I can remember the days of the manual typewriter when the only font available was a typeface called Courier. It was a monospaced font – meaning that the space allotted for every character was the same. A lower case “i” was allotted the same amount of space as that given to a capital “M” which meant that there were often wide gaps between letters. Not only was it ugly, it was hard to read as well. Its one saving grace was that Courier was easy to use for setting up columns – especially columns of numbers – since it was a monospaced font. Below is an example of a monospaced font. Notice how the columns line up.
Monospaced fonts are seldom used today. Instead, we use proportional fonts which have a variable amount of space between letters. Every computer comes with numerous beautiful proportional fonts. And if you don’t feel like you have enough fonts, you can buy hundreds more normally at a very low cost.
Though you use fonts day after day, you’ve probably never given any thought to where fonts like Caslon, Times Roman, Bodoni, Ariel, and Blackletter come from. They didn’t simply appear, they were created by men and women who followed strict guidelines in creating each and every letter, number and punctuation mark. And though you may not see much difference between Times Roman and Georgia, typeface designers do, and they have very strong opinions about when to use and when not to use each one.
If you’re at all interested in fonts, you might enjoy Simon Garfield’s book Just My Type: A Book About Fonts. But if all you want is a quick, brief history of fonts, you will enjoy the five minute stop-motion animation feature created by Ben Barrett-Forrest. He talks about fonts with serifs, and those without – sans serif fonts. Note that “sans” is simply the French word for “without.”
If you would like to see examples of various typefaces, you will find an exhaustive collection here.
Designer Prateek Lala has created a number of fonts highlighting the names of various scientists. The fonts remind me of Google doodles in that they give you a clue about what the scientists are famous for discovering or inventing. Lala’s infographic is imbedded below. Click here to see an infographic that can be expanded (just click on it), and to view updates that he posts.