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Styles: Visual Qualities of Text

Lesson 30 from: Graphic Design Fundamentals

Timothy Samara

Styles: Visual Qualities of Text

Lesson 30 from: Graphic Design Fundamentals

Timothy Samara

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Lesson Info

30. Styles: Visual Qualities of Text

Lesson Info

Styles: Visual Qualities of Text

So this is really all about the visual. You know that language, it says stuff. But it also looks a particular way. And just like any kind of painting, or drawing, or sculpture, or collage, it's visual stuff. And it needs to be treated with the same kind of consideration as you would for the quality of line with the selection of graphical elements and forms within an image. So we'll look at that. So you have to think about the type as though it's a picture even though it also has to be read, but keeping in mind that every visual decision you make will also affect its readability. Sometimes that's a good thing. And sometimes that's not a good thing. And then you have to be able to decide did this visual change, which made the text so much more interesting, also cause the text not to be able to be read properly. And then you can't do that. Because there's no time ever that you can do something visual to text where the result is a loss of information or a loss of navigability. 'cause then ...

you're taking away the purpose of the text. Then it's a painting. Hang it on the wall. Don't ask people to read it. So what you're generally after is something that is not only easy to read, but that is kind of dynamically interesting in a visual way, is a composition, and where those two things balance each other out. And, of course, the further you get towards visual interest, the less kind of passive the text becomes, the less sort of straight forward, the more expressive it will be. But sometimes you just want the text to be kind of clean and clear. So even in this sort of very passive, almost minimally treated text, there is a little bit of contrast in size. There's contrast in weight and also posture that separates pieces of information. The spacing is considered relative to the height of interline space or leading measurement. It's very simple. It's very beautiful. So thinking about the text in a visual way works in both directions to both ends of the spectrum in terms of crafting it to be as comfortable and thoughtful as possible and also to be as dynamic and visual, where the change in the visual qualities may support the voice of the text or the tone of it, or call out information, concepts that are important, or speed up, or slow down, certain passages in the text. 'Cause when we read, we hear it. We speak it in our heads. And you get a sense for the authors voice because people don't always talk at the same speed over and over again. And when they write, they do not intend that it should be read at the same speed. Because sometimes somebody talks really fast and then they pause for a second, and then maybe they'll be a little bit more contemplative in the rhythm that they're using. But, perhaps, some of the information is very, very precious and is quiet. And other information is very evocative or loud. So the visual changes also create the perception of sound and time difference. You have to think about, again, the text as interacting with imagery in the same way that the parts that are in that image are already interacting with each other. So the image here, I've diagrammed as a configuration of angles and different kinds of light and dark distribution. And against that you can see kind of angles shapes that have been applied to the text and the sort of alignments against heavy verticals, alignments between text elements top to bottom, this kind of movement of the diagonal, this stepping that occurs in the cityscape is also evident in the stepping that occurs in the two lines, the two words. There's also a detail to mass or a smaller to larger background to foreground relationship that is expressed here. So the text here is perfectly legible. It's navigable. It has a clear hierarchy. You know what to read first, what to read second, and what to read third. And it also is part of that composition. It's not a separate entity. It's not foreign. It's not alien. Is the urban and the fire, is that the same typeface? It is the same type family. Mm-hmm (affirmative). But this is the super condensed light and this is the super condensed medium weight. So when we talk about this visual quality, it's usually referred to as the typographic color. And that just means... Like we would say, for example, that this poster or this advertisement is very typographically colorful even though it's in black and white. And that just means that it's got a lot of lively contrast between type space and open space, between different levels of gray value, between very, very massive dark elements and small rhythmic dark elements, detail and sort of blast of color. And these are just sort of studies of what happens with changes in weight that create color, changes in leading or interline space that darken or lighten, what happens when you tighten or open the letter spacing within a work, and does it actually support or conflict with the sense of what the word is saying, the overall shaping, whether the text element expresses itself as a horizontal form, as a square form, or as a vertical form, and then whether or not different kinds of possibilities as a comparison will generate different kinds of impressions. And what happens when you combine this kind of rhythmic change is that you get this sort of speeding up and slowing down of the language as you're reading it. So you're always