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Typography Essentials

Typography Essentials in Copywriting

A critical purpose of copywriting is to persuade audiences to see a benefit in a particular point. Great words themselves carry the most weight and, in most cases, will achieve the goal. But an added boost from typography is always a welcome addition. Typography has a history so rich and expansive it’s impossible to discuss every element in this insight.

The discussion here is instead on the effect typography has on copywriting and design. Why is comic sans the most hated typeface? or why is Helvetica the standard typeface for virtually every document, store front and signboard? Typography is perhaps the greatest, silent hero, quietly creating incredible associations within the copy in a self-effacing way that it was meant to follow. As long as language and music have been around, so too has typography.

The essence of typography is about dressing up letters. The way copy looks greatly impacts its meaning. Letters in an alphabet are essentially images, tiny pictures to which we have attached meaning. In fact, the roman alphabet known today has evolved from pictorial representations. And like any picture, the potential to make it look pretty and for a purpose has always intrigued artists, illustrators, and designers alike. As language has evolved, so too have letterforms.

Consider the letter ‘A’. There are literally a thousand ways to draw this letter and still retain its meaning. The reference here is to (sometimes incorrectly labeled) fonts. Consider a wedding invitation. The wording is the message itself. The typeface used for the message is usually script-like and elegant. Snell Roundhand is a favorite. The wording in the invitation is cordial and informative but the typeface used reinforces the look and feel of the message — in this case elegance and dignity.

A typeface describes a type family: Helvetica, Times, Myriad, Gotham, Arial, and Verdana. A font refers to a specific member in the family: Helvetica Light, Times Italics, Arial Bold. Typography is the study of type. The prevalence of incorrect terminology is largely due to word processing programs that list all the typefaces under the incorrectly titled drop-down box ‘fonts’.

Copywriters and designers are aware of the difference because knowing which typeface to use can greatly influence the final fonts selected and therefore create the right impact when copywriting. Just like language and music, type has feeling and emotion that is conveyed when readers interact and engage with the message.

Take for example the word ‘sexy’. The word itself does not change, but when different typefaces are applied, its meaning and context can be radically altered as far as perception is concerned. If the typeface ‘Impact’ is used on the word ‘sexy’, perceptions of its meaning will be quite different than if a more gentle typeface like ‘Georgia’ or almost sensual typeface ‘Snell Roundhand’ is used. The way the letters are presented are as important as the meaning borne by the words these letters form.

In music, certain tones evoke discomfort or inspiration. Typefaces can do the same just by virtue of its design. The best typefaces serve the purpose that typography was created for.

A typeface enhances the message of the words, reinforces its content, and provides legibility. And it does all this without being noticed. if the design of a typeface overshadows the content and message of its words, then the typeface is not fulfilling its purpose — unless of course this type of design is deliberately intended. Good copywriters are also good designers.

Great design and presentation are about great visuals. At times these visuals are relegated to images and illustrations. Typographic considerations are extremely critical to great copywriting and design.In a society where words permeate every type of communication, typography is solely concerned with presenting these words in a manner that reinforces the message. Considering the typographic element in copywriting or design, is engaging in higher-order communication. Resorting to standard typefaces that are used so often — Helvetica, Times, Verdana, Arial — without considering their design and contextual impact is a very poor, but unfortunately fairly common practice.

Singapore is rife with direct mailers. Remember the last mailer for air-conditioning servicing or that new property fair? Think about why people toss it in the bin without reading the whole thing or even part of it. What about bank statements? The numbers and expenditure lines are all present, but in which typeface? And why has the bank chosen that particular typeface from over a few thousand varieties? Most importantly, does the typeface provide legibility and evoke certain emotions? is it business-like? Compare the typeface from bank statements to the brochures at the branch? Why the difference, if any?

Questions like these provide a key insight into the quiet, yet incredibly strong impact that typography has on every society across the planet. Typography, and copywriting are intrinsically connected. Singapore is a great place to experiment with type, owing to the sheer number of communication displays.

Singapore itself is a hub of deep, rich communication practices, some effective, most average, and all relevant to this and future discussions about typography and its impact on copywriting and design.

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