Yeah, a little outlandish to get your attention, but really, that headline is 100% true. Us designers are a catty lot. We pick apart designs and type treatments all day long as an occupational prerogative. By the time we get home to sit and enjoy some Facebook and Pinterest time, we’re more than primed to take on your design taste level and knowledge of the subject matter. That absolutely does suck, but it’s the wholehearted truth; we may not voice our opinions publicly, but we’re thinking it, because it’s what why we get paid. Every designer reading this right now is nodding their head in agreement.
Especially on Pinterest, I see words like Typography, Lettering and Font interchanged as if they all meant the exact same thing, but that is not really the case. Although closely related, those terms all have their own meaning, and when you call something a font, when it should be referred to as a typeface, designers (like me) silently giggle and exclaim, “Oh, you silly neophytes”.
To be fair, you don’t owe us designers a damn thing. Go on and be your bad self, and screw what we think, because really, what does it matter? However, if you would like to be able to geek out and talk type with your favorite designer buddies, here’s a primer to make you more popular amongst the tattooed hipsters in v-neck tshirts and ironically geeky glasses.
Font vs. Typeface
This is probably the most common misconception, that font and typeface are interchangeable terms, but that’s not 100% correct. They are basically two sides of the same coin, but with a key difference. The term font refers to the grouping of a comprised character set . However, the physical attributes of that font are what we consider a typeface. There’s an article over on The Font Feed that does a good job of illustrating the differences:
[Using the analogy of MP3s vs. songs] When you talk about how much you like a tune, you don’t say: “That’s a great MP3”. You say: “That’s a great song”. The MP3 is the delivery mechanism, not the creative work; just as in type a font is the delivery mechanism and a typeface is the creative work.
A more simple, yet related distinction is the difference between font foundries and type designers. Font foundries are companies or organizations that create and sell fonts. Type designers are the individuals that create those fonts. The efforts and execution is defined as typeface design.
Typography vs. Lettering
As we dig deeper into the intricacies of type, the distinction between terms tends to get a little tighter, but distinctions still. Here, typography is the parent and lettering is the child. Lettering is always a form of typography, but typography is not always lettering. Typography refers to the art and technique of arranging type to make a language visible. What I am doing at this exact moment is considered typography; arranging letters in order for you to read them.
Lettering is the act of actually creating the letters, usually by hand, but not always. If I type the word TYPE, find a creative font, make it bold, adjust the letter spacing, I’ve created lettering. Whether I write words by hand, paint them on a wall or carve them in stone, the style and form are functions of lettering. The act of writing those letters is typography.
So you see, we are talking about very finite distinctions between all of these terms. You may not be entirely incorrect if you mix them up while describing type, but it’s the nuances that separate the professionals from the enthusiasts. Understanding those nuances will only improve your perception about type and typography.
Your homework assignment for today is to go to Pinterest, individually search for the terms Font, Typeface, Type, Typography and Lettering and see if you can figure out which is which from the search results. Extra credit if you can find any that misuse the terms.
In the meantime, enjoy this video that explores everything we’ve talked about in a silly, British fashion.