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IXD101 – Understanding Typography

Understanding Typography

Before researching typefaces, I wanted to understand more on the basic anatomy of typography and familiarise myself with terms such as ascenders, descenders, line spacing, kerning and baseline. although there are many different forms of typefaces, many follow the same principles.


The invisible line that the bottom each letter sits on with exceptions such as y and g that break past the bottom of the baseline.


The stem is the vertical line that you draw up or down to create a letter such as L. We connect these stems with whats known as a crossbar like in the letter H.

Ascender and Descender

As mentioned before there are letters that go below the baseline which are known as descender stokes. Letters that have strokes that move up and away from the main body of the letter, this is known as an Ascender stroke.

Cap Height

This is measured from the bottom or baseline, up to the top of a capital letter.


The main body specifically of lowercase letters is known as the x-height. This changes depending on the typeface in use such as calligraphy styles that have a small x-height so that each letter can flow into one another.


The weight of a typeface is basically how thick or thin also known as bold or light.

Line Length

This the length of each line in larger pages of text which can be measured by the amount of characters in each line. The ideal range to ensure that the font is legible is between 40 and 60 characters.

Letter SpacingĀ 

The space between each individual letter usually in larger pieces of text like paragraphs.


Kerning is the correcting of the space between letters to achieve balance among each letter in a word.


Classifications of Type


Serif fonts have little strokes attached to the main part of the letter called Serifs. These are considered among the oldest forms of typeface dating back to the 15th century and were inspired by calligraphy often referred to as either Humanist or Old Style. It was around the 18th century that a new serif now named Transitional which marked the Humanist and Modern styles while incorporating characteristics from both. Modern Serifs have sharp weight contracts and thin, straight serifs.

Sans Serif

The word Sans means without Serif in French and Sans Serif fonts don’t have the little serif strokes, hence the name. This font is much more modern and clean than Serif font and is easier to read on computer and phone screens. This font starting making an appearance around the beginning of the 20th century, also having calligraphic influence so they are called Humanist typefaces. Helvetica set a standard for Transitional sans serifs when it was created during the 1900’s, with a more uniform and rigid look to the lettering. Geometric sans serifs are the equivalent to Modern serifs. They are designed based on geometric principles with the peaks of the letters being sharp and strong.


Display fonts come in a range of different styles such as blackletter, script and all caps. These types of fonts are decorative and are better suited to small amounts of text like titles and headings and graphic designs. They were designed to be weightier and larger to capture the consumers attention.


Monospace fonts were inspired by the typewriter, with un-proportional lettering all being the same width. These typefaces often have poor legibility and aren’t very appealing to look at



In preparation for my upcoming project, before I could choose the font to I was going to design a type specimen screen for, I wanted to find out more about each ones history.

The list we were given to research was;

  • Times New Roman
  • futura
  • Baskerville
  • Gill sans
  • Palatino
  • Helvetica

Times New Roman

Times New Roman was named after the British newspaper, The Times. A typographer named Stanley Morison was hired by the newspaper to create a new typeface and with the help of Times advertising artist, Victor Lardent, their goal was to create an efficient and readable font that would help The Times look more up to date with modern typographical trends. This serif typeface is probably one of the most well known font still in use today.


Created in 1722, Willian Caslon’s new serif typeface, also known as ‘the font of the English’, was immediately implemented onto many important documents such as the U.S Declaration of Independence. It is characterised by its short ascenders and descenders, moderate modulation of strokes and bracketed serifs.


A geometric sans based on simple geometric shapes, Futura was created by Paul Renner for the New Frankfurt housing project in Germany. The typeface, released in 1927, was inspired by the simplistic and modern ideals of the Bauhaus. The Futura font is clean and simple with even width strokes, tall ascenders and descenders. Known as the typeface of the time, it had a modern feel and Renner described it as a ‘an eminently German typeface.’ While Futura was a symbol of the future, the Nazis washed away any trace of the more modern fonts and instead used ornate styles like Fraktur and even exiled Renner from Germany to Switzerland for writing an anti-Nazi essay. The Nazis later decided that Fraktur was a ‘Jewish’ font in appearance and band it, brining Futura into the forefront of their propaganda and media. By then, Futura had already established itself as an international typeface. At this time Nasa had been trying to find a font for the plaque that would be left behind during the Apollo 11 Lunar Landing Mission and in the end chose Futura.


