Join Ina Saltz for an in-depth discussion in this video Contrast and scale, part of Foundations of Typography.
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To get your message across to your viewer, nothing is more powerful than using Scale and Contrast. Scale and Contrast allow you to grab the viewers by their virtual lapels and point them in the right direction. Strong differences in scale and contrast also make your project more visually dynamic. Contrasts in style, size, weight, width, color, and position separate information. You have the power to direct your viewers to see what matters most.
Start by figuring out what you want to communicate and who you want to communicate to. Your content is always the starting point for all design decisions. Then look at the information you have in hand, most of the time it's pretty obvious what the most important piece of information is and the next most important, and so on. Scale and Contrast are the tools you apply to make those levels of importance clear to the viewer. The effects of scale are obvious, bigger is better, weightier is better, big and bold are immediately seen as nearer and more important.
Position indicates importance too, the higher the better. But you can't just make everything bigger, bolder, and more visually active. Think of a piece of music with a different instruments being played and different voices singing at the same time. If every instrument is equally loud and every person is singing at the top of his or her lungs. Nothing will stand out it will just be noise. It's the same principle with visual activity, the viewer needs to have a main focus and then be guided into the rest of the information in the order of its visual voice.
Contrast is the level of difference in tonality or value between the background and the foreground. Black and white offer the most contrast, the higher the contrast the stronger the impact. Black and white are at opposite ends of the value scale. As contrast decreases impact decreases, the closer the values between foreground and background the less contrast there is so the level of importance appears lower. Using typographic contrast and scale dynamically can be a great way to create visual interest even when there is no imagery available or if you don't want the specificity of an image.
I'd like to point out three common errors in the use of scale and contrast, the first is trying to make everything look important by making it as big as possible, that just creates a lot of noise and confusion for the viewer. The second is not being bold enough, don't be afraid to create extreme differences of scale and contrast, push beyond your limits and see how effective the big gestures can be. Third common error involves contrast, try to avoid running type over a complex background, it's always a challenge to make this work because there are often a variety of tones in the background.
So no single color of type will show up equally well against all parts of the background. However, there are methods to do this successfully. On this book cover good type use has overcome a very difficult and complex background. There are multiple techniques that work here to lift this headline forward from the busy background. First, there's a thin black outline around the type. There is a hard black drop shadow to the southeast, then there's a soft gray drop shadow also to the southeast.
Also note that the serifs on the letterforms are weighty enough so that they stand out. Each of these steps adds to the visual separation of type from image and creates an illusion of dimensionality. The Sports Illustrated logo is another good example of overcoming a busy background. This logo has to work on a wide variety of media platforms, there are four techniques at work here. There's a thin black outline, there's a heavier gray inline, there's a hard black drop shadow and a soft gray drop shadow.
These are techniques that you can employ to help your type be legible against an image or texture. Remember scale and contrast are your friends, don't be shy about using them to create drama and to attract and hold your viewers attention. But you can't have every piece of type shouting either. It's the modulation of scale that creates the power pick and choose the bits that are the key words, it may be a title or part of a title or another element. But make that type look like the equivalent of a trumpet call and your viewer will hear it loud and clear.
- What is typography?
- Differentiating type characteristics
- Using ornamental and decorative type
- Combining typefaces
- Using contrast and scale
- Kerning and kerning pairs
- Choosing the optimum line length
- Aligning and spacing characters, words, and paragraphs
- Understanding factors affecting legibility
- Working with three-dimensional type
- Putting type in motion