What is Typography?

“Typography refers to the arrangement of text on a page, and appears in some form or another in all instances of written communication” (Smith, Introduction)

It is an art that has been in use for centuries going back to the Egyptians who used pictures to represent words – called hieroglyphics as shown below:

Over the following centuries these pictograms developed into what we know as letters today.

The invention of movable type in the 1400s by Guttenburg allowed for the mass printing of materials.

The development of new technology through the centuries led to the improvement in the appearance and manufacture of typographic elements.

There are now thousands of typefaces that each have their own identity and are used to convey a feeling or message through their use. Big and bold letters jump out at the reader and are often used by advertisers to alert readers to a sale or an offer of some sort, script fonts are used to convey a high class image; for example a high quality hotel.

One of the most famous and popular typefaces is Times New Roman which was commissioned by The Times newspaper and designed by Stanley Morison of Monotype, a British font foundry. It’s a bit narrower than most text fonts — especially the bold style because it allows more text to fit on each line which is preferable for Newspaper industry. (Butterick 2010, p94)

Typography is a very important and influential element in newspaper design and publication. A good example is The Guardian. In recent years it has undergone two, award winning major revamps in its appearance where the use of typographic elements has been a major factor in its success. In 1988 an overhaul of the whole look and feel of the paper was undertaken by designer David Hillman.

Hillman’s changes were revolutionary. He introduced a dual-font masthead (the first of its kind, to which the public reacted with collective shock), and developed the title’s inaugural subsidiary section (now known as the G2), instantly transforming a then sullen, socialist title into one of the most iconic and successful brands on the news stands, and placing it firmly at the forefront of editorial design.

The designer’s type choices were brilliantly contradictory. ‘The’, spelled out in ITC Garamond Italic, next to ‘Guardian’, robustly set in Helvetica Black, created a striking typographic composite representative of the paper’s diverse reportage. (Phaidon, 2012)

Hillman’s award winning design of The Guardian remained until 2005 when, in the light of many broadsheet newspapers switching to tabloid size, it was decided to not only change the size of the paper but also the whole feel and design of the paper.

The typography of the paper was totally overhauled and a new typeface, Guardian Egyptian (pictured below), was designed specifically for the Guardian.

As Thomson (2011) states, “From day one it looked as though it had always been in The Guardian. It has a  straight, factual quality (in common with Fedra), objective rather than coloured. The light weights are more elegant, with a more delicate feel, which is perfect for the non-news sections’ headings.”

As Porter (2005) who was the Creative Director of The Guardian explained; “the typefaces were developed for legibility as well as character… we care about aesthetics, but only when we are confident about functionality.”

The arrival of the new look Guardian on the news stands has attracted much critical acclaim; The Society for News Design in New York named it the World’s Best Designed Newspaper in 2006. The judges citation included:

“It sparkles all the way through, while the Berliner size makes it very comfortable to read. The +photography is strong, the headlines are well written, smart and tie in perfectly with the images. The typography is bold, crisp, elegant and consistent even though a full range of weights is used – from extra light to extra bold. The graphics and illustrations are clever and sophisticated. Inside pages are strongly designed, even around ad stacks.” Society for News Design (2006)

The overall appearance of The Guardian uses the quality of the printing to attract the reader. The paper has a distinctive look on the news stands with the main picture being above the fold line of the paper and the grid layout means that, unlike its competitors, it is able to display more than one story on the front page. The paper continues its full colour format all the way through and the bespoke typeface is a major factor in its success. The change of the masthead from the previous two typeface design to the words being seperated by different shades of the same colour, was a brave but ultimately successful decision that shows off the new typeface to its best.


Typography does with characters what a painter does with brushstrokes. The result of both is an image that can be discerned as having a distinct mood. Proper use of fonts is key in painting the right picture. (James, 2010)

Typography is a vital part of graphic design and corporate identity. As shown in The Guardian’s redesign, the typography is a vital part of the overall rebranding, the typeface being specifically designed for the job means the exact look and feel the designer sought has been achieved.

SMITH, A.E.,2003-2010, What is Typography http://www.wisegeek.org/what-is-typography.htm
BUTTERICK, M., 2012, Typography for Lawyers http://www.typographyforlawyers.com/?page_id=1411
PHAIDON, 2012, Design of the Week , David Hillman’s Guardian, http://www.phaidon.com/agenda/design/articles/2012/september/27/design-of-the-week-david-hillmans-guardian/
THOMSON, M., 2011, Type Tuesday, Lust and likeability #3: Guardian Sans – by Schwartz and Barnes, http://www.eyemagazine.com/blog/post/type-tuesday12
PORTER, M., 2005. The Guardian, http://designmuseum.org/design/theguardian
SOCIETY FOR NEWS DESIGN, 2006, The Guardian, http://www.guardian.co.uk/media/2006/feb/22/theguardian.pressandpublishing?INTCMP=ILCNETTXT3487
ADAMS, J., 2010, Typography: The Message Conveyed by Printed Characters, http://www.squarejawmedia.com/typography-the-message-conveyed-by-printed-characters/
ROSSITER, L., 2019, Pixabay: Hieroglyphics, https://pixabay.com/photos/hieroglyph-glyphs-tomb-saqqarah-597658/
BBC, 2010, Typesetting Letter Blocks, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-10689931
SCHWARTZ, C., 2005, Guardian Egyptian Typeface, http://www.christianschwartz.com/guardian.shtml
THE DRUM, 2012, The Guardian Front Cover, http://www.thedrum.com/news/2012/01/16/guardian-alters-page-design-feature-cruise-shipwreck-picture-alongside-story-queen%E2%80%99s

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