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We have learned to associate moods or feelings with fonts. For example, we've learned to read serif fonts as feeling older or more traditional. This is a learned association. Cloister is a black letter web font and feels old. After black letter, the first typefaces were serif. based on how people wrote with pen and ink. Calluna is web font with Venetian characteristics. The terminal on the lowercase A looks pen formed and the crossbar on the lowercase E rises.
It isn't horizontal like most fonts. Old books are all set in serif fonts. Most old inscriptions use serif letters. Andron is an old-style web font. Old-style fonts still reference writing with pen and ink. Even more contemporary serif fonts tend to feel older to us. Georgia is a transitional font and has more substantial thin strokes and serifs, than older looking fonts. Serif 72 has modern characteristics. Modern fonts doesn't mean contemporary, but rather these fonts were modern in the late 18th century.
They look more drawn than written and tend to have very thin thins and thick thicks. They feel elegant when used for big type but are hard to read in text. Slab serif fonts like Museo tend to feel less traditional. Sans serif fonts on the other hand did not gain popularity until the rise of modernism after World War I. Arial is what we call an anonymous sans serif font. Modern books and posters are usually set in sans serif fonts.
Verdana, a sans serif font designed for the screen, is a humanist sans serif font. It's less systematic than Arial. For instance, the C doesn't look like an O with part of the stroke missing. So while our sans serif letterforms have been around since the 5th century BCE, we've learned to associate them with technology and clarity. Our last sans serif here is Museo, which has characteristics of a geometric sans-serif. Notice how the O and C are based on perfect circles.
It's not only fonts that communicate meaning. We have learned to associate all caps with power and stability. Lowercase is seen as more friendly. Capital letters are bigger and more demanding; they have fewer round or softer forms. Lowercase letters are softer. Early Greek and Roman alphabets did not have lowercase letters, so when important ideas were carved into stone, all caps were used. And today we usually write in lowercase letters. If we type in all caps, it looks like we are yelling.
We've also learned to associate italics with a more personal human voice, because it looks more like cursive writing. Serif italics usually feel more like handwriting than sans serif obliques. We call them oblique because they aren't really italic. That is, they don't have curved forms. They would just look sort of like they were slanted over. Some contemporary sans serif fonts are designed with italics instead of oblique forms. We will use one later in this course. It's quite lovely. You can really see the italic forms here in the word face.
See how the F in the bottom sans serif has the same form as the serif italic up on the left? Finally, we have learned to associate specific fonts with specific situations, because we have seen them before. The fonts are iconic, which means they look like the thing they represent. For example, Comic Sans looks like a comic strip font, Courier looks like it was typed on a typewriter, and England hand looks like it was written over a hundred years ago with a split nib pen or something.
Our association with the fonts is so strong, the meaning of the font becomes more important than the message itself. For example, we wouldn't expect to see the US Declaration of Independence set in Comic Sans, unless the designer was making a political statement and Courier doesn't work because there weren't any typewriters at the time, and England Hand doesn't work because it's hard to read. So sometimes a nice neutral font is the best choice and we can use what we know about how fonts convey meaning to decide what font and styles to use.
Serif is still more traditional, which works here. Caps can feel more important, so they might make a good headline, but they don't work for the rest of the text. And italics feel more humanists and while they add a bit of elegance, they may feel too personal for this kind of text. But if we combined our knowledge of serif and caps in italics, we can compose an appropriate typographic version of the Declaration of Independence.
So in choosing a font to communicate a mood or feeling, the trick is to remember that no font can completely and clearly communicate the emotional associations of a text. Choose a font that could work. Choose a font that doesn't jar your reader because it's hard to read, feels out of place with the text, or has obvious design elements. Use the basic associations we all have with serif, sans-serif, capital, lowercase and italic fonts to help support the meaning of the text.
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