after color. Those kinds of colors that texture is something that you can derive from the language itself, from the structure of it that is applying visual changes to a part of speech like just the verbs and the noun so that you create a new kind of a reading order, an emphasis for important ideas within the text that you interpret the audience or the readers of that text might find useful or interesting to call out. It doesn't disturb the sequential reading of the text. You will of course read these four words first before anything else, followed by these. And then after you've taken in that kind of overall picture, your eye will go to the place where you expect to start reading, which is usually in the upper left hand corner of the text shape. You can also think about the sound of words. Many words are descriptive. Adjectives in particular have kinds of feelings and sometimes sort of audible qualities to them associated. And so this is a couple of studies in which tinkling, crunching, and vrooming are expressed through the typographic form. You want to think about alignment relationships, and, again, this kind of relationship between where stuff is, where it starts and stops, and what is not there. That is how elements align and the interplay between masses and voids. The void in typography is often said to be more important than what's in it. Is that it's the space that helps direct the eye. It's the space that allows the viewer to appreciate differences or similarities in shape. It's the space that allows you to compare an aligned edge and an unaligned edge or a ragged edge. It's the space that creates compression and opening, movement, energy, rhythm, and near-far perception. So you'll find here a lot of alignment things going on, where spaces replicated the mass. Whoops, not alignment. Alignments from internal elements that are really driving the bus. And sometimes unexpected uses of line details that will correspond to other kinds of elements like the baseline of the two. This upper edge corresponds to the baseline of the M. And you're really always interested in trying to sort of break apart the text in a way that will not only active space and move eye around the format in a way that's not passive like, meh, where you have essentially kind of a similarity in the vertical and horizontal areas of the format and the type is just sort of stuck in the corner. It's one mass. No difference in the information. It's just flowed in there so that you get a much more kind of complex rhythmic relationship, the opportunity to appreciate vertical elements in contrast to horizontal ones. And where the breaking apart of the text actually supports the fact that there are different pieces of information. And that all comes down to the visual being verbal. That is you are in command of the information as well as what the type looks like. So what you really want to do is to be able to establish a hierarchy. When the reader, when the user, when the viewer comes to the designed experience, to the text, they need to know what to look at first. And they need to know how elements relate to each other. And they need to know how to get from one place to another. And so usually really bold contrast are a good way to go. Anything that's bigger and bolder then everything else is going to advance, is going to confront you. And that confrontation says, I'm the most important thing. And then this other stuff in the background, this other stuff in the background, not so important. But that doesn't necessarily mean that's only strategy for creating a hierarchy. Changes in weight, creating sort of emphasis and de-emphasis because of tightening and opening the widths of columns, creating alignment relationships between particular elements, changing gray value are all kinds of strategies you can use to differentiate the levels of information in a text. And these are those. So it's kind of a catalog of the basic changes. It's a lot of different kinds of changes even though it doesn't seem like that. And the effects of them, especially in combination, can be really powerful. In a weird way, stylistic relationship among elements is kind of important in establishing hierarchy and in kind of establishing a text. In that if the stylistic combinations are too radically divergent from each other even though the size, and weight, and positioning hierarchy, or aspects of the text, might be perfectly fine in terms of determining what's related to what, what's to be read first and second, and so on is that the fact of all these different kinds of details and movements and stroke proportions becomes very distracting and the text will actually seem to kind of disintegrate as an idea. So that the hierarchy, even though in terms of proportion size, it might be perfectly useful is that there's so much stuff going on here that the hierarchy becomes almost obliterated. So here maintaining generally the same kind of weight and size relationships, but now narrowing the selection of typefaces down to only a few and bringing in details that correspond to each other, but still maintain the same kind of idea, you're able to achieve the same sort of ideas of contrast or shaping and still be able to and feel like all the parts belong to each other. So the belonging has to do... That sense of belonging of the parts also affects our perceptions of the hierarchy as a kind of something that's continuous, something that is crafted and built together at the same time. You always want to sort of think about the scaled difference between largest to smallest or boldest to lightest in a way that seems kind of proportionally related to the space that its in and to the amounts of information. Sometimes if