Discussion for Week 2

In order to contribute to this discussion, click on the link that says “leave a comment” and post a comment of at least 150 words that addresses at least one of the questions in the prompt below. Be sure to enter your name and e-mail address. Remember that you are required to contribute to at least 10 of these discussions over the course of the semester.

Prompt. In Helvetica, Massimo Vignelli says: “l don’t think type should be expressive at all. l can write the word ‘dog’ with any typeface and it doesn’t have to look like a dog. But there are people that think when they write ‘dog’ it should bark!” On the other hand, Rick Poynor is quoted as saying: “People are starting to see graphic communication as an expression of their own identity. And the classic case of this is the social networking programs such as MySpace where you can customize your profile — you can change the background, you can put pictures in, you can change the typeface to anything you want — and those choices, those decisions you make, become expressions of who you are. You start to care about it in a way that you wear the clothing that you’re wearing…”

Which of these quotations do you agree with more? Which is closer to the way you thought about typography before taking this course? What implicit claims are Vignelli and Poynor making about the proper role of typography relative to content, and do you agree or disagree with these claims?

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Published in: on January 14, 2010 at 7:00 pm  Comments (14)  

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  1. I feel that I am more in the school of thought that believes that the goal of typography, of text, font, etc., is to transfer content in the smoothest manner, without any “leaks”. I would qualify these “leaks” as distractions that may cause a reader, as they read a word and try to discern its meaning, to not gain the full content of its idea.
    This may occur through the dissonance one may feel when reading a brochure on nursing homes written in comic sans, or through the illegibility of hand-written or exaggerated text that strains the reader even before the word is able to be processed.
    I feel such things are enemies to expressive writing, at its heart, in that I define this expression as a result of an idea achieved and shared between a reader and a writer. When font detracts from the pure interaction between these two minds, it helps neither party involved. (This assuming that the writer actually “wants” to be understood.)
    Therefore, typography should strive to achieve the purest, most direct interaction between the writer, his writing, and the subsequent reader. “Helvetica” font, detracted for its omnipresence, is believed to have achieved this. The fact that when I have read Helvetica in the past I have never even had an inkling of thought or curiosity about the font I think implies, and reinforces this success.
    The idea of “customizeability” in regards to font, is just another part of our need to dress up ourselves, and our ideas. However, when a person, their writing, and their ideas are complete unto themselves, in that they express themselves full enough to stand on their own merit, they call for Helvetica to act as their carrier.
    Others words not strong enough to suggest themselves in their content might need the assistance of font to compliment them, and in some ways, replace them.

  2. Vignelli seems to claim that immediacy is the only function of type, whereas Poynor favors a certain amount of Hypermediacy along with the transparency.

    I was never a fan of myspace. Not everyone has sensibilities to make a good website, and it would really be a pain to use a gaudy page to contact someone. When facebook started gaining popularity, I realize now that I liked it for its uniformity. Clean, white page. The importance was placed not on “originality” in the look of the page, but in content. Apparently I was a big fan of immediacy.

    Because of this class, I’ve remembered how well some of my favorite books have chosen type. The font for the American version of Harry Potter is an excellent example. The lightening bolt on the P on the cover of the booksf made me think of the stories as a kind of myth. The engraved font itself made me think of the magic books that are often mentioned in text.

    Maybe transparency is important in some places. I don’t mind identical, clean, helvetica street signs. I shouldn’t think of anything but the information contained in traffic signs. On the other hand, literature, or any other form of art, deserves a special flourish.

    All this falls apart in the hands of the populace. The experts in the movie love to talk about how type is now available to everyone. Not everyone has an exact eye for design. In public forums, maybe we should be limited to something neutral, so we all focus on content

  3. I agree with the second statement by Rick Poynor that states, “People are starting to to see graphic communication as an expression of their own identity. And the classic case of this is the social networking programs such as Myspace where you can customize your profile, you can change the background, you can put pictures in, you can change the typeface to anything you make, they become an expression of who you are…”
    I believe that typeface is becoming another aspect of the new era of electronic media that everyone wants to put their own personal touches to, and it will soon become a major focus (I believe ) in the next couple of years because of the ever-changing field of technology. I have to agree with the statement Poynor makes because I was one of those young teenagers who wanted to have my own identity and join a social networking site and let my friends and family see a side of my personality electronically.
    At the same time, I am on the fence about this whole typeface thing and having your own identity. In the film, Helvetica, it made a interesting point that really connected with me; typeface should not go overboard and be illegible. Sort of like the era that typography went through in the 1990s- grunge phase. I believe that font/ typeface should reflect whatever meaning is behind it, have character, vitality, but at the same time be easy to read to mass audiences.
    So, in closing… I can sort of see where Massimo Vignelli is coming from. The word ‘dog’ should not need to bark, but it can look like a dog- for a visual representation/ association.

