Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Not Just a Pretty (Type) Face: What Your Type Choices Say About Your Nonprofit

The Characteristics of a Typeface (for widescr...Image by arnoKath via Flickr
Wimpy. Wimpy. Wimpy. Or Traditional with a Capital "T'. Your typeset communications are talking about your small nonprofit and you may not even know it.

In the olden days, BJB (before Justin Bieber), typeset specifically meant metal type being set into place in rows in order to be inked to make an impression on paper. In those days, A.J. Liebling of The New Yorker had a point when he said, "Freedom of the Press belongs to those who own one." But in these modern times, anyone who has access to a computer owns a press, which means you cut out the expense of the typesetters, but you also cut out their expertise.  In those days, I used to be fond of saying that page layout programs had now made it possible for the design uneducated to put out ugly things faster. Oh, you know the stuff I mean - those little newsletters with breezy prose, columns set too close together, and little clip art pics of dogs and cats and hearts and flowers with at least 10 different type families on one page.

But even if your e-newsletter or PDF or Donor Plea/Thanks documents now look more professional, you could still be undermining your message by using the wrong typeface for the job as well as the wrong font.

Say What, Now? Aren't Fonts and Typefaces The Same Thing?

Well, those terms are being used pretty interchangeably, but for the purpose of this post, this is how I define them:
Typeface - a family of fonts. For example, Times Roman
Font - a member of a type family. For example, Times Roman Italic or Times Roman Condensed
Take a good look at this picture of two typefaces by designer Neville Brody:
Would you say they were interchangeable? Would it make a difference in the "feel" of a published piece to use one or the other? What do you think Brody meant by naming one "Industria" and one "Arcadia"? Now cover Arcadia with your finger or a piece of paper. Industria is a no-frills kind of typeface, very spare with not even a full crossbar on the "t". Now cover up Industria and look at Arcadia. Doesn't it somehow seem more light-hearted and less workmanlike? Both typefaces are sans serif and both have somewhat rounded edges, but even so "Industria" seems more modern and harder, while "Arcadia" seems softer and more antique.

Type is Art And So Are Words

Before you begin to choose the typeface to use for your communication, ask yourself:
What impression am I trying to make? Traditional (old banks liked this look), modern, breezy, caring?
Choose your typeface based on the underlying feel you want the written piece to have. Other things to consider:
  • Can it be embedded so that if my piece is a Word doc or a PDF and the persons receiving it don't have that typeface, the document will still look the way I designed it?
  • How well does it work with my logo or other graphic items that have to be included in the piece?
  • How much real estate will it use up? If the typeface takes up a lot of space, you may find yourself spending time playing with condensed sizes or leading or kerning to get more words on the page, which may make things look squashed or overcrowded.
 Uh, Maybe I'll Just Stick to Helvetica or Arial

You may have to, if you're working with html and don't know anything about CSS and how to put in code for typefaces other than what are available to you via say, Blogger. But when working with a page layout or word processing application, why not take advantage of the multitude of typefaces available to you? Sure, Helvetica and Times Roman are safe, but because they're safe they may not have the impact that you're looking for.

This post hasn't even scratched the surface of using typefaces and you're probably already holding your head and wishing you'd skipped this post. If so, the simplest advice I can give you is, whatever typeface you choose, just be sure:
  • it's as easy to read at 8 points as it is at 72pts
  • that your text isn't crammed into the space
  • that if it doesn't add to your document, it at least doesn't detract from it
Do those three things and you'll never have to apologize for having been fooled by a pretty face.
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You might want to consider a mobile website - Five Reasons Why Nonprofit Communicators Need Smartphones

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