Lecture Notes: Foundations of Typography

There was a lot of interesting info to digest at this type theory lecture, so we've taken a stab at condensing it down into brief notes:

Early written forms of communication evolved from simple illustrations representing words (hieroglyphics) to symbols representing units of distinct sound (alphabets).

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Two theories on the origin of the serif:

Roman letter outlines were first painted onto stone, and the stone carvers followed the brush marks, which flared at stroke ends and corners, creating serifs. 

Serifs were created to neaten the ends of lines as they were chiseled into stone.

Some main classifications of type:


Old Style or Humanist serif typefaces are characterized by a low contrast in stroke weight and angled serifs (Example: Garamond)

Modern serifed typefaces broke from traditional typography of the time with a high contrast of strokes, straight serifs and a vertical axis. (example: Bodoni)

San Serif

Humanist characteristics include proportions that were modeled on old style typefaces (Example: Gill Sans)

Geometric sans-serif Typfaces are based on geometric forms. For instance, the o is often a perfect circle. (Example: Futura)


These typefaces are often developed with a specific use in mind and are designed for larger point size use in headlines, posters and billboards. They are usually hard to read at small sizes. (Example: Insomnia Deco)


These are fonts whose letters and characters each occupy the same amount of horizontal space. Monospaced fonts are customary on typewriters and for typesetting computer code. (Example: Courier)

X-height: the distance between the baseline of a line of type and tops of the main body of lower case letters (i.e. excluding ascenders or descenders.

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Leading refers to the distance between the baselines of successive lines of type (vertical spacing).

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Kerning is the process of adjusting the spacing between characters in a proportional font, usually to achieve a visually pleasing result.


Optimal line length for a body of text is 45-75 characters

Avoid widows. A widow is one word at the end of a paragraph or column. A widow is considered poor typography because it leaves too much white space between paragraphs or at the bottom of a page.

Use contrasting type sizes, weights and other forms of emphasis to create a  hierarchy of information

Oblique Strategies by musician Brian Eno is a card-based method for promoting creativity (see examples here)

Jessica Wong