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Typography and Layout

Letter forms are art forms. Typography is the art and technique of composing printed material from letter forms (typefaces or fonts). Designers, hired to meet clients' communication needs, frequently create designs that relate nonverbal images and printed words in complementary ways.

Cultures throughout history have appreciated the visual aspects of their written language. In China, Japan, and Islamic cultures, calligraphy is considered an art. While personal writing in the West has never been granted that status, letters for public architectural inscriptions have been carefully designed since the time of the ancient Romans, whose alphabet we have inherited. With the invention of movable type around 1450, the alphabet again drew the attention to designers. Someone had to decide on the exact form of each letter, creating a visually unified alphabet that could be mass-produced as a typeface, a style of type. No less an artist than Albrecht Der turned his attention to the design of well-balanced letterforms. Constructing each letter within a square, Der paid special attention to the balance of thick and thin lines and to the visual weight of the serifs, the short cross lines that finish the principle strokes.

The letters Der designed would have been laboriously carved in wood or cast in metal, and they would have been set (placed in position) by hand prior to printing. Today, type is created and set by computer and photographic methods. The design of typefaces continues to be an important and often highly specialized field, and graphic designers have literally hundreds of styles to choose from. Moreover, many type designers are redesigning and updating old fonts, keeping in mind readability and contemporary preferences. A layout is a designer's blueprint for an extended work in print such as a book or magazine. It includes such specifications as the dimensions of the page, the width of the margins, the sizes and styles of type for text and headings, the style and placement of running heads or feet (lines at the top or bottom of the page that commonly give the chapter or part title and page number), and many other elements. Illustrations are placed to relieve and even disguise page symmetry, and a page makeup artist may take pains to arrange each spread in a pleasing asymmetrical composition.

Beginning in the 1980s, a number of designers began to experiment with more radical approaches that sacrificed easy legibility for visual appeal. Some contemporary designers rarely use a consistent layout, preferring to create each spread as a new composition. Text might be scattered, run upside down or at an angle, printed over itself, or made to disappear into a photograph. One spread often continues over the page turn into the next, creating a free-flowing, cinematic feel. To detractors who claim that such work is chaotic and illegible, many modern designers point out that legibility and communication are not the same thing. Communication begins by attracting and engaging the viewer's attention. Readers attracted to the mood of the design will be willing to make an effort to decipher its message.

Presently, anyone who uses a computer can select fonts and can create documents that look typeset, producing desktop publications such as newsletters and brochures. However, computer programs, like pencils, paintbrushes, and cameras, are simply tools: They can facilitate artistic claims if their operator has artistic sensibilities. Finally, designers frequently work together. In printed design, a writer, a designer, and often an illustrator or photographer work as a team.

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