I collect typefaces. There, I said it. I hoard them, the way magpies and jackdaws used to collect milk-bottle tops and still do with discarded foil wraps. It sounds terribly banal – deeply boring and very, very sad. In fact, those exact words came out of the mouth of a long-trusted colleague when I asked if she did anything similar. She raised her eyebrow, looked down, shook her head and told me to get a life. She was probably right.
But this is a habit I picked up years ago at university. I was taught by my magazine design tutor, that the right typeface isn’t just about making the page look pretty, it is about creating an ambiance that makes your words not only more readable, but better understood. It is like setting the mood for dinner. You dim the lights, light a candle, play a little gentle music in the background and suddenly the food tastes better.
When I began editing magazines, I took great joy in bending the most stubborn graphic designers to my will. (All too often, designers are more pre-occupied with the pretty than the practical.) I got very good at choosing faces – style guide be damned. I was thoroughly entertained by the hunt for just the right look and feel – fitting in the right amount of space, legible, elegant, bold, proportional, in keeping…
Even after I left the magazine game, I still found reasons to continue the hunt for quality typefaces – regularly adding to my personal library whenever the mood struck me. It therefore makes me sad that in the corporate writing trade, branding agencies are so middle of the road when it comes to putting together their printed materials, or ‘collaterals’ as they tend to be known.
Corporate writing can be surprisingly exciting, especially for someone like me, with more than a passing interest in brevity. Getting the point across quickly and elegantly when so much information needs to be expressed is a death-defying balancing act. Between the need to convey information and to set it out in a way that is understandable and absorbable, a lot can go wrong. Perhaps setting the mood to make language more easily understood is more important than many clients appreciate, or branding agencies give credit to. Alas, they often have bigger fish to fry than trying to convince the client to splash out on a new serif face this year.
Advertising has long appreciated the art of the typeface choice – breaking the layout grid to attract the eye and pull in the readers. While an 82-page annual report may have a harder task holding the reader’s attention, surely invigorating the visual treatment as much as possible couldn’t hurt – could it? To agencies and corporate clients everywhere, I say – give a typeface a chance; show how they each have their own character and personality and advocate for their more creative use. Readers like a bit of variety – okay perhaps the body copy should remain something earth-tremblingly boring like Times New Roman or Univers (eminently practical as they are), but at least sprinkle some magic on a headline or subhead – set the mood and give your material the chance to shine. Just keep well away from Comic Sans!