you have a really extreme contrast, really big and bold, and really small and light, there is also a kind of a disconnection between parts of information. So when you're dealing with something like an environmental kind of typographic experience, like an exhibition or even a large poster, you want to be sure that there is some connective tissue between biggest and boldest and smallest and lightest or most delicate. That there's a kind of a middle ground that acts as a kind of a bridge between how present and how reserved some of the elements are. And last we can talk about the effect of color 'cause type and color is a marvelous thing to play with, but it's dangerous as you can see here. Color affects hierarchy because all of the relationships that we talked about in the last segment come to bear, are brought to bear on the typographic elements in the background. This is an example of how easy it is to either use color to advance and support the hierarchy. This particular panel reads in the right order because of the degree of contrast between value, temperature, and saturation, relative to the orange background and relative to the sizes of the individual elements. So even though this numbers are not set from left to right, you will read them one, two, three, four, five. On the other hand, this shows you how easy it is for color to screw your hierarchy up royally because in that example, you will read that text five, two, three, four, one. Choose wisely. Test it out. So these are just examples of some color for a website using an analogous palette, using lesser contrast and similarities or analogous temperature in hues to group pieces of information together and also to pull information into the background so that other information with greater contrast, here an extreme difference in temperature against the background allows this element to kind of pop out. You can also use color to code information. So here's there's a kind of a navigational bar where pieces of information that are listed here, this is a kind of a book about a journey through New York City. And this is kind of a time stamp. This is the schedule. So as you're turning the pages, and you go from first time period to next time period is that the color grays out so that you know that you've been there almost kind of like a spent web link. And then the color for that thing is actually applied then to the text. So what this text says, the experience that it's relating is occurring at that time. And at last, color can be a really amazing thing to use in typography. Type doesn't always have to be black and white or gray. I think people are afraid of using color and type just for the reasons I talked about is that it is very dangerous. But it can be a very beautiful thing. And it's so refreshing to see type in color in a kind of an ocean of black and white text. This is a webpage for a symphony with their seasonal schedule. This is actually kind of the scroll area, the live area of the browser. So the entire page scrolls, and you get this change in color relationships as it does that. This is the entire page from top to board, most of it. There's more down here. But that's all I could fit. So in each case, using value strong value contrast and lesser value contrast to create separation between foreground and background, creating kind of individual palettes for each area, overall kind of warmish, overall kind of cool, and then alternating between those creates this very, very dynamic, almost kind of musical sort of experience, but on a visual level. It's sort of like synesthesia. It's a condition where... (mumbles) condition. A facility, where people can see sounds and hear feelings, tactile sensations, hear touch in song. So the sense is kind of crosswire. So it was really the goal is to generate a kind of a musical vibration out of the color. And it's a wonderful thing to be able to work with. Try typing color next time you work on a project. And that brings us to the end of that.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with RSVP

Syllabus - Graphic Design Fundamentals.pdf

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Ad+Poster-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Book+Web--Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Color-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Form+Image-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Identity-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Intro-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Layout-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf
Typography-Timothy Samara Presentation.pdf

Ratings and Reviews


This is more about all of your courses - It would be really nice for instructors to answer questions during break times or even after the class. There a lot a fabulous questions that I see that never get answered. I would like to go back even the next day and see a short note for at least some of those questions. Just an idea to help out this wonderful format that you have going. I am sure to make use of the promote question when I see an interesting one.


I LOVED this class! I learned so much and since I had the foresight to purchase it, I can go back for a refresher anytime I want. Plus, the downloads are spectacular! Almost a book's worth and so helpful! Thank you Timothy, you are great teacher!

a Creativelive Student

This was an outstanding course, would love to see a more in depth typography course from this guy. I'm a proffesional photographer with a formal education in design, I hardly ever use it, so I forget things, this was great both as a review, and to pinpoint things I didn't know or thought I knew. thanks once again! well done!!

Student Work