Fonts are great. We look at and use them all the time, from the words on this blog post to the credit receipts we sign to the cookie boxes we buy. They are everywhere and essential, and the success of a film like Helvetica and quirky designs like these Star Wars posters have shown that they have a popular appeal beyond the usual design set.
This is why I was excited to come across PBS Arts's latest micro-documentary "Typography," which is part of their popular Off Book series on art. It's a quick, 7-minute intro to type that's already garnered over 100,000 views, perhaps confirming type's appeal.
"Typefaces are not toys. They're tools. They're designed to solve problems," says Jonathan Hoefler, half of the typeface design duo with Tobias Frere-Jones. It sounds like a stern admonishment, but it's true love behind his words. Hoefler and Frere-Jones created a number of custom typefaces that have seeped into daily life, from Starbucks to American Express.
One of the designs featured in the documentary shows how type can be used to illustrate complex topics like the academic achievement gap in the US. Image via hyperakt.com.
The film features a host of great fonts in situ with thoughts from type designers like Paula Scher, Julia Vakser, Deroy Peraza and Eddie Opara. Scher, who served on Core77's Design Awards jury last year, talks up her iconic design for Bring the Noise Bring the Funk: "It was type that talked to you," she explained. "It was type that rapped. It was type that tapped."
I particularly enjoyed Peraza and Vakser's insight into infographics. They discuss how their studio, Hyperakt, worked with GOOD magazine to create graphics illustrating complex topics like high school students' perceptions of college, all in crisp, clear language. And, as with other micro-documentaries in this series, the film ends with a series of definitions and technical terms, also in beautiful type. [Ed Note: You can learn more about Hyperakt in our In the Studio series here!]
Eddie Opara said it best when it comes to type, and it echoes similar sentiments I've heard from other type designers: "It's just something that should be enjoyed." This short documentary certainly brings that love for type to life.
An Xiao Mina is an American designer strategist and researcher who recently worked on the Gwangju Design Biennale's Un-Named Design exhibition. She focuses on the role of social media and communications technologies in building communities and empowering individuals. Find her on Twitter here.