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No other design discipline requires so much learning and training as fontography, and by no other aspect can amateurs be so easily distinguished from professionals.  To be font literate, a designer has to study the history and the principles of font design

The article is not, of course, nearly as comprehensive as a good textbook on the subject.  There are lots of books about the design and use of fonts, probably not much less than about design proper; the field is, so to say, very densely populated because of its practical importance and rich historic traditions.  So I feel justified in dropping many of the finer points that you can relatively easily find in other sources.

Instead, as it was with color, my goal now is to show you the anatomy of font perception, to help you feel the soul of a font.  I'm discouraged by the great many designers writing on the subject only to come up with some very partial, and very peremptory, rules-of-thumb instead of just sharing their feelings about fonts---which could really be much more instructive.

In my opinion, one thing absolutely necessary for working with fonts is knowing their history---what came after what and, more importantly, why.  Actually, you may be surprised to learn which of the typefaces installed on your computer are old and which are relatively new.  The helix of font history has already made more than one full convolution, and many fonts that seemed almost forgotten were then successfully revived.

The appearance of these fonts for modern perception is almost ideally neutral.  The shapes and proportions of letters, the relative prominence of strokes and serifs, the contrast level---all these features are nearly transparent for the eye, adding minimum, if any, distinctive or "personal" features to a font.  In short, transitional design could be a good candidate for a "generic serif font."



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