What the font? A public service announcement

What the font - a public service announcement on why fonts matter - www.alliepottswrites.com
I love sharing everyday stories and finding their lessons, but sometimes I feel compelled to share a lesson you can find a use for almost every day. This is one of those times…

I’m a little behind on my television viewing at the moment (it’s the downside of trying to get a book ready for publishing), but all work and no play makes Allie a dull girl. Therefore I managed to squeeze in an episode of Saturday Night Live a few days after it aired. Unfortunately for me, most of the episode proved to be like eating a bland cookie when you are trying to diet (nice to look at, but not worth the calories) with the exception of one featured short film toward the end.

The film was about a person who has grown obsessed with the font chosen for the film, Avatar called Papyrus. Or rather it is about the person’s obsession about why that particular font, out of all the fonts available, was chosen “like a careless child,” for such a marquee event.

My husband looked at me as the joke continued to play out for the next three minutes. “This must be for people like you.”

By ‘people like me’ he meant people who respond to every school presentation whether it be the PTA’s fundraising plans, faculty procedures, or a teacher’s syllabus, due to letters projected on the screen being written in Comic Sans like Joan Crawford (played by Faye Dunaway) seeing wire hangers in Mommie Dearest. (I wish I could say I was exaggerating, but I am not.)

People who understand that fonts can set the tone as much as any background art.

Have I mentioned I like to make graphics too?

People, whose fixation on fonts has the potential to topple governments.

Yes. Seriously.

This summer it was revealed that the daughter of Nawaz Sharif, the Prime Minister of Pakistan, allegedly forged documents downplaying the involvement in a London real estate deal after the legality of the family’s income sources were questioned.

How was it determined the documents she presented were forgeries?

Because the font used, Calibri, now a Microsoft Word default, wasn’t available the year the documents were supposed to have been created and people noticed it.  (Source: The Guardian, “‘Fontgate’: Microsoft, Wikipedia and the scandal threatening the Pakistani PM”.)

People who can be called designerds (emphasis on the nerd), as I saw one fellow font-ficionado dub herself.

In other words, font selection matters. Maybe not to you, but it does to someone out there in the audience (and effective presentations are all about the audience), so pick your fonts with care and use them wisely.

If You Use this Font, You Are...

From Visually.

Some tips to keep in mind whether you are writing a book, making a poster, or creating a presentation for work:

  • Sans Serif fonts are easiest to read from far away, such as on a poster, or in fine print because they have a uniform thickness. (Examples include Helvetica, Avant Garde, Arial, and Geneva)
  • Serif fonts, however, are easier to read as bulk text close up on a page because their distinctive shapes help our brains identify the letter faster, therefore costing less brainpower to process. (Examples include Times Roman, Courier, New Century Schoolbook, and Palatino)
  • Distinct\Display\Decorative fonts are highly stylized or highly decorative and are eye-catching and mood setting, but can be hard to read. They make the reader use extra brain power to process, so use sparingly. It’s also best not to use more than one distinct font at a time. (Examples include Jokerman, Stencil, Curlz, and Chiller)
  • Different fonts can be used together on a single page, but don’t use more than two or three. (This is unless you are writing a children’s book).

While most people can get by utilizing default fonts available on a computer, you can always add more. Word of caution – not all fonts are free to use in every format. Some require licensing for their use the same as stock art or custom photography.

the wish list
some fonts may be unsupported on this viewer

Also, I do not recommend utilizing non-standard fonts for editable documents that will be distributed electronically unless you are tech savvy enough to know how to embed the typography into the document itself. Otherwise, the recipient might see nothing but squares on their end.

That being said, if you still would like to up your project with flashy letting, my favorite site for collecting new fonts is www.fontsquirrel.com. In addition to having a large selection of typography to choose from which you can test drive before downloading, it has a font matching tool. See a font you like? Upload an image and it suggests a number of similar fonts.

Others good sites for fonts are www.fontspace.com and www.dafont.com.

Overwhelmed by options? You can also find a short list of some of the best at The Creative Bloq.

