Media Observations – Text (You’d think it’d be simpler)

Have you ever read a book or an article and had to do so in a specific accent? Or maybe it was hard to really synthesize what the speaker’s voice should sound like, and you didn’t know why?

The answer is probably in the font. The fonts or typesets we use determine not only the general feel of whatever we’re reading, but even the mental sound of it.

I have some anecdotal examples of this: When I was young and first learning to read, the Hardy Boys books were a huge motivation for me to learn to read faster and comprehend what I was reading. Even then, I noticed something interesting that the books consistently did.  At some crucial plot moment, or some vital clue discovery, the author would write that part of the book in italics. The whole rest of the book was roman Oldstyle font, but that line or two of italics would always mean that something really important just happened. Now, is it a little silly to have to italicize the important part of a novel? Probably, but just the same, I learned to look for those lines in every Hardy Boys book I read.

Another interesting typeset from the formative youth is the type used in many young-adult fiction novels (before they were all about vampires). When I was a kid, youth fiction was about Animorphs and demigods and superheroes and super sleuths and Goosebumps and Choose-your-own-adventure and sixth-grade aliens.

The type reflected, or sometimes even created the feel for every one of those.

As a child, my favorite series was the Animorphs books.  A bunch of teens, able to turn into animals because of alien technology that falls into their laps, discover and fight off an invasion of Earth by mind-controlling parasites, together with their telepathic centaur-scorpion-alien-friend. Good, right? If I recall correctly, the books were written in a narrow sans-serif font, spaced just enough to be adequately legible. To this day, I still remember those books as having a bleak, no-nonsense, logical, dystopian feel to them. Why?  Because the font said all that to me without even reading the words.

In our literature today, the art-science of typography has developed even more. The five-hundred youth vampire fiction novels in Barnes and Noble have heavy oldstyle fonts, because, you know, darkness. The cookbook you bought to use twice and then never again is probably printed in a sans serif or decorative script. The textbook had better be oldstyle font, or your eyes are going to get even more tired.  A sensible, non-vampire-related novel is probably written in oldstyle, but the cover is probably filled with modern or script typesets. These will affect how the book sounds in your head, and how it feels to read, and if the fonts are combined properly, you are much more likely to keep reading.

What have you read in an accent lately? Why do you think that was?

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One thought on “Media Observations – Text (You’d think it’d be simpler)

  1. Typography is a fascinating subject, and worthy of much personal study for anyone who expects other people to read their words. The more one studies, the greater his/her sensitivity becomes to the subtle variations between fonts in the same families. It is truly an amazing art form. Thanks for the thoughtful examples.

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