TypographyTypography is the rightful distribution of letters and spaces (historically, using lead type) on a surface (sometimes vellum, usually paper, and now -- apparently -- a monitor or screen) to convey information and facilitate understanding. Typographers are people who get excited by letters: their shapes and forms, their colour, their power when combined into words, their history and their future. While this is not the place for a discussion of language or literature, it is precisely those areas of our culture with which typography is concerned.
Although calligraphers are not usually considered typographers, the history of typography must begin with calligraphy for when Gutenberg invented printing from movable type, all his knowledge of character shapes, spelling, page layout, etc, was based on the books available to him which were, of course, hand written by monks and other scribes. Attractive, practical page proportions, the amount of text on a page, line length, margins, etc, had long since been established: all he tried to do was mass produce books to look as though they had been written by scribes. Since then, many typographers have fiddled with these constraints for practical or aesthetic purposes, with varying degrees of success.
The individual letters conveying my words to your mind have distinct shapes which were established over the course of centuries by people making marks on clay, papyrus, marble, vellum or paper. (See here for a brief history of lettershapes.) Using suitable tools these marks were scratched, painted, or incised to represent the sounds of the language. Today, in spite of a proliferation of designs, we all recognize the 26 letters of the roman alphabet along with arabic numerals and miscellaneous, but important, punctuation. If we don't recognize an A as an A, for example, the basic essential for communication of thought is lacking, and that particular design fails in its primary purpose, no matter how aesthetically pleasing it may be. Similarly, we expect to see a certain amount of space around the letters in a word, both vertically, on either side, and horizontally, between the lines. If this space is exaggerated either more or less, reading -- and comprehension -- is impaired. The first duty of a typographer, then, is to the content of the message: it must be readable.
Until fairly recently, typographers were people who could make (cast) type, arrange it for a page and, often, print it. Printed matter generally was restricted to books, newspapers, posters and other such ephemera. Over the last hundred years or so, the power of the image has come to the fore ("one picture is worth a thousand words") and the typographer evolved into the commercial artist, then the graphic designer, and now the desktop publisher! We are bombarded daily with messages, both printed and electronic, and designers attempt to make each message both distinctive and inviting. Through the use of images, colour, contrasts of size, form, etc, they make their posters, ads, magazines or web pages say "Hey, read me! I'm more interesting (or informative, or elegant, or hip) than that one over there." Today's typographers are pushing the boundaries of legibility, breaking all the rules established over 500 years of the printed word, in some cases, just because they can. Some theorists think that if things continue in this way, people will read less and less (either because they have less time or because too much effort is needed), symbols will be used more and more to convey essential information, and we will have gone full circle back to the time of pictographs or images on cave walls.
More detailed information may be found on the following websites, those on the links page, or in some of the books listed in the bibliography.
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