The Meaning of Typography

Typography is an art, of which font selection is just one small piece. The arrangement of type involves the selection of typefaces, point size, line length, leading, as well as adjusting the spaces between groups of letters and the space between pairs of letters. Joanna Drucker notes that “writing produces a visual image: the shapes, size, and placement of letters on a page contribute to the message produced, creating statements which cannot always be rendered in spoken language” (pg. 66, 2008). Typography, then, is one of the most important aspects of writing, even more so in the an age when technology dictates much of what we read. Knowing that communication is a two part process: visual and verbal, it would be strange to see that the arrangement and structuring of the letters on a page not change the meaning of a document.

Font and typography were developed in ancient times, but the more modern, movable type print was developed in the 14th century by Gutenberg. Letterpress printing was the norm until the mid-twentieth century, and as Drucker notes in her research, the letterpress’ “mechanical design is designed to maintain even lines in a single typeface…but the very rigidity of those norms also permits the use of that technology as a language itself” (p. 66, 2008). The rigidity of the letterpress is gone, and we have the ability to use new technologies to create new typefaces—they are part of the language of technology that Drucker mentions. As technical communicators, we have a lot of power, and much of that power rests in our ability to produce messages that force and invite cognitive processes through both visual and verbal content.