10 August 2012

To Baskerville or not to Baskerville?

After reading Hear, All Ye People; Hearken, O Earth (Part One) by Errol Morris, I was tempted to change the default font used in this blog to Baskerville (and probably would have if I'd been able to work out how to do it). This post is in Verdana. Blogger does not appear to offer Baskerville. Pity.

Morris raises an issue that has always fascinated me with the question: Is there a font that promotes, engenders a belief that a sentence is true?
And the quick answer is: Yes, and it appears to be Baskerville!

Graphic artists choose fonts, I presume, primarily for purely aesthetic reasons.
Morris's article discusses an issue I've long believed deserves far more attention than it currently receives. That question is: Should the elements of a graphic concept for a document intended to promote a company's corporate image, products or services be chosen not on the basis of the artist's aesthetics, but on the basis of objective measurements of what works best on the target readership (fonts, text size and legibility, white space, use of captions, etc.)?

Morris's article represents a small but important step towards an answer.

One day we will find out more. And when we do, purchasers of graphic artists' services will be able to establish whether or not they are getting value for money.
The challenge is considerable. Among many other factors, one would like to know something about the impact of different fonts on different readerships depending on their mother tongue, nationality, type of education, line of business, etc.

A couple or notes scribbled to myself over the years:
- English version of a high-cost multicolour brochure on high-tech industry in a French city, published in 1986, was composed, like the French version, in Le Novarese italics with extensive use of 'all caps'. The graphic artists were pleased, but, like me, several English-mother-tongue colleagues with technical backgrounds found it decidedly unappealing.
- When choosing fonts for publications for technical audiences, graphic artists should make sure that the font includes all necessary signs and symbols and that all mathematical symbols look good (to mathematically-minded technical readers trained in a given language) in combination with the font's numbers. (I've seen a couple of failures in this respect but unfortunately cannot recall the fonts involved...).

While researching this, I stumbled upon the following (source):
« Aucun caractère n’est parfait; il peut être le meilleur à une époque donnée, dans un environnement artistique et technique particulier, pour une destination bien définie. Cela vaut pour tout caractère typographique. » 
Né en 1928, en Suisse, Adrian Frutiger est formé au graphisme, à la typographie et à la sculpture.

And just in case you are wondering whether my repeated references to the specificity of writing for publications for highly specific readerships is a little 'over the top', take a look at this site on the specificity of international art English, aka IAE.

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