“[Typography is] the art of printing from moveable type, including the skilled planning of typeface and size, composition, and layout, to make a balanced and attractive whole” (Google Online Dictionary).
Movable type had to be set by hand for over 400 years prior to typewriters and computers. It wasn’t until the late 1800’s when automated type-setting became available. It is clear that Gutenberg’s movable typeset had a huge impact on communication throughout the world.
Typography has advanced to the point that an artist can choose from a wide variety of fonts for written communication or design elements. Typography is everywhere; it is seen on artistic layouts used for publications and found on functional computer-based products such as telephones, remote controls, and microwaves.
Since today’s software can turn typography into “outlines” as in Illustrator; or in Flash, the fonts can “break apart”–this too, was advancement for typography, because the Internet recognizes *digitally converted fonts* as artwork and not as typography. Digitally converting typography to artwork is important to today’s technology, because artistic or unknown fonts (not digitally transformed to artwork) do not have to be converted to default fonts by end users’ computers.
Since decorative typography creates shapes in layouts, it can be arranged to be a focal point or used to create texture. When decorative typography becomes the focal point, it goes way beyond what graphics can do in visual communication. In most circumstances, graphic designs play second best to decorative typography especially in layouts, because decorative typography becomes part of the written communication. Generally speaking, the written word is easier to comprehend when comparing to graphic elements and editorial illustrations; and most often, graphics are usually not as precise as we want them to be. Even though a picture is worth a thousand words, misinterpretations of graphics are probably more apt to occur when compared to straight-forward written communication.
When stylized fonts harmonize with the intended meaning behind them, they can give a stronger punch to what is being communicated. Stylized fonts can clarify or confuse the meaning of the written word, so be careful with your choice of fonts in your layouts. No doubt about it, the art of typography is an art unto itself! (revised 2/13/2006)