FMP: Deciding on Typography

For this blog post I will be discussing the typography that will underpin the book and poster/print, forming an important part of the identity the designs will carry. Typography sets the voice and tone of the text for the audience, so it is very important I make strong decisions thinking about the target audience.


BBC Stargazing LIVE identity

Taking a couple of screenshots of the display typeface used by BBC Stargazing LIVE, I have to say I really think it is suitable for its purpose, with the reasonably thick weight, subtle angled strokes and a good contrast between thick and thin weights. The bright colours used also makes a strong contrast to the black backgrounds and makes the text noticeable, a positive characteristic. It also helps to lift the design from being too heavy, with the strong amounts of black.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 15.35.35

As for the main body copy, it looks like Helvetica Neue is used, which is suitable due to its strong legibility and clarity, but it is very conservative and does not build the impression of an identity that is unique to the show.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 15.36.08

I decided to search for the typeface on What Font is, and it came up with a lot of matches, and thankfully I was able to find a match for the typeface in the vast list, which was 232MKSD Round Medium.

Screen-Shot-2014-04-14-at-15.35.35

Clicking on the typeface took me to a website in a foreign language that looked like an error page. Some more searching however, did turn the typeface up from the designer’s website, and thanks to Google Translate (as the site was in Japanese!) I was able to download it. This means I can factor it into my decision making process regarding typography for the project.

Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 17.02.03


Qualities I am looking for

From the research I have done, I am able to draw together a guide to characteristics the typeface(s) will likely need in order to be considered worthy of further examination. After that, I will then be in a position to make a final decision.

  • Highly legible. Why should text be difficult to read?
  • Clean & minimal. Overt decoration will take away from message.
  • Not overused. Helps build an identity as their own, not copied.
  • Flexible. Should ideally be available in different cases and weights.
  • Weight. Not too thin on black background for printing reasons.

Making a Shortlist

To decide upon a shortlist from the requirements above, I knew in addition to the typefaces I knew off the top of my head that may be suitable, I wanted to do some additional research and see what is out there. For much of this list, I refer back to some notes I made earlier in the project, as I was reading through Creative Bloq’s guide to the best free typefaces available. 

My notes on typefaces in the top-left corner.
My notes on typefaces in the top-left corner.

Below are the typefaces I have selected for consideration, six of which are sans-serif and the other two are serif. The bias towards the sans-serif in my shortlist suggests their approach is likely to be better suited to the audience it is aimed at, who need a dependable typeface with the qualities I listed in the above section.

  • 232MKSD
  • Avenir/Avenir Next
  • Fenix
  • Jura
  • Maven Pro
  • Nexa
  • Open Sans
  • Roboto

Conducting a Test-Print

I decided to conduct a test-print of the shortlist of typefaces to see how they would look in print, as on screen they always look a bit different and irregularities can occur, a classic case being Helvetica Neue, which can look terrible on-screen to me with distorted characters, but prints correctly.

Distorting text when zoomed out
Distorting text when zoomed out

This test-print features Lorem Ipsum placeholder text (randomised Latin text designed to simulate text when none is available) with the typeface set at 11 pt for body copy, 18pt for sub-headings and 24pt for headings. I mixed uppercase and lowercase letters as with some typefaces there will be a clear aesthetic preference. By testing a variety of sizes and weights, this helps give me a stronger guide as to which option is best for the project.

IMG_5657_web

The test-print was very illuminating, with some points being immediately noticeable, while some factors emerged after looking at it for a while. Below I’ll briefly cover each typeface’s advantages and disadvantages, and then make a final decision.

Nexa

For the test-print, only the bold and light weight are accessible to me as the others cost, so this restricts its flexibility, as the light weight is very thin, even as black ink on white paper so is unlikely to sit well against a black background. As for the bold weight, it is too heavy to be the body copy.

While this sans-serif typeface is clean and minimal, my research has shown it to have become a very ‘fashionable’ typeface, and therefore at the moment, there seems to be a surplus of people using it, which does not make it a good way of building the show’s visual identity.

Roboto & Open Sans

While two different typefaces, both are very similar and produced by Google so I will discuss them together. There is a very wide range of weights, which is excellent for providing a visual hierarchy. The light weights are aesthetically more pleasing as they are slightly more delicate, but won’t print as well, therefore the regular weight becomes of importance here.

Both typefaces would be suitable for the body copy, although I don’t think it is best suited for display purposes. This would mean it is best supporting a display typeface.

Maven Pro

A very similar proposition to Nexa, but the advantage is that I have access to a regular weight. However, the rounding off of the characters is a pure stylistic feature, and takes attention away from the text because of its unusual letterforms. Otherwise though it is a generic sans-serif typeface, with no specific advantage so it won’t be suitable for this project.

Avenir

This typeface is also very close to Nexa, but is available in a far broader range of weights, meaning it is very flexible. However, the very low x-height gives the body copy an undesirable squashed profile, which is not preferred. Ideally for the body copy, I need a typeface that is anonymous in carrying the message rather than making a statement.

232MKSD

This typeface definitely stands out the most with some rather unique characteristics such as the mix of curved and gently angled strokes visible at larger sizes. Legibility is excellent, especially for the bold weight, achieved in a narrow width because of the high x-height. The bold weight also looks aesthetically more pleasing in upper case characters.

I think this typeface is best suited to a display purpose, but it could be used for the body copy as well. However, I would think that there are better typefaces that could be used for this purpose, as that high x-height and narrow width does not suit body copy, and tracking and leading would need to be increased heavily to compensate.

Fenix

Upon examining it when printed, I can see Fenix is not suitable for use as a typeface in this project. It is similar to Jura, which I talk about below, but looks more traditional, which is not the voice I was looking for with this project. It’s availability in only one weight also holds it back here for me.

Jura

Jura is less traditional than Fenix, available in two weights, and has a much fresher aesthetic to it. I think it is a strong competent typeface in relation to its usability for this project. Being a serifed typeface though will mean I need to think about if the small, crisp serifs will print correctly on a dark background.

Summary

In conclusion, I think 232MKSD is the best typeface as it meets the criteria I discussed earlier in the blog post, with the exception of the ‘clean & minimal’ requirement if the typeface is to be used for the body copy. Therefore I will move on to investigating whether I need another typeface for the body copy. If I do, then Jura, Open Sans and Roboto will be candidates.


In-Depth Test Print – 232MKSD

With a primary typeface selected, I chose to do another test-print, this time focusing on trying out paragraphs and headings of text in different weights and sizes to see what the end result would be, to ensure I head in the right direction.

IMG_5658_web

For the headings and sub-headings, I think the second option is the strongest as it makes the best visual hierarchy with the heading set in the Medium weight at 30pt in upper-case characters with the sub-heading if required, to be at 14pt, in sentence case, set in the light weight although I believe it may be better suited in the medium weight when set against a black background.

IMG_5660_web

After looking at the body copy though with much more text that is not place-holding text like I used previously, my thoughts about it not being suited to reading are correct and I am not convinced this typeface should be used in this way. Therefore I shall look back at my shortlist and decide which typeface would be best for this purpose.


Choosing a body copy typeface

With the three candidates (Jura, Open Sans and Roboto) I mentioned I would fall back on previously, I then decided to mock them up on-screen and see what I thought with larger blocks of text, but this time on a black background. As I strongly expect most of the backgrounds to be black for the project to fit in with the imagery I have sourced, I knew it would make sense to view the type this way but chose to only do one test-print at the end if necessary to save ink.

Open Sans (top-left), Roboto (top-right), Jura (bottom)
Open Sans (top-left), Roboto (top-right), Jura (bottom)

So for now, I placed them together on the screen in slightly different shades of blue, and it became obvious rather quickly to me that the contrast between thick and thin strokes did not suit Jura, so it would be down to Open Sans and Roboto. After a lot of deliberation and showing other people and asking their opinion, I have chosen to use the Open Sans Regular typeface for the body copy. However, if down the line in the project it becomes apparent Roboto is better suited, then it does not take much effort to swap it over.

IMG_5660_web

I then needed a test print to determine the correct sizes for the body copy, as I had done with the 232MKSD typeface. I experimented with the sizes of 10pt, 10.5pt, 11pt, and 12pt, and asked for opinions along the way to do with legibility and aesthetics and it became apparent 10pt was the strongest option.

Once I had run a successful test-print, I used a black background for the final test print, and trialled three different colours in accordance to the fact the design I create will be flexible to support a wide spectrum of colours and I want all the text to be legible.

IMG_5661_web

The test-print was successful and highlights that the regular weight of Open Sans will be fit for purpose.


Choosing sizes, alignments and spacings

Now that I have chosen the typeface for the project and the sizes it will be displayed at, I want to spend some time making sure that it is refined for use.

232MKSD
Before (left) & After (right)
Before (left) & After (right)

One thing I immediately noticed in the test-print was how some kerning adjustments would need to be made in order to make the words sit properly on the page, something I even noticed was a slight issue with the BBC guides I analysed. The tracking is fine, especially when the kerning is sorted properly.

As for the leading, this won’t be a problem because being a display typeface, it won’t be used across several consecutive lines. Regarding the alignment, the text will be left-aligned with the left margin.

Open Sans
Before (left) & After (right)
Before (left) & After (right)

Being a typeface from a larger organisation, there is much less in the way of adjustments that need making, although some kerning adjustments will be needed. As for the tracking, I currently think it is best set to -10, as this gives the best consistent result, but as the project progresses, this may change.

With the leading, I felt the automatic value of 12pt was a little bit tight, so I have increased it to 13pt. As for the alignment, I will start with it left-aligned, because the column widths I decided upon in the last blog post are narrow, so justifying the text, even with changes to the justification settings will result in unequal spacing.

Paragraph Styles

Now I have chosen the settings I will be using for the project, it makes sense to have them as a preset instead of The other important reason for setting this up at the early stages is that a while ago my tutor showed the group how to save settings as a style, which means I can apply all the required settings in one-click.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 16.15.38

Below I have placed a couple of images of some of the options I’ve applied for the styles, in this case the main headings. There are a huge amount of options, of which I have only used some of the basic ones, but it is really an impressive feature and one I’m very glad I’ve learnt about as it will really speed up the workflow of the project.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 16.15.56 Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 16.16.08


Setting up a Baseline Grid

The final step is to set up a baseline grid in InDesign, to make sure columns of text are evenly applied throughout the book and between pages, helping to give a far more professional appearance to the book. A baseline grid can be set up by going to InDesign > Preferences > Grids… where the correct values can be applied.

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 16.32.08

For this project, I want the baseline grid to start at the Top Margin, starting immediately there, hence why the value of 0pt is entered.
The increment value should be that of the leading, in this case it will be 13pt. As for the View Threshold, when the grid is visible, I do not want to it be excessively visible, so I chose the value of 50%.


Conclusion & Reflection

I am very pleased that I have made a choice, as it is a very important part of the visual identity. As it is, I was able to find the typeface used for the BBC Stargazing LIVE identity and thought it would make the most sense to keep using it as it is fit for purpose.

This is a much more in-depth process than I expected it to be, but I am really glad it turned out this way, as it means I have spent more time making some things are good, which is time I will gain back when it comes to making the designs.

Now that I know what typeface I will be working with for the project, it allows for the designing to continue at a suitable pace.

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One thought on “FMP: Deciding on Typography

  1. Lots of interesting info here. I use Styles in Word, and am continually amazed (and frustrated) that other people who write long documents don’t.

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