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Thursday Theory: What Makes Great Typography?

Thursday Theory: What Makes Great Typography?

Typography is a tricky art-form, and it can be hard to take your typography from good to great. However, hopefully the pointers below will encourage you to explore some new ideas when it comes to your typography!

Great Typography is Original and Interesting:

The best typography doesn’t regurgitate old ideas. Rather, it strives to be original! When you’re coming up with typography, try to take inspiration from unusual sources, rather than ripping off other designers. Try to create something personal to you, and it will more likely be original and unique.

A lot of aspects about this piece make it interesting and unique. The distorted letters combine to form a melting abstract composition, with some really interesting lighting and textures.

Paying Attention to Details:

Like any form of design, the quality often lies in the details. Even if your typographic design is seemingly simply in terms of structure/layout, it can really pay to spend some extra time on the details. Whether that means slightly adjusting your kerning, or going in and retouching single pixels to get things looking perfect, it’s worth it!

The above example is a great example of details paying off. At a distance the letters appear fairly standard. However, the closer you inspect them, you find hidden layers of complex vector designs. Thus this composition can be viewed as a perfectly legible font, or a richly textured vector masterpiece.

It’s More Than Just a Font!

When you’re working with typography, try not to be limited by the concept of the font. We’re used to applying fonts in fairly typical ways – in word documents, in websites etc… Try to totally break free from these restrictions. View your typography as a living thing, as a natural entity, as whatever you can imagine!

The project shown above is a great example of breaking away from the standard view of fonts. The author has taken the idea of dissecting letters, but into a very real, 3D realm. The hospital settings and actual 3D models result in a project that’s truly engaging.

Experiment with Various Mediums:

When working with typography it can be all too easy to restrict yourself to the digital medium. Try branching out and including mediums such as sculpture, pen/pencil drawing and collage into your typographic work.

The above example shows some lovely examples of hand-drawn typographic. This can lend a much more palpable feel to your work than simply typing out computer fonts.

Remember the Purpose of your Typography:

Just like any other type of design, typographic design often needs to fit a brief. Even with non-commercial work, try and always consider the purpose of your typography. Who is your audience? What type of mood are you trying to evoke? Questions such as these should help guide the visual aspect of your design.

The example above is a project for Heston Blumenthal’s cookbook. The artist perfectly captured the ‘fantastical’ theme, using glorious golden typography, with plenty of elaborate flourishes and details.

Have Your Say!

This whole point of these Thursday Theory posts is to encourage discussion and let you have your say on pressing design issues.

Please leave a comment below and join the discussion:

About the Author:

Tom is the founder of PSDFAN. He loves writing tutorials, learning more about design and interacting with the community. On a more interesting note he can also play guitar hero drunk with his teeth.

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  1. Eric Vasquez says:

    A very thought provoking article indeed! All of the examples you have shown are excellent displays of typography at it’s best. I especially love the wire looking typeface under ‘Paying Attention to Details’ and think you have touched on some very important points in the post.

    It can really stifle your creativity when using pre-made fonts just because they can sort of limit or restrict your concepts at times. A good solution is to maybe modify a typeface in Illustrator to make it more unique or as you mentioned drawing a font by hand depending on what it will be used for.

    Some projects may call for a more elegant solution where you would perhaps want to use a serif font or something that is spaced out like the Heston’s cover and other times it may be more appropriate to use type as an illustration to reinforce a message. There are a lot of really great examples out there and it really makes you think – when designers spend so much time perfecting an image, why not put the same amount of attention into the type that we use?

    • Tom says:

      Thanks Eric! I think your last comment ‘why not put the same amount of attention into the type that we use?’ is really what I was trying to promote in this article. Typography often seems to be overlooked totally, or given too little attention. Even if people don’t create a custom font, small variations like you mentioned can add a really unique twist to your work.

  2. I can’t say I’ve ever given much thought to typography. Not that it isn’t important, but I think that recently I’ve gotten a bit lazy for one reason or another! As mentioned, a very thought-provoking article indeed, and I think from now on I’ll start paying a bit more attention to detail!

    • Tom says:

      I think we all have periods of feeling lazy with typography, hence it’s important to bring it to people’s attention periodically. I’m glad that this article inspired you to pay attention to the details :) .

  3. lvacs says:

    I too never really thought much about typography. Very interesting. Wonderful article Tom!

  4. Truelly aw inspiring

  5. Christian says:

    That really textured vector type that looks like it was weaved from grass is incredible… I can only imagine how much time went into that. Awesome article!

  6. Xandrine says:

    I never really thought much about typography. But I like the project about the hospital 3D models. I’m impressed!

    Maybe I can learn something about typography, like the shape, effects and details that were used.

    Thanks! :D

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