Font Affects

Unless trying to conform to MLA formatting guidelines (TIMES NEW ROMAN! 12pt! 1-INCH MARGINS!), we literature folks do not often think about the possible implications of font choice. Although we are concerned with both the message and its medium (style, the presence of images, paragraph formatting), something as subtle as font style is often taken for granted. Sure, we noticed that Johnny Truant, Johnny’s mom, and Zampano all had different fonts, but that was mostly so we could tell who was speaking, right? We will leave the nuances of serifs and curves to the graphic designers and advertising professionals, choosing to instead critique the Coca-Cola label for its lustful use of red. Although this is something I too have certainly been guilty of, as we become more versed in web design and begin to question our own font families in Dreamweaver, the question of font effect becomes more prominent. There are websites and forums dedicated to the hatred of Comic Sans and a film and t-shirts dedicated to the love of Helvetica. By examining what it is about fonts that create such strong feelings we can find a way to analyze the use of font in post-print texts such as “My Body & a Wunderkammer,” House of Leaves, and especially in Flash-based texts such as “Flight Paths” and “The Virtual Disappearance of Miriam.”

In graphic design and advertising, the readability and appropriateness of fonts are well understood. Helvetica is on most of our street signs because its smooth lines and absence of serifs can be easily read from far away, while elegant and swirling letters are typical for wedding invitations. The easiest way to distinguish differences in fonts is by whether or not they have rounded edges. These “rounded edges on letters have a distinct relaxing and calm feeling,” but at the same time communicate less “reliability, professionalism and truth” (Carerra). Carerra continues describing the nuances of a font’s edge saying, “Generally people have been found to associate rounded edges with creativity, relaxing and fun, while sharp edges have been associated with professionalism, seriousness and thrust.” While this is all fine and good, what does it mean in a fiction format when certain fonts are associated with certain characters?

(For comparison, see: Lucia Casual and Arial.)

In the above example, we see an excerpt of a chat transcript between Miriam and Luther. Lucida Casual, a font with a script-like style that almost looks like handwriting and has a creative and personal vibe to it. Arial, on the other hand, it slightly bolder, with more straight lines, and is sans-serif (as well as sans- any kind of “fluff” or purely decorative flourishes). If you go back and forth between the images of Lucida Casual and Arial, you will see that Arial is slightly larger in both height and width.  To further confuse things, the narration is written in what I believe to be Arial Narrow while the “speaking” parts are in Courier. Choosing a font can be an incredibly revealing and personal (although often unconscious) endeavor, especially when choosing for something as personal as instant messaging where professional guidelines are not a a constraint. Fonts, in this way (especially in the fictional world) are the costumes in the “performance of yourself” with the “30cm rectangle” as the stage.

I can’t help but be fascinated by the way something that seems so bodiless, like font, can have so many assumptions attached to it. When we see Courier (the “speaking” text in Miriam) we immediately recognize it as being connected with speech that is written and tangible, from a typewriter or on a computer screen. Comic Sans is playful, informal, and quite juvenile so we assume whatever is written using it will have a similar tone.  For Miriam, does her choice to use Lucia Casual show that she wants to convey her creativity or is it evidence of her unreliability? Luther’s Arial is so plain it is difficult to even feign a gut reaction to it, but it does succeed in keeping us distanced from him and feeling unable to “know” him.

Sources:

The Importance of Font Style – Sergio Carerra

The Virtual Disappearance of Miriam – Martyn Bedford, Andy Campbell

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~ by hlrypngr on April 11, 2010.

 
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