Typeface as decoration
by Ilene Strizver
Thinking outside the alphabetical box
Type is usually meant to be read. But not always! With a little imagination, you can use many typefaces to create engaging decorative elements. These include: bands, borders and rules; textures and patterns; typographic illustrations and type in a shape.
You can apply your original ornamentation to just about anything, from greeting cards and announcements to posters, book covers and editorial spreads. You can also use decorative type elements effectively on the Web and other dynamic applications. They can make great background patterns. Animating, or judiciously layering, these elements literally add a dimension of visual interest.
Creating your own embellishments can be a double-win: First, you take advantage of fonts you already have in your library. Second, you can design graphic or illustrative elements using the same typeface or family you’ve selected for your text. This unified look and feel can be quite pleasing.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to be an illustrator extraordinaire to design non-typographic elements with type. A willingness to experiment, a bit of ingenuity – or even inspiration! – and a good understanding of your software are truly all you need.
Here are techniques to get you started:
Put on your creative thinking cap and have a blast playing around with this. After all, the objective of visual communication is to be seen, not necessarily read.
- Search your type library (or your typeface of choice) for some interesting or inspiring glyphs. After skimming the regular and alternate characters, look at ampersands, signs and symbols, punctuation and accents.
- Start by either repeating one character or alternating two characters, until you get an interesting pattern or image. Tip: Don’t overlook cool numerals.
- Try all the weights of your chosen typeface. Thickness and other nuances may make for a great design in one weight, but a lackluster one in another. Combining weights can create a totally different effect.
- Mix it up. Use tracking, kerning, baseline-shift, as well as flipping, flopping, rotating… to see where it takes you.
- Copy and paste as needed to lengthen or deepen your pattern. Try alternating alignments for consecutive lines (F/L and F/R, for instance) to get a geometric pattern.
- Blend, combine, or alter shapes as desired. You may need to convert to outline to achieve the desired result.
- Last, but truly not least, play around with color. You will be able to sense whether your creation should take a lead role or be a supporting character.
- Editor’s Note: Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer and writer specializing in all aspects of typographic communication. She conducts Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. Read more about typography in her latest literary effort, Type Rules! The designer's guide to professional typography, 3rd edition, published by Wiley & Sons, Inc. This article was commissioned and approved by Monotype Imaging Inc.