Writing in Style

There are, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of computerized typefaces to choose from. I have some 800 type families on my laptop. All of these typefaces can be a bit overwhelming, especially to the untrained eye. Fortunately, you can categorize most typefaces into one of seven groups. Granted, some typefaces will never easily fit into one category or another.

Like fashion, type styles have changed over time. Most type styles are derived from the time or place in which they were developed and gained popularity. Having said that, many typefaces that fit within a certain style may have been created outside of the time or place of origin typically associated with that type style. You can categorize most typefaces in one of the following seven type styles:

Type Styles

There are seven main categories of type. The blue lines indicate the angles of the stress, the slope of the terminals, and the brackets of the serifs.

  • Old Style. Old Style type is very legible, has minimal contrast between thick and thin lines, rounded brackets where the stokes and serifs meet, and a diagonal stress. The line through the thinnest parts of the O in the figure to the left shows the diagonal stress. (France 1600s.)
  • Transitional. Transitional type bridged the Old Style and Modern typefaces and had more refined serifs, greater contrast between thick and thin strokes, and moderately diagonal stress. (England 1700s.)
  • Modern. Modern type has even more contrast between thick and thin strokes, squared brackets where strokes and serifs meet, and vertical stress. (Italy 1700s.)
  • Slab Serif (Egyptian). Slab Serifs are characterized by very thick serifs, little or no bracketing, and little or no stress. (United States 1800s.)
  • Sans Serif. Sans Serif typefaces do not have serifs and typically do not have any stress. (Switzerland 1900s.)
  • Script. Script typefaces are designed to mimic handwriting and calligraphy.
  • Decorative. Decorative typefaces are designed to add splash to your documents, but should be used sparingly. Outside of bullet characters, decorative type probably has no place in your résumé.

Typeface styles are evocative. They’re reminiscent of the time and place in which they were created because they embody the art and architecture of the time and place of origin. Choose typefaces based on their associated mood and tone.

Form Follows Function

More important than the tone of our document, your type should be suited to the utility of your text. You should chose typefaces that are appropriate for the situations in which they will be read. For example a weighty serif typeface is appropriate for road signs. Could you imagine speeding along the expressway trying to decipher a road sign written in a lavish script typeface? You couldn’t. Likewise, a typeface with heavy serifs would be difficult to read in the setup instructions for a home theatre, where the user is probably crouched in a tight, dark space as he plugs in equipment. So, you can see that the utility of your text will generally dictate the tone and the style of typefaces you use.

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Comments

  • skiesareblue  On 15 December 2009 at 1:26 am

    love this! i’m a graphic designer and my pet aversion is when clients want more than 2 fonts on a business card! or a script in upper case! oh!!!!! how it aggravates me! hehe!

    • Michael O.  On 15 December 2009 at 8:31 am

      I guess most folks are tempted by the plethora of fonts installed on their computers to use as many as possible in a single design. Combining typefaces will be the topic of a post in the very near future.

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