Wednesday, April 02, 2008

On Becoming Fontastic

Hi Pop Culture Librarian readers. Neighbor J here, reporting for Bloggysitting duty. I feel honored to be a guest blogger for Librarian Girl. She plays it cool, but you guys agree with me that her writing rocks hard core, so I've got some big bad blog shoes to fill. Outside the blogoshpere, Librarian Girl's feet are much smaller than mine, but I've had fantasies about literally being able to fill her shoes. She's got some awesome taste in footwear, that girl. We share a love of shoes, and shopping for the clothes to go with them. There are a few marathon shopping sprees in our past that should go down in some kind of Shoppers-Book-of-World-Records. We don't get to do it too often, but shopping with LG is one of my favorite things. Not surprisingly, we also share a love of pop culture. We can wax poetic about about how The Waltons compares to Little House, and the historical discrepancies between these two shows and our other favorite, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman. And lately, as Librarian Girl and Nordic boy have been searching for the perfect set of house numbers for the new mailbox Nordic Boy hand crafted, we've discovered another shared passion: fonts. Typefaces if you're nasty.

Just a few years ago, if you said "typography" to me I'd crinkle up my nose at you, roll my eyes, and dry-heave like I was choking on a giant furball made of yak hair. I was in design school and typography was being crammed down my throat, and I was gagging on it big time.

In school the scriptures of Typography came in the form of a book called "The Elements of Typographic Style" by Robert Bringhurst. Our instructor would quote from Bringhurst at every chance she got. And Bringhurst himself writes like some kind of zealous poet-preacher. In a fashion that took me straight back to catechism we had to memorize Bringhurst stanzas like this: "Allow the [type]face to speak in its natural idiom." Cringe. Gag.

My classmates swooned over his writing, and hailed him the god of type. It scared me. If Bringhurst had ever visited our class I think it might have looked like an episode of Oprah's Favorite Things: people passing out over their drafting tables, screaming themselves hoarse, with eyes rolling back into their heads and their tongues hanging out. Freaky. Anyhow, all this fervor for Bringhurst made me only loathe him more, and I promised to burn his annoying book upon my graduation.

Then, I got a job. Part of my job was to lay out an entire magazine three times a year all by my lonesome. I freaked out. What kind of a hot mess had I gotten myself into? If you visit my blog you'll see I'm really an illustrator at heart. And when I got my first "big-girl" design job I started wishing I'd paid more attention in typography classes. I turned to the only expert I had at my fingertips: Bringhurst. Now, I'm not going to say that I'm a Bringhurst convert, but when I read the book a second time I realized that it wasn't his message that bummed me out, it was his delivery. His writing was so exclusive, I felt like I needed a membership to read it. The Country Club of Type is what that guy is all about, and it is too bad because he knows his shite.

One of the things Iove about Librarian Girl, that I think comes through a lot in her writing here is that she's all about being all-inclusive. In her world you don't have to publish something to call yourself a "writer", have an art show at a swanky gallery to call yourself an "artist", or be able to play Flight of The Bumblebee on your granny's upright to call yourself a "musician". It's an awesome attitude that has rubbed off on me in our years of friendship, and I am grateful for it. So I want to add that you don't have to memorize or even read Bringhurst to become your own fontastic typophile. Thanks to personal computers and desktop publishing software everyone can dabble in design. And it doesn't need to be scary, or snooty, or exclusive.

At one time or another you'll probably be called upon to make something like a newsletter, or a flyer describing a free lecture, or a sign for the office kitchen that says "Wash Your Own Damn Dishes". Picking the "best" typeface for your printed piece should be looked at like picking a beverage to compliment your favorite meal (a burger and a float, perhaps?), or a pair of shoes to top off that swanky outfit. It should be fun, and can even be a refection of your personal style. What seems to be the main problem out there is that people don't know that they have choices, and LOTS of them. You don't always have to put vanilla ice cream in your root beer float, people.

One of the best examples out there is the overuse of the font Comic Sans. Yes, I'm picking on a font here. Sorry Mister Sans, it's not your fault. Most people use Comic Sans because they see it as a fun, lighthearted font. To all of you folks who have used and overused the font, take heart. You've got the right idea! Fonts can help set the tone for what you are trying to say. There are just so many other great alternatives out there. Here are two of my fave resources for bulking up my own font library:

Myfonts
This site rocks. It is really accessible, and completely removes all the snootiness from discovering new typefaces. They have an wonderful feature on their site that lets you search for typefaces by describing what you are looking for. For example, here are the selections I got when I typed in "Funny". They also have a great button that allows you to find fonts similar to the one you might like, but want something a little different. It's like saying "I like that boot, but does it come in hot pink"? Here is what I got when I went looking for fonts similar to Comic Sans. Awesome, no?

dafont
Here's great website of free unique fonts. Most of them are free for personal use, so a sign or newsletter would be perfect. Check out their section of "Comic" fonts. There is even one called "I Hate Comic Sans", which is much more interesting that plain ole Comic Sans, and best of all, its free!

Typefaces have power. The power to get your message across quickly and clearly, make it memorable, and in true Librarian Girl fashion do it with "flair". Next time you need to make something printed, take a few minutes before you start and do a little typeface research. You're on your way to discovering your own fontastical abilities!

I'm Out, No Diggity No Doubt.
Neighbor J

9 comments:

Zinta said...

i run into font block and design confusion way too much! Thanks for the websites!

Xteener said...

What a great website, I love free fonts!

Deana said...

Wow...
an entire post about fonts and it totally rocked.
Shoes well filled (or subbed) :)

dharmamama said...

There is a whole site dedicated to banishing comic sans:
http://bancomicsans.com/home.html

But I don't think you need to be such a hater to diversify.

I am such a font whore. You absolutely can't tell that from my blog, which is plain, 'cause I'm afraid of html. But if I have a flier to design, or newsletter... look out! So those sites were like porn to me - thanks!

You're quite a writer! Shoes filled. I mean, no one but LG is LG, but you did a great job!

Katie K said...

The woman who had my job before me did EVERYTHING in Comic Sans--calendars, powerpoint presentations, newsletters, etc. It makes me very glad that she's gone and we never had to work together.

Thanks for the great website suggestions! You did a great job filling PCL's shoes!

Miss J said...

thanks, everyone!

Neighbor J

e-Lizabeth said...

Preach! I also love me some fine fontery and Comic Sans gives me palpitations -but not in the good way.

Love this post, and love your blog too

Hilda said...

Another font lover here.

If you haven't seen it yet, I highly recommend the documentary "Helvetica".

donna said...

how nice of you to be so kind to the users and overusers of comic sans. i'm not as nice. maybe microsoft will do away with it in their next release of word? i can dream, can't i? i can spend hours looking for the right (free) font and i'm not even a designer.