26 April 2022

Graphic design basics: Expressive typography

Poster for Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography

In the movie Carbon:The Unauthorzied Biography, the filmmakers asked, “What does carbon sound like?” 

“Carbon Rising” is such a beautiful and surprising piece. This is carbon's journey through the purest air of the southern hemisphere off the southern coast of Tasmania.

I think what we were trying to do with “Carbon Rising” is establish this sense of flight. How do you do that musically?

What does carbon look like as a character? 

Do you know that I've made carbon a character in the film, carbon is a person? ... With a gender, it's a she, using that device to join the dots across time and space and have a different relationship kind of open up with us, with the audience, with carbon, to see carbon differently, and perhaps some respect for carbon.

Filmmakers have different problems and solutions than those working with print, but the basic problem is a great one to think about for any designer.

What does some abstract thing look like?

Here’s a basic exercise in graphic designers: 

Make a word look like the thing it represents using type.

Here’s a simple example.

Word "Thick" in thick letters and word "Thin" in thin letters
But the challenge increases – and gets more interesting! – as you move away from the literal to the conceptual.

Foe example, how would you typeset “major histocompatibility complex” (often abbreviated MHC)? Your first thought might be that a technical, multi-syllable word doesn’t lend itself to expressive type.

This is a molecule in out immune system. Our immune system keeps us safe, so that’s a keyword I can play with. That leads me to think of a font that is a little rounded, with soft corners. 

The phrase "Major histocompatibility complex" in Jumble typeface.

This typeface above, Jumble, might be a little too casual. 

The phrase "Major histocompatibility complex" in Arial Rounded typeface.

 Arial Rounded MT Bold has the soft ends to the lines that I am going for. But because it’s part of the well used (overused) Arial family, it has less character.

The phrase "Major histocompatibility complex" in VAG Roundedtypeface.

 This one is in VAG Rounded BT. I like this. It is too heavy for some purposes, but there are other weights that might be more appropriate.

Another approach. The major hisocompatability complex is known for being, well, complex. To be more precise, it is polymorphic – many forms. So that is another direction that one could go. HelaBasic is a typeface where letters take many forms of line width.

The phrase "Major histocompatibility complex" in HelaBasic 300typeface.

There aren’t right or wrong solutions to these, but the point is to try using type in new ways. Get away from the well worn system defaults like Calibri and Arial and Time New Roman and Helvetica.

External links

Carbon - the element with a nice voice (In Canada, Carbon: The Unauthorized Biography is streaming for free on CBC Gem.)

No comments: