At Automattic, designers share their thoughts on different aspects of design with the rest of the company. Recently, Kjell Reigstad shared his thoughts on typography with a quick, six-minute pechakucha.
What is typography?
I believe that typography is all about organizing shapes. Letters are shapes. Words are collections of shapes. Paragraphs are larger collections of shapes, and so on. “Good” typography organizes those shapes in such a way that they do what they’re intended to do — communicate language — with the least amount of interference. “Great” typography goes one step further, drawing on emotion to enhance the meaning of the text.
What is it in 2017? (What makes it different than the way we described it in the past?)
The core definition still fits, but with an additional detail: In 2017, typography has to be flexible. These days we consume typed material through such a wide range of media: print, television, tiny screens, large screens, and everything in between. Great typography needs to be aware of and tailored to its context.
What are the most interesting advances in digital typography out there currently?
Variable fonts are really intriguing. We’ve recently seen a flurry of articles on the topic, after support for it was announced in the OpenType font specification last November.
In the past 5 years or so, webfonts have become standard practice. They work similarly to how fonts have worked on the desktop for years: we load in a variety of hefty individual font files for each individual weight and style.
Variable fonts — once they’re widely supported across browsers — promise to be a fix for that. Rather than pulling in a number of different files, they harness the power of computers to adjust weight, width, and many other variables on the fly. This lets us efficiently load a single font file with a single request.
Variable fonts also allow for more fine-tuned control over the font itself. Want the bold weight to be just a little bit bolder? No problem, just adjust the CSS. This change could have a major impact on both the creation and usage of modern typefaces.
Which typographers should we look out for?
Breanna Rose and her studio, Rowan Made, have a knack for modern, hyper-organized typography. They supplement the type with a healthy serving of boxes, fine line work, and subtle flourishes. Highly recommended.
I’m also a big fan of the work of Jennifer Lucey-Brzoza. She seems to be the creative brain behind almost every beautiful Boston-area restaurant brand lately. Her subtle animation work on the Row 34 logo is one of my favorites. The underwater feel — perfect for an oyster restaurant — really helps elevate the type to a new level.
Richie Stewart (another Bostonite!) does a ton of great hand lettering. At art school I was repeatedly taught that the only way to get an authentic, gritty feel to your work is to authentically create it in the real world to begin with. Computers, comshmuters. Richie’s work is a great example of that.
What makes the typeface ‘Merriweather’ — used commonly at WordPress.com — an appropriate typeface?
Merriweather does a great job of communicating who WordPress.com is. WordPress.com is a modern version of an age-old process: publishing. Similarly, Merriweather is a modern digital creation but is rooted in traditional serifs. Additionally, Merriweather has a great literary feel to it, and is warm and approachable in a way that we aim to be as well.
What are your ‘three tips’ for selecting a typeface for a project?
Consider the classics. Univers, Akzidenz Grotesk, Avenir, Bodoni… so many designers pass over these fonts in favor of whatever the top new font of the year is. There are thousands of beautiful, meticulously designed typefaces from the past that still have a great deal of life in them.
Don’t pass over a good choice because it costs money. There are a ton of quality open source fonts available these days (and we’re big fans of open source here at Automattic), but please also consider paying for great fonts. Type designers need to earn a living, just like you do!
Think of the future. Even if I’m using just a single weight and style for my project, I like to choose a face that has a ton of different weights and styles available. It’s impossible to see the future, but this helps keep options open for brand expansion/evolution.
Kjell Reigstad studied Graphic Design at Pratt shortly before Brooklyn was cool. He went on to design t-shirts for MTV, websites for Ford, apps for HBO, and financial tools for Fidelity before finding his home at Automattic. He lives in a cozy red house outside of Boston with his wife, daughter, and a friendly orange cat.