CalArts: Funds. of Graphic Design-W2: 2.7 Denotation in Type

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When we read, we read words. But at the same time we’re reading words, we’re also reading typographic form.
We’re seeing letters and shapes. 
And these things communicate something to us as a viewer. So let’s take a look at how that works.

There’s mainly two different things that are being communicated.

There’s on the one hand, there’s a level of pragmatic functionality with a typography.

Can we read it?

And on the other hand, there’s an expressive, connotative aspect to the typography.

What does it make us feel like?

Controlling both of these aspects of typography is what makes a good typographer.

On the one hand, you control the pragmatic side of the type. Which is really the nuts and bolts [detailed practical information about how something works or how something can be accomplished], getting things to work properly. If you like, that’s the technical side.

But on the other hand, you also control the expressive emotional side, the connotation, the way that the type feels.

So good typographers can deal with both of these things. Let’s break them down and let’s start by looking at functionality or denotation. 

Let’s work through an example, so you can see how functionality and pragmatics effect type decisions and choices.

Let’s imagine for instance that we’re going to design a piece of type for a museum.

We’re not going to try and think about what kind of museum it is. We’re really just gonna try and think about the pragmatics of the typography.

So if we look to the serif and the san serif for instance, that would give us connotation.

The serif might seem like a much more old fashioned or traditional museum.
Whereas the san serif might feel much more like a contemporary museum.

And what we’re really interested in, is just the purely functional part of this.

So let’s chose the sans serif
because that’s gonna work a lot of different sizes and be a little more neutral.

So let’s make some typographic decisions based on functional considerations.

If we were going to use this typeface, the san serif for instance, we might want to start out by thinking about a typeface that has a wide family. A good range to it for a lot of different uses.

Let’s say we are going to use this typeface for everything in the museum, from the museums name to signage inside the museum.

To catalogs and publications, to posters and banners, pretty much everything the museum does, that’s going to be part of its typographic identity.

So we’re probably gonna need something with a wide range, so having an extended family is gonna be really useful.

So straight away, that’s gonna limit our type choices, or at least inform our type choices.

So here, I’m looking at Universe as my choice for museum’s typographic identity.

And the next thing I’d probably want to look at in a pragmatic way, is what the type looks like at different sizes.
Cuz we’re gonna use it at a lot of different sizes, I’m also gonna use it on screen and in print. 
So let’s look at that and see how it works.

See what the typeface looks like when it’s very small and when it’s very large. 
Is it gonna work at every size? 
Is it gonna have that kind of range and flexibility that I need?Those are pragmatic considerations. 

Once I found some typefaces that have the range and functionality that I need, 
I can start to really narrow down my type decision, and look in much more detail at the kind of typefaces I am going to choose.

I can start to narrow them down and really, really examine them much more closely. 
So let’s look at two typefaces that I might have chosen for this project.

So both of these typefaces might have the range and functionality that I need. 
So how am I going to choose between the two of them? 
I’m actually going to have to just look a little bit closer.

When you first look at them, these two type faces don’t look that different. 
But on close inspection, there is quite a lot of difference. Let’s look at that.

One of the first things you might notice, is that these two typefaces, even though they’re the same size, one appears to be a little larger than the other.

And that’s because you can see here they’re sitting on the same baseline, but actually the x height is a little bit larger on this typeface than this typeface. 
But also the cap height is a little bit larger as well. 

The typeface on the right also seems to look a little bit heavier, a little bit darker, and the letter forms look a little bit more condensed, or narrower, as well.

Let’s look at why the reason for that might be. 
If we look really closely at the construction of the letter forms, we can see that the typeface on the left actually has way more thick’s and thin’s.

So you can see the parts of the letter form here are getting a lot thinner. There’s a lot more differentiation in the line. The stroke in this typeface is much more even.

One thing that you can see a lot of difference in is actually the letter S here. 
If you look at the shape that the letter S makes, this feels very, very different. 
It’s really useful when you are trying to analyze a typeface like this it’s really useful to look very, very closely and see what the differences are between the two typefaces. 

One thing that can help you see those differences, is to take some of the letter forms, blow them up really large, and lay them, one on top of the other.

So now the typeface on the left has the black outline, and the typeface on the right has the red outline.

Where the two areas overlap is this darker gray, and where the areas are different you can see the lighter gray.

So you can see that some characters, they’re actually quite similar.

This E very, very similar. You can see a little difference in weight, but really the end of the stroke here is where the big difference is.

And then other letters like the M you can see, they have a lot of difference. 
The thickness and the evenness of the stroke is different, the width of the letter form is different,

and even with this S you can see the stress we were talking about. How it’s very different in here. And also the terminals are very different as well.

Now these differences might seem very, very small but the reason why we’re looking at them is because, when we actually set the type and look at type. And read it in these typefaces. 
The difference is actually gonna be quite large. 

So let’s take a look at what these two typefaces actually look like when they’re set.

So here you can see how even those tiny differences, they make a big difference when you’re actually looking at the type.

So one might appear to be, one typeface here appears to be much larger than the other. 
This typeface appears to have more leading than this typeface.

All of these coming out and being physical, just based on those tiny characteristics of the typeface, because these two pieces of type are set with the same type size and the same leading. 

So one of the reasons I’m making you look at all of these things in great detail, is to try and get you to really be analytical about typography. To really see all the differences, and really understand how to control and use them.