Join Ina Saltz for an in-depth discussion in this video Opposing forces of typography, part of Foundations of Typography.
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I'm going to talk about three sets of opposing forces in typographic design. Understanding these forces will help you shape your viewer's perception. The three examples that we'll talk about here are formality and informality, symmetry and asymmetry, and simplicity and complexity. We know the difference between formality and informality when we see it. You know that when someone's wearing a tuxedo they're going to a very different event than when they're wearing bermuda shorts.
Typographically speaking traditional Roman letters especially, caps indicate formality and solidity. They are the typographic equivalent of a tuxedo. And when something is centered or justified it adds to the formality. We have a sense of sobriety and calmness, seriousness, organization, balance, and purpose. In contrast the informal effect here is achieved with a whimsical mix of upper and lower case letters a chunky slab serif, bright colors, asymmetrically arranged blocks of text and lively imagery.
The next set of opposing forces are symmetry and asymmetry. Symmetrical typography conveys formality. In this cover for the Oxford English dictionary we see an almost completely symmetrical arrangement of type using traditional Roman letterforms, this conveys a sense of quiet authority and trustworthiness. In contrast the asymmetrical arrangement and the modern sans serif type on this book cover convey energy and excitement.
The bright primary colors contribute to the edgy effect. The large separations between the words of the title force the reader to leap from word to word, again creating a sense of action. Another pair of opposites I'd like to talk about are simplicity and complexity. Simplicity can be very powerful, even though it is simple. On this package we immediately feel a sense of calmness it uses simple sans serif typefaces, the colors are soothing and natural, and there is a lot of room to breathe around the type.
Complexity can also be powerful, a complex arrangement of type requires a finely tuned typographic hierarchy. This package is a good example of a well designed and tightly constructed composition, which allows our eyes and our minds to make sense of its message, its imagery and type fill the surface from edge to edge, its intense but organized. The use of historical type and imagery convey a sense of authority and tradition. These examples of dueling design approaches formality and informality, symmetry and asymmetry, and simplicity and complexity are ideas that you can apply to your own projects.
There are other kinds of opposing forces, but these are a few to get you thinking and to help you stretch your design muscles.
- 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