Thinking fonts

Posted: March 3, 2014 in writing
Tags: , , ,

We spend so much time thinking about the meaning of the words in books, it’s easy to ignore the way that they look – the role of fonts.

Fancy fonts

Something gothic and ornate like Blackadder can give text an aura of age and mystery, but it makes reading harder and draws attention to the design over the meaning.

Easy reading fonts

Helvetica on the other hand is so easy to read and ubiquitous that you tend to forget that it’s there, unless you’re a graphic designer enraged at the bland repetitiveness of seeing the same font wherever you go.

Default fonts

Times New Roman is still the default in many places, probably because humans get so nervous about change. That said, as an author I usually have to submit manuscripts in Courier because, ugly as it is, it’s what editors have used for decades and so what they expect.

The book collaboration

Unlike TV shows, we tend to think of books as the work of a single creator. But thinking about fonts pierces that illusion. A book is normally a combined work. The author might have put in the most hours, but the editor, the cover designer, whoever lays out the pages, even the person who decades ago designed the font it will be printed in, they all contribute some part to the reading experience.

So here’s to those folks, part of the grand collaboration of reading.

  1. skudssister says:

    I must share this with a friend who has been known to get very inventive in her denounciation of comic sans…..

    • Suspect I will agree with your friend’s views. Comic sans could be used as a punchline in my last office job. The sort of punchline where you risked getting punched if you used such an ugly font.

  2. So far, I’ve printed in Arial because it’s what I write in, so it looks right to me. Though there is something fancier I used for the title pages. What was it… And the covers are something really fancy that my cover artist picked. So yeah, it’s a collab, and also something you need to put some thought into. So far, no one has complained about my Arial…

    • Arial seems a good choice to me. A nice easy to read font for the main text, it’s my preferred working font and popular with people trying to make their documents more accessible.

  3. Yes! Fonts are so important for an enjoyable reading experience. That said, I can’t recall ever putting down a book because I didn’t like the font. Websites are another story….
    For writing Gil Sans MT is my go-to with trebuchet MS for titles. What can I say? Serifs seem superfluous when you’re writing about an imagined future!

    • I think serifs are pretty much superfluous already – all the nicest fonts to read do without them. And like you I’ve never stopped reading a book because of the font but would skip a web page that makes a poor choice – I wonder how much that’s about the better choices made when you’re going to the cost of producing a book, or how much it’s about the different reading habits we bring to the internet?

  4. […] There are some obvious elements to this. The role of alpha readers and editors in helping polish the piece. The cover artists who evoke an atmosphere before the reader has even turned to page one. The people who create fonts. […]

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