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Fonts and Typography

(December 2016) posted on Mon Dec 12, 2016

Does past advice survive present day design concepts?


By Darek Johnson

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“In order to create pleasing silhouettes with our copy blocks, it is sometimes necessary to use conflicting alphabets.” That’s what Mike Stevens wrote in his best- selling 1984 book “Mastering Layout: On the Art of Eye Appeal” (ST Media Group). Stevens, a popular sign artist in the 1970s and ’80s, authored several books on sign design and contributed numerous articles to sign industry magazines. But do today’s sign artists agree with his assessment about the necessity of mixing and matching “conflicting” typefaces? And what would they think about Stevens’ design concepts three decades later? We presented six well-known sign artists with several paragraphs from Stevens’ book to get their takes on these questions – and to find out what they think about fonts and typography in general. Here are their insights, in their own words.

Dallas Griffin, designer, DaVinci Signs, Windsor, CO
Here’s how I became a sign designer at age 6: I was in the most boring hallway on earth with my “Letter- head” father, who was hand lettering a lawyer’s interior glass door in thin-stroke Avant Garde (because the “O” is perfectly round like all O’s should be). I was being quiet and, other than the hallway and my dad, the only thing to look at was a green sign – “EXIT” – at the end of the hall. With pencil and paper in hand, I proceeded to draw a detailed copy of this exit sign, over and over again. I remember drawing it not as letters, but as related shapes. Still today, I enjoy seeing how letter shapes interact and relate to on one another in a word.



I’m always happy with a font-heavy layout, one that either follows Mike Stevens’ guidelines or shatters the concept. I don’t design in- between. In my mind, a layout needs a pleasant flow and rhythm, or total chaos, because I’m either presenting important information or want a reaction.
As a rule, I select a main font and then secondary fonts of less interest and, most likely, better legibility. “I also like fonts that have perfect circles for O’s and even substitute them for zeros [for “0”] from time to time.

If distance and speed weren’t important for signage, I’d focus more on asking “What emotion does this look create?” But because the time-is-money factor is always present in commercial work, I rely on color selection for the emotional aspect.


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