February 25, 2014

Choosing the right typefaces for BROKEN

Text icon designed by Sergey Krivoy from The Noun Project collection

Selecting a typeface for a book’s design is not a trivial matter.(1) When the manuscript of BROKEN was close to completion, I took a portion of the copy and typeset it. All along, I assumed I would use a couple from my staple group of fonts that includes Adobe Garamond, Caslon, Helvetica Neue, and Univers. Nothing wrong with these typefaces—they are beautiful and reliable. But for this book, I wanted to try something different, considering the many options available.

This was the criteria used to find a set of new fonts:
  • Achieved contrast between bold headings and paragraphs
  • Independently made
  • Aligned to the manner of the book in some way
The last point is totally subjective. A font must feel right.

One way to motivate yourself to finish your book is to visualize your prose in a typeface that looks and feels not only appropriate, but essential. I browsed and dwelled upon a number of typographic portfolios by type designers and font foundries. Here are some whose work in type design I admire:
When selecting a font for titles—especially my book’s title—envisioning it on the front cover was helpful. For this usage, the font had to have emphasis. It had to have weight. I’m partial to thick, ultra-bold, slab sans-serif fonts, like Massive designed by Shawn Hazen. I use Massive a lot, for product naming and pulled quotes in blog posts. But as I said earlier, I wanted to try a different typeface. This is one of the opportunities that a new project promotes.

When I discovered Recovery designed by James Puckett of Dunwich Type Founders, it grabbed me. What sealed the decision was its name. (A fine font name is a good thing.) One of the emotions that motivated the making of BROKEN, and is one of its major themes, is recovery. Having it set in Puckett’s typeface design Recovery felt absolutely right.

A couple of months after discovering Recovery, I happened upon Harriet designed by Jackson Cavanaugh of Okay Type. At the same time, I was considering Elena designed by Nicole Dotin of Process Type. I would stare at the alphabet of Elena and then do the same with Harriet. I asked my co-writer, Stephanie Di Biase, for her vote. She picked Harriet.(2)

I also leaned toward choosing Harriet, because it had an extended family of ligatures, one of my typographic fetishes. Harriet possessed an expected set of ligatures (standard) and an above-and-beyond set of ligatures (discretionary). Another factor that helped me select Harriet for BROKEN’s body copy was the design of its typographic specimen sheet online. This would make for a terrific poster. Another persuasive factor—and this was strong one—was that Harriet was made in Chicago, and thus, had home-court advantage. Using a locally harvested font is a comforting fact.

Recovery and Harriet constituted a solid pair of fonts for headers and body that persisted from BROKEN’s covers to its interior (detail below).

Choosing a typeface can conform to habit (my go-to staple group of regularly-used fonts), or it can be a snap judgment. Or it can be the meandering fickle process that took time for my book project of BROKEN. All are fine ways to pick a typeface. The benefits of the font-choosing process for BROKEN were a co-author’s opinion and time.

However a font is chosen, arriving at a rationale, a story, in its choosing is important, because the effect could prove to be a wardrobe malfunction, typographically speaking.

(1) Based on chats about careers, “Why did you choose that font?” is a valid question to be asked in interviews for design-related jobs.

(2) Why Stephanie voted for using Harriet is still to be known.

• • •

This is the fifth post, after the launch of BROKEN, that reflects on how this book was made. More to come in this series about aspects related to writing and self-publishing. Read the previous write-up: Defining BROKEN’s Structure.

• • •

Learn more about BROKEN: Navigating the ups and downs of the circus called work.

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