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Typography: The Beginning

As we gear up for what seems destined to be a calm and uncontroversial presidential election, it is certainly beneficial to keep one eye on elections past in order to avoid repeating any mistakes. With this in mind, let us recall the 2003 California Gubernatorial race, where 133 candidates vied for governorship.  Aside from listing nearly a gross of candidates in alphabetical order according to a “randomly chosen alphabet” (exempli gratia RWQOJMVAHBSGZXNTCIEKUPDYFL), sample ballots show up to 16 different font sizes and styles:

Here, the “OFFICIAL BALLOT” headline, rendered in bold-faced capital letters, is followed by several lines of graphic schizophrenia: One line consists of condensed caps, the next of bolded lowercase, still another is shrunk to 9 point.

While early in the last century type design was relegated to the realm of experts — and those who could afford to consult experts — the dawn of the age of personal computing provided the layperson with unprecedented choice in graphic design. Perhaps it is this surfeit of choice that has led us astray, forcing classicists to choose the unfortunately ubiquitous Papyrus, the fun-loving to choose Comic Sans, and the government to choose to Jackson Pollock a ballot.

But it’s timed to make informed choices.  This month we’ll focus on Typography — how we acquired it and how we abused it. Maybe the fate of a state or a nation doesn’t exactly hang on our choice of fonts, but as responsible computer and internet citizens we owe it to ourselves to have material to back up our Times New Roman or bust mentality. After all, Comic Sans and Papyrus exist for reasons, presumably, and not just to awaken the internet’s ire.

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