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Once Upon a Drop Cap: A Look at Typography as UX

With Jason Pamental

"When words were the experience and letters were your voice"

Typography and UX

  • Typography has to do two things in order to be successful - communicate an idea and influence behaviour (this is the thing that separates art from design)

  • How people perceive type influences the user’s experience. It’s the bridge between the viewer and the viewed.

  • It’s the material, method and typefaces that forms the foundation of the user experience and the relationship among these elements that’s changing.

  • Some examples:

    • The Ten Commandments - the type and where it is carved (in stone) communicates the importance and weight of the content

    • The Hobbit cover - There is an experience that is imparted with the way this (book) was physically made (e.g. texture, paper type, cover material, etc.)

    • The Underground font - this font face communicates that you are in the subway system

    • The Times paper - stable serifs and bold contrasts communicate and reinforce authority and force

From Then to Now

  • Today: Millions and millions of Arial.

    • Result: A loss of (perceived) authority on web and mobile interfaces

    • Example: Small type for time (in-car interface)

      • Jason Pamental: "Tell me, what time is it… CRASH! BOOM! … By the time you find it, you’ve already hit the bus"

      • POINT: The lack of visual emphasis for something as vital as time (on car interfaces) makes unnoticeable and unfindable. "By the time you find it, you’ve already hit the bus"

  • A change in how we practice typography is happening

    • We’ve moved from rendered (experiences) to dynamic - this introduces constraints to the presentation of content (and hence, perception/experience)

A Way Forward

  • Web-safe fonts give you very limited control

  • WOFF - includes OpenType features, 92% support

  • WOFF2 - delivers 25% file size reduction, 64% supported

The New Typography

  • Designing systems that can adapt to changing contexts and environments and devices

  • Responsive typography

  • It’s really important that we think through these things. But we’re really constrained.

    • We need to reconcile web performance and the language of design

    • Our desire to create more typographic expression gets really constrained by flaky internet connections/networks

  • With limited fonts, our vocal range is curtailed

    • Type is the voice of our words
  • BIGGEST CLAIM: Variable fonts may be the biggest leap forward in web design since Responsive Web Design itself

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