Or keep it simple. You can do a lot to set your text apart with a single font by changing its size, weight (normal, bold), spacing, or style (italics). The choice is up to you. Just don’t choose Comic Sans for the body of your text.

I beg you.

Onward and upward – fun with mind manipulation

Writing a novel is like running a marathon. You train and train, conditioning your body through smaller “fun” runs as you gradually build up some confidence and stamina. Then it is the day of the event, the thing you have been training toward for the last several weeks if not months. A crowd surrounds you. Their excitement is contagious. “See you on the other side!” and “Let’s do this!” You are anxious, but anything is possible. You take off.

Then, six miles later or so, you see that the course contains a hill (not to mention another ~twenty miles) and you start questioning why in the world you ever thought this was a novel idea (pun intended). You start contemplating veering off with the half marathoners, but that still means you have to somehow find it in you to run another ~seven miles. Ugh.

At this point, you realize you are thoroughly outta luck, so you might as well keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Image courtesy of Imgur
Image courtesy of Imgur

You adjust your pace and trick your mind into ignoring things like mile markers while instead focusing on smaller, more achievable goals. I just have to make it to that street sign or the next water station without walking. You look around and see spectator signs like “If this were easy, it would be called your mom,” or “remember you paid for this.” You’d laugh if it didn’t make you wheeze (or puke), but it is exactly the reminder you needed.

You may not get a spot on the podium, but you know that as long as you finish, even if you wind up crawling across the line, you are still getting a medal for your effort. It hurts to go forward, but you also know it just might kill you at this point to go back empty-handed.

I am at the base of that hill with my current work in process. Day job, illness, and life in general, knocked me off schedule. Even worse, as much as I want to push my characters forward, they seem equally determined to catch their breath. I am tempted to write in some zombies or talking animals from another dimension just to mix it up, except I’m pretty sure I would ultimately have to cut the scene out. I can feel my will to continue begin to be tested (oh, why didn’t I set out to write a short story, or at most, a novella?) But as starting another project (with zombies… no…, dragon zombies… from space!) or taking an indefinite hiatus (don’t even think it) are equally unacceptable options, I’ve come to the realization that it is time to start utilizing the tricks that kept me motivated two times before. It is time to pull out the signs.

In my case, that usually means mocking up a cover or two as I have an easier time visualizing my goal if I have an idea of what it might look like when I cross the finish line. Which brings me to cover design.

I am always on the lookout for ways to improve any aspect of my authorprenuerism and recently watched a special on the topic of something called the golden ratio, 1.618, or phi. Supposedly this near mystic ratio can be found among plants and shells almost as if the natural world was actually planned by mathematics. It is repeated in architecture such as the Parthenon and its proportions found in art like the Mona Lisa.

To create it, you draw a rectangle (one size is 1x, the other side is 0.618x). Then while keeping the rectangle’s proportions the same, rotate and resize the rectangle so that its longest side now fits within its shortest side (or… you can simply find a ready-made golden ratio template on the internet).

Golden Ratio
Golden Ratio (image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Its use is also suggested to be a form of mind manipulation. There are those in the marketing world who believe that design based on this ratio is also more appealing to consumers that designs that do not. Intrigued, I decided to first test out how well my existing covers conformed to this ratio.

Golden-ratio-UFGolden-ratio-FFAccording to the theory, a consumer’s eyes are expected to naturally follow a line of curvature within the golden rectangle. The rectangles should then act as a guide for the placement of design elements.

I was somewhat shocked but overall pleased to see that both of my covers roughly fit within the design rules I hadn’t previously known existed. For example, if the theory is true, a would-be reader’s eye is drawn to the chasm beneath the woman in An Uncertain Faith suggesting my main character’s trying situation while on The Fair & Foul, a reader’s eyes are drawn to my name which will help achieve brand recognition.

Of course there are others who believe that the golden ratio is purely a myth or that there are other more appealing rectangle sizes, but considering how important cover design can be to the success of a book, it is definitely something I will be keeping in mind moving forward.

And move forward I will.