At the beginning of his career, John Baskerville carved lettering onto headstones, advertising himself as a stone cutter and would carry on to become extremely successful in the Japan-wear industry. In 1747 with his huge wealth, Baskerville set up a workshop in the centre of Birmingham and it was here that he moved away from handwriting and began experimenting with print. he worked to improve the printing process with things like the paper, ink and his printing press technique. In 1757, Baskerville published his first printed work featuring the Baskerville type which was a collection of poetry and went onto publish a version of the Old Testament Bible in 1763. John Baskerville’s aim was to produce high quality prints and perfection in his type that was subtle and simplistic as to not distract the reader. He had set a standard for printers during this time and this boosted England reputation for printing excellence which made the country influential in this field. Baskerville was also said to have became great friends with another leader in printing, Benjamin Franklin.

Gill Sans

Gill Sans was created by Erik Gill in 1928 that initially consisted of titles capitals and was then followed by lowercase. It was based on the design of Gills teacher Edward Johnson had created for the London Underground just 10 years before. just likes its predecessor, Gills typeface was also used as London Underground Railway’s signage, posters and timetables. Gills Sans has also been used on a bigger level for the whole of the British railway system and is used in the logo for the BBC. Gill Sans has a small x-height compared to other sans serif fonts and this is unusual as highly legible typefaces normally have a tall x-height.


Palatino is a linotype that was created by Herman Zapf in 1949. Named after the 16th century Master Calligrapher Giambattista Palatino, Palatino is based on the fonts of the Italian Renaissance which replicate letters formed by broad nibbled pens. The type consists of larger proportions than those consistent with Renaissance type, this makes Palatino a more legible font.


Helvetica is considered to be one of the biggest and most widely used fonts to exist. Originally named ‘Die Neue Haas’ Grotesk’, Helvetica is a Swizz font designed in 1957, by Max Miedinger and Edouard Hoffmann, to be a neutral typeface with no particular meaning or reference behind it. Its minimalist atheistic and legibility is the reason why it is at the forefront of sans serif fonts and can be found almost everywhere and even on social media giants Facebook and Instagram. It may also be that it is widely available and has been a free font on Apple and Windows products for many years. Helvetica is also available in multiple languages such as Japanese, Korean, Hebrew, Greek, Chinese and more.

Helvetica was the the typographic face of style and mid century modernism internationally. Before digital type, during the 1960-70’s, Helvetica was adapted for almost all type setting systems so it was only right that the font was included in the first generation of personal home computers in the 1980’s. In 2015, Apple designed its own Helvetica look-alike called San Francisco. This was because Helvetica was proving to be less legible on smaller screens and Apple was about to bring out its firsts Apple Watch with a 272×340 resolution. The company that own Helvetica released a new version of the font in 2019 called Helvetica Now with the premise being that the font could be sized up or down to fit any screen. Many designer brands have also opted out of their long standing font choices and went with a Helvetica font instead such as Burberry, NorthFace and Fendi.

During class we were given time to explore a letter of our choice and rotating it, removing parts and sizing it up or down. I got my inspiration from Weingart’s experimentation with letterforms such as M.

My second group of experimentation, I picked san-serif and serif lettering as well has changing the weight of the letters and I especially enjoyed seeing how the letters would line up and fit into one another to great a repeating pattern.

I was able to most certain parts of the letter on illustrator, becoming more abstract with each iteration but its interesting to see how you can manipulate just one letter into something unrecognisable.


I began to experiment with 3 letter A’s changing the layering and the colour, sticking to black and white to create outlines with some and inverted designs with others. I really enjoyed this little experiment because of the amount of outcomes that are interesting to look at with some not resembling the original letters the image is composed of.

Published in IXD102


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