  Do you want huge red text? Sure, easy enough. How about a section where we are quoting someone?


Type is Power. The power to express words and ideas visually. It’s timeless, but always changing.

– Ben Barrett-Forrest


You betcha!  See what happened there?  Typography has acclimated to the web, and developers and designers are becoming more sophisticated in the way they handle the basic tool of typography.  Above is what is called a ‘blockquote’ (others call it a ‘pull-quote’).  The text was indented and italicized.  Additionally, the left side has a simple vertical line, a small graphic flourish, which indicates a change in voice.

Practically speaking, we should aim to use everything here in moderation.  There continues to be advancement in web technologies allowing us to add drop shadows, gradients, rotation, and even blur elements on the screen!  But for everyday use, these should be kept in the toolbox.

The work we do for clients – curating a suite of fonts that compliment the pre-existing identity, re-enforce the company’s character – and also open the door (if ever so slightly) to new avenues of branding – is our mission.  The ideal number of typefaces to use is 3, though this rule can be broken in the right situation (for us that is

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Three typefaces give variety – especially when used in certain situations such as only headlines, or only body text.

Of course, when you multiply three typefaces by the number of sizes you can have (let’s group them into five – extra small, small, medium, large, and extra large) you suddenly have 20 iterations.  Now, let’s multiply that number by three, which is the number derived from having a normal weight, a bold, and an italic.  That gives us 60 possible ways to display 3 typefaces.

Obviously I could go on longer, but I’ll wrap up by saying that choosing a suite of typefaces is an extremely important decision in developing a brand identity.  Sure, most typefaces are used by others, but it’s when combined with a logo, colors, composition, and situational usage that a company can achieve remarkable success in separating themselves form the competition.