Back to the Basics

This post has been cross-posted from the League of Design Aspirants blog.

As the title of this post suggests, this time we are examining something very, very basic. It is an error still made by my classmates (who are in the final year of their communication design course), and to be honest I am guilty of making this grave error myself in the past. What might this error be? To confuse between type and lettering.

In case you  think that it is a mistake made by few, think again.

Type ‘typography’ on Google Image Search and look closely at the results it yields. On the very first page, you see this,



Interesting? Yes. Novel? Yes. But, typography? No!

Not only does this image show up as ‘typography’ on Google search but, it is actually  featured on a type-dedicated website TypeNeu that conveniently titles it as typography as well. Recently, Ellen Lupton wrote an article for Print magazine expressing her distress over the confusion between type and lettering that has become rampant on the web. She says,

I’ve been noticing that many of the images that get tagged or labeled “type” on design-watch web sites such as and are actually some form of lettering. Many of these works are exquisitely crafted alphabetic confections, while others are more about letting loose one’s inner sixth-grader. There is some spectacular artistry out there, whether it’s calligraphy, hand-drawn characters, high-end graffiti, digitally constructed alphabets, or flamboyant Sharpie fests. A visit to the “type” page on Deanne Cheuk’s website,, reveals a mouth-watering array of made-from-scratch headlines and and lettering constructions. But is it type? And does it matter?

I say it does, but then again I am a Type Maven just like Lupton. Lettering and Type, a book by Bruce Willen and Nolen Strals of Post Typography sets the record straight in simple terms. What is best is that you can view this topic in the preview of the book on Issuu right here [refer P8-11].

For the benefit of our readers at the League of Design Aspirants, here’s the low down,

Lettering employs numerous actions and tools to create the form of the letters, and differs from handwriting due to its emphasis on technique and appearance. Examples of lettering vary from calligraphy, to hand-painted and neon signs to digitally crafted logos.

Lettering artists get the freedom to respond to a context and design extremely specific solutions. Since even the most skilled artist cannot duplicate an instance of lettering, it always results in a one-of-a-kind creation, unique to one application.

Type, on the other hand, offers a ready palette of letters that can be used again and again. Its feature of distinction lies in its ability of duplication. Unlike lettering which serves only the singular purpose it had been designed for, type, once designed, is used for many applications.

Typefaces usually have large character sets which give the designer a chance to play with different combination of type styles and sizes to create expressive visual layouts. This process is called Typography.

Eminent Dutch graphic designer Gerrit Noordzij provides a very succinct definition of typography that successfully detaches it from any specific medium and distinguishes it from lettering and handwriting. He says ‘typography is writing with prefabricated letters’.

I hope you had a useful read! League of Design Aspirants is now Twitter, follow us. Do tell us about what you think of the blog and the topics you want us to discuss in our forthcoming posts.


Comment 1

  1. abhinav narain December 3, 2009

    I guess u do a lot of alphabets related work. Just wanted to share … look at third degree polynomials (ax^3 + bx^2 + cx +d ) and splines. FYI , these curves best represent letters etc.. thought it might be useful to you. The best shapes, like the dome of Taj also satisfies one of the splines !

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