Monday, October 17, 2016

This Is Halloween (in Typeface)

One of my favorite parts of being a resident assistant is helping instill and grow my residents' leadership abilities. In order to foster leadership in my house, I create house committees that allow my residents to take on certain tasks within our community. For example, our birthday committee is responsible for decorating each resident's door on her birthday and making sure she feels special on her momentous day. Another popular committee is the bathroom stall committee who redecorates our community bathroom each month to give a little character to the stark white walls.

Because it is October, my bathroom stalls committee decided they wanted to do themed Halloween decorations. The stalls this month incorporate everything from ghosts telling jokes to murderous zombies. A lot of work went into brainstorming stall themes, collecting and creating the materials, and hanging the decor in the bathroom; my residents did a phenomenal job. It was only after a couple of trips to the bathroom before I realized that some of the ideas we have been talking about in Visual Literacy were reflected in this month's decorations.

A couple of weeks ago, I watched the movie Helvetica and reflected on my thoughts about the movie. I even added a follow up post to discuss my realization of the typeface's invasion in my life. But in this post, I'd like to move away from the Helvetica typeface and further examine the impact font choices can have on text.

I highly encourage you to watch the TEDx Talk embedded below of Sarah Hyndman exploring typography:

In this video, Sarah says that "fonts tell a story." She says, "A font can completely transform the meaning of a word. It can give it a backstory. It can give it a personality." My favorite quote from the whole video was when Sarah described words in specific fonts as "multisensory, imagination grenades." Basically, Sarah discusses the impact that various typefaces have on our interpretation of the text. She says that fonts can elicit emotions, and that we all build up a context about what emotion each typeface is supposed to convey based off of how we have seen it used in the past. (If you're interested in the history of typefaces and the feelings they were supposed to portray, leading up to recent changes in the fonts used on our highway signs, I suggest this short video of Shelley Gruendler discussing typography.)

In our community bathroom, my residents chose to use fonts that portrayed the feelings of Halloween: creepy, fearful, terrifying, ghastly, hideous, menacing, etc. I feel a sense of danger when I look at these words, regardless of what they say. (Would you want to enter the Haunted Forest or Zombie Apocalypse stalls? Only if you've really got to go, I suppose...) Take a look at my residents' creations below. (Some of them are up high, so it was hard to take good photos. Click the images to zoom in!)

These fonts are well matched to the Halloween theme my residents were trying to portray. While "snowballs" and "toys" (as can be seen in the last image) are not menacing words themselves, they are given a scary personality due to the typeface choice. I get an eerie sense of dread reading these words. Halloween is about tricks and treats - and I see the trick my residents employed by reinforcing their creepy messages with ominous, sinister fonts.

How have you seen certain fonts used to portray a personality or feeling? Have you ever seen this done ineffectively? Please share your experiences in the comments!

(PS - Though only somewhat related to my focus, in my search for resources to supplement this post I found the article Google's Quest to Design a Typeface for Every Language on Earth. It's a fascinating read that describes Google and Monotype's efforts to create an enormous typeface family that supports as many languages as possible. Check it out, and let me know your thoughts by commenting on this post!)

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