The Role of Typography

The Role of Typography


by amanda dixon
published april 15 2017

In order to effectively communicate, designers must master typography. Typography can take on different roles such that can be expressive, or practical, but the limits of typography and its role are not very limited. That is why trained designers must use typography in a meaningful way. When designers see the word as an object and apply semantics to it, it gains meaning through both imagery and text in a simple manner. When designers see text as a constructed letterform, then the shapes are defined by light and shadow, but when designers see it as an abstract composition, it becomes dynamic by adding in variation in scale, texture, and bold color. I could go on and on because the limits for typography are endless, but as trained designers, we must give typography as much meaning as we can.

It is important to note the anatomy of the typeface when making design decisions as well. The impact of differing x-heights, serifs, sans serifs, and so on are all attributors to the overall impact and meaning that will be taken in by the audience so it must be approached in an analytical way in order to evoke the feeling needed. There are times when the typefaces provided just are not what the designer is looking for so that is when the designer can create custom typography that can add a lot more interest and cohesiveness to a piece. Lastly, a designer must always check the kerning and balance between letters. I cannot say how many times I personally have seen this delicate balance go awry and it is cringeworthy. So it is important to always take all of these and more in to account when dealing with delicate differing qualities in a design or in a typeface.

After researching outside of Graphic Design School: The Principles and Practice of Graphic Design, I was able to find much more information regarding typography. In an article by Carrie Cousins, she talks about how typefaces add meaning to design. She starts by saying that every typeface has a mood. This mood helps establish context for the project, and it determines what the audience is going to feel when it is seen. It is all about creating the right connection between your typeface and your content, and the right message must be conveyed well, and if it is not, then its intention can certainly get lost.

It is also important to realize that  nobody wants to be a cliche designer. This means that a designer may want to second guess branding this “in-style” clothing store company with helvetica, like every other American Apparel add, and instead, go for something like Proba. It has the same simplistic, clean feeling, but it does not look the same as every other “in-style” business in the marketplace.

It is important to also consider the surroundings of the business itself. If a designer chooses a western display font for a promotional ad for the business from Texas, it may seem a little cliche and a bit overdone in the area, but if they choose another display typeface that is more modern, then it could be a nice change. All in all, it is crucial that a designer takes in to account every single part of the context and the content about a business before deciding on a typeface.

In addition to that, Carrie Cousins also wrote another article about kerning typefaces properly. She says to think about visual space, to always go three letters at a time, to always remember word spacing, and to turn it upside down to double, or triple check. The reasoning for turning the design upside down and looking at the typography in that sense is because it will help the designer move away from seeing the type as text, and into seeing the type as a form. Also, thinking about the visual space is crucial to the kerning process. One must look at the visual space between each and every letter and analyze it in order to make sure that it is visually balanced. This is because there is a huge difference between a combination of a “w” and an “a” as opposed to two “t”s.

Overall, the lesson is that kerning, and choosing the right typeface are so important to the make or break of a design. So when done well, it can elevate it to the highest level of recognizability and admiration by the audience.


Cousins, Carrie. “Design Shack – Web Design Gallery, Articles & Community.” 8 Ways to Kern Any Typeface Like a Professional Typographer | Design Shack. Design Shack, 27 Apr. 2015. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

Cousins, Carrie. “Design Shack – Web Design Gallery, Articles & Community.” What Does That Say? How Typefaces Add Meaning to the Design | Design Shack. Design Shack, 6 Apr. 2016. Web. 15 Apr. 2017.

Dabner, David, Sandra Stewart, and Abbie Vickress. Graphic Design School: The Principles and Practice of Graphic Design. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley, 2017. Print.