  4. Vignelli appears to be claiming that fonts only purpose is to serve the content, and allows the reader to understand the text. Poynor on the other hand believes that text is an expression in and of itself, and that it adds to the content of the text.
    When I first started this course I’d say I was standing much closer to Vignelli than I was to Poynor because I didn’t really notice fonts. What I mean to say is that I would observe a title page or a paragraph and think it looked nice, but I didn’t really think about it beyond that. Now that I’ve begun to take this course though I believe that my feelings on the subject have shifted closer to Poynor because when I read now I’m noticing the font choices, and wondering why they chose that font. I don’t lose focus on the content of the text unless the font is very out there, and I think that understanding why a font was used helps to define the goal of the texts I’m reading which in turn helps adjust the frame of mind I’ll be reading in.

  5. I agree with both of the statements made by Vignelli and Poynor, though I find myself leaning more towards Poynor’s method of thought. Vignelli is right in suggesting that the goal of typography is to show the audience the meaning behind the words rather than the designs of those words. What true typography should try to achieve is immediacy, where the reader can easily understand the meaning.
    But why does typography only have this to strive after? This is why I also agree with Poynor’s statement. People who use social networking sites such as Myspace use different backgrounds and colors to express their own identity. We get a feel for the kind of person they are through these visual images. Just because words are not their main tool in expressing themselves does not mean we cannot understand them or the meaning they are trying to convey.
    Yet, we can have it both ways. As someone mentioned earlier, Facebook is not as flamboyant or jumbled as Myspace; it leads our focus to the actual content on the webpage. Words and phrases are easy to understand in its simplistic yet highly effective design. However, it still does the same thing as Myspace, allowing individuals to express themselves. It is up to us to determine which is better for own selves.

  6. I believe that both Vignelli and Poyner make valid points in their statements. Vignelli’s argument that type should merely be the “crystal goblet” that expresses content is valid in the sense that when it is meant to be read, such as in a book or other transparent form of media, the type should be clear, concise, and legible. However, when using type as a form of self-expression, as in Poyner’s case, then it should reflect the personality of the individual or group it is trying to express. Examples of these can be seen on CD covers, movie titles, even advertisements (when they are trying to express the personality and essence of a brand; and, through it, the essence of the company sponsoring the advertisement).

    It seems to me that the real question in this situation comes down to what really counts as a form of self-expression. Of course books count as an artistic expression of the author, but in which cases is the content more important than the transparency of the type? Should the typefaces used to tell a story really reflect the content of that story? If they did, would that story be the richer for it in terms of overall story content?

    In my opinion, it all comes down to the will of the author or artist. If all books reflected some part of the story in their typography, wouldn’t they just be delegated to “works of art” rather than being called novels? Would we really be able to appreciate the narrative content of classic stories as much if the type always “barked”? Therefore, I can’t really take sides in this situation except to say that it all depends on the will of the author and the needs of the content that is being produced.

  7. I agree with Massimo Vignelli in that type does not need to be expressive. It is the picture frame holding the picture. But, when people are given a space that they call their own, they are going to want to decorate it and show people what they are “all about,” much like interior decorating. However, most people are not professional interior decorators. They have no vision, or message, that they want to come across and so turn to ornate curtains and an entire bathroom worth of shells and beach chairs and umbrella items.

    Similarly, when the average person comes to Myspace, they might realize they have nothing to say about themselves and so turn to glitter fonts, moving GIFs, obnoxious colors and an interest in TyPeiNg LyKe DiS & sPel LyKe TiHs 2 in order to stand out. These people are using or abusing graphic communication and typography instead of actually expressing a message and using typography to complement and contain it. The concern for style and “customization” to the typeface and appearance seems to have erased an interest in legibility, clarity or even in any content at all.

    Before this class I admit to having wondered about typography in terms of advertising, wondering why a certain company would choose to use this type of font in this way. What was the psychology behind it. Did certain fonts make us feel a certain way intrinsically? So, I guess my view on typography before this class was closer to Rick Poyner’s quote. I assumed typography, along with the message it contained, had an aim as well and was trying to get a message across. I see that in many cases, this is true, like authoritative companies wishing to use Helvetica in order to seem accessible and transparent.

  8. For me typeface depends entirely on the medium on which it is being expressed. If I’m reading a book, or anything with a lot of body copy, I do believe in the idea of transparency (or the crystal goblet) in that the typeface should not distract the reader from what is being read. When it comes to the expression of ideas on paper, and I mostly mean things that need to be understood explicitly from the words written, then I think it is important to have an “invisible” typeface.

    However, in regards to many advertisements I think the visual representation is almost, if not more, important than the actual words. Ads are meant to attract attention and one of the best ways is through typography as it conveys two messages then, the visual and literal, and can then incorporate dual messages if needed. Or it can increase the understanding and memory retention of an advertisement. If I’m creating an ad for dog food I want the typography to bark, I want it to make an impact on the audience I’m targeting.

  9. My school of thought on the argument of expressive text versus more generic text sides more closely to the argument of Vignelli. There are many ways to write every letter and word within our language, and for the most part they can be written one thousand different ways and all mean the same exact thing. That is not to say that the font type has no effect on a reader, but many of the font types are somewhat indistinguishable. If a sign is written in Times New Roman, Arial, Helvetica, and Georgia, they may all have a clear difference but actually choosing which one is which may be difficult and meaningless anyway.

    There are instances however when Poynor’s point of emphasis does ring true. If I had to identify when these specific times are most prevalent, it would be in advertisements, when developers without a doubt what to and need to convey exactly the right message to their audience. Messages aimed more towards kids can be in more creative and unconventional fonts, these will actually catch their attention, whereas an advertisement for legal service should convey a message that is much more serious and professional and as such its typeface must reflect it as so.

  10. Before taking this course I never gave much thought into typography. I thought of it as a change in style to promote individuality while chatting with my friends. As I begin to understand more about typography my views shift more to what Rick Poynor’s view of typography. As society and media begin to hit the digital era a new need and understanding of Typography will be attained. Certain typography will be associated to certain groups or individuals and gain a new identity as time moves one. An example of this identity would be the fonts used for the “Final Fantasy” games and the fonts used in the “Star Wars” films. Massimo Vignelli though believes typeface should not be expressive but should be in summary a “Crystal Goblet”. Though neither idea is wrong each view is the truth behind typography but with the shift to the digital realm of media a need for a clear typeface and one that has an identify would be needed to satisfy the new social realm.

  11. I agree more with Vignelli’s quotation. I’ve never really thought about a word expressing its meaning through its typeface before we saw Helvetica. To me words are words. It doesn’t matter how you write them, in my opinion they mean the same thing.
    Although, I understand Poyner’s point that the different typefaces people use for different words is a way to express yourself. But I just don’t think words need to be created in different typefaces to make a point or send a message. The real challenge is having your words stand out using basic fonts like Helvetica and Times New Roman. Someone who can accomplish that could prove that its not the typeface that gets people’s attention, but the words that were chosen that got their attention.
    It’s probably not an easy task, but I know if I was able to accomplish that, I would feel better knowing my words were the thing that made a difference, not the font I happened to select.

  12. As I sit here typing this post, the Helvetica on the box of books next to me screams at me, seemingly saying “I AM HELVETICA!” Before we watched Helvetica and talked about the typeface in class this was not something that I noticed on a regular basis. This would lead me to conclude that the matter of perception plays a large role in the transparency of typography. Many film studies professors have confessed to me that they occasionally get students who come to their office and ask them “Professor, how do I turn it off?”, referring to the analytic perception they now have of movies after formally learning about them. I would argue that this is true for any medium, and especially one that attempts to make itself transparent.

    Through what we have learned in class about typography and through the film it seems that these two sentiments are opposing dominant ideologies within typography. The typographist/graphic designer must choose one of these forms for their work for, as I see it, the typeface is going to be loud and in your face or quietly massaging your eyeballs in the background. What middle ground could be achieved here? There is not much room for these ideologies to be displaced.

    I cannot claim to agree with one of these quotes exclusively. I think that the two dominant opposing ideologies that I discussed above both have their own differing qualities that set them equal, and their applications are what make the two methods equally effective. It is the responsibility of the graphic artist/typographer to choose which form best complements their subject matter and the statement that they want their work to make.

  13. Before taking this course, I viewed Typography much in the same way Poynor does. I whole-heartedly agreed that certain fonts should express more than the words they are used to type. Having watched Helvetica, I now believe that a combination of both ideas is more practical.
    As was mentioned before, Harry Potter is a perfect example. The font type used on the cover, with lightning bolt and all, in combination with the colors and illustrations, create a sense of myth and magic. Even the title pages use a type face that continues that feeling, but the type face of the actual story itself is very simple. I think that is important. If the same font was used for both the cover and the story itself, it would be distracting. Instead the cover uses a unique look to draw in the reader and instill a sense of magic in them, and from there the content does the rest without the help of an expressive text.

  14. I agree with Rick Poynor’s view on typography. I am not looking for my font to bark, as Vignelli says, but I do believe that every font does convey some type of meaning. The whole purpose of the documentary Helvetica was to look at the meaning behind that particular font. Helvetica is considered to be a standard font and yet there is enough meaning behind it to fill a whole documentary.
    Vignelli wants fonts to ideally be the crystal chalice. While I agree that typography should not prevent the message from coming across, I do believe that every font is expressive. A good typographer can choose a font that appears unexpressive. But it really just compliments the text so well that the expression does not hit the reader in the face. There are many fonts that a typographer can choose from that will be legible and yet change the perception of the content. Now that Myspace users and anyone who uses a word processer has control over font, people are becoming more aware of typography and specific fonts. The crystal chalice ideal is getting harder to reach as people notice fonts not just for their style but for there use in other contexts.


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