Jul 07

Typography should try to express something

Posted by Wallentin in Uncategorized

(an article on readability inspired by the Tetra Pak House Magazine No 70)

“GIGANTIC” is certainly a great name for a very big Pizza. Tesco’s lettering for “Greek style” is another good example how to amplify a communication. The ‘modified’ typefaces for Tunnel, Bombe, Champagne and Déchiré, although a bit dated, are also good examples.

However, what is even more important is the readability of the texts that appear on a pack. When designing letters, a number of rules need to be observed in order to obtain a text that is balanced and easy to read. Harmonious proportions are also required between the text, illustrations and the size of margins.

The visual characteristics of a text have much to do with whether it is easy or difficult to read. Some of the factors involved are the size of the letters, the type face, the length of lines and the distance between them, the width of columns and headings. The ability to read is acquired by experience, that is, by learning to recognise, assess and decide what we see.

Photocomposition has given us thousands of different typefaces. But the fact remains that for ease of reading, it is prudent to use Roman forms such as Times or Baskerville. By and large, however, the most readable type is the one to which the reader is most accustomed. There is a broad range of typefaces – some of them exceedingly elaborate and, unfortunately, difficult to read.

A text written entirely in capitals is more difficult to read than the same text in lower-case letters. In the former case, the reader has problems in taking in complete words and has to read them letter by letter. A rhythmic relationship between the letters of the alphabet, regardless of how they are combined, is the primary requirement for a balanced word picture. Letters that are too close together have a tangled appearance, making it difficult to decipher long words. More space between letters reduces the problem of troublesome combinations (for instance LA, VT, KJ), but the word is liable to fall apart. The latter is not necessarily a drawback – the word can acquire a decorative appearance.

The reason I decided to write this book was to try to show that texts on packaging are as essential as illustrations, logotypes, flashes, patterns, etc. I hope I have succeeded.

Text printed in black is likely to be most legible. Negative printing (white on a coloured ground) demands a very high standard of reproduction and printing. This is particularly the case with Roman letters, the thin parts of which are liable to be lost.

Chinese characters are being simplified and streamlined. In Japan, as well as China, the number of traditional characters has been reduced and some characters have been redesigned with fewer strokes. Manuals have been compiled to explain how the kanji (the Japanese name for the Chinese characters) resemble pictures of objects or abstract concepts. A good example is the Japanese character for drink, simpified by the Japanese designer Katsuichi Ito to make it intelligible to the uninitiated (the rectangle has been transformed into a cup).

I hope these small advice will help the designer or brand manager to spend equal time between the visual and verbal communication on packaging.


LW/June 2017

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