The Science of Font Selection
The art director for the American Society of Landscape Architects shares
the logic behind the publishing teamís font selections
during a design overhaul of its flagship Landscape Architecture Magazine.
By Sarah Berger
Six years ago, Landscape Architecture Magazine,
the monthly publication of the American Society of Landscape Architects, began
a complete overhaul of the magazineís outdated design. Founded in 1910, LAM
is the magazine of record for the landscape architecture profession in North
America, reaching more than 60,000 readers who plan and design projects valued
at more than $140 billion each year. I spoke with Art Director Chris McGee to
discuss the role that fonts played in the redesign process.
Sidebar: How and when did
conversations about the redesign start?
McGee: Our editor in chief, Bradford McKee, initiated
these conversations and created the RFP for our redesign. I believe those
initial conversations occurred in early 2010. By spring of 2010, we had selected
a design firm; by summer, we were seeing preliminary options for typefaces, and
by late summer, we were seeing sample layouts. We chose the final option
shortly thereafter, and the initial issue ó January 2011 ó was designed in
November and sent to the printer in early December 2010.
Sidebar: What did you dislike
about the old typeface? What were you hoping to change?
McGee: The old design of LAM was just that ó old.
Incredibly, that design had been in use since 1996, so we definitely needed extensive
changes. The previous typefaces felt dated and tired. We needed a contemporary
serif for the body copy and then two to three typefaces that could be used in
all other typographic applications: heds, deks, captions, image credits, and so
on. Therefore, at least one of the additional typefaces needed to be a large
family that had a wide range of weights.
We ended up with Scala for the body copy and Din
to carry the heavy lifting of the heds. The third typeface chosen was Foundry
Gridnik, which is a square sans typeface that is actually based on a font
created for typewriter use but was never released. Foundry Gridnik is the yin
to Dinís yang.
Sidebar: What are the most
important factors to consider when selecting a typeface? What did the LAM team
McGee: Readability. A sense of timelessness without
being dated. Contrast. Range.
Sidebar: Talk a bit about what
the process was like to decide on the final design. How did you narrow down
McGee: I honestly canít recall the typefaces and designs
that didnít work. When viewing and reviewing the possible choices, I remember
that most just didnít feel right. They missed the mark in what we wanted to
convey at first glance. When I first saw the play between Foundry Gridnik and
Din, I was hooked. Scala as body copy had a lightness and airiness to it that
was pleasing from afar and read very well once you sat down with it. After a
couple of years, we decided to add a fourth typeface to the mix. We wanted an
additional font for use on heds and deks, but we wanted it to be a nice
counterpoint to Dinís narrowness. We ended up with Gotham with its perfectly
round "OsĒ and its wide variety of weights.
Sidebar: What do you think the
current typefaces say about LAMís brand identity?
McGee: Our current typefaces allow us to convey a
variety of emotions and feelings even though we really only use three typefaces
for heds and deks. There is a continuity that is present from feature to
feature, yet each has its own unique feel. Itís a delicate balance created and
is one of the more challenging aspects of my designs.
Sidebar: How many fonts does LAM
McGee: LAM currently
uses four typefaces. For the initial redesign there were only three typefaces,
and we added a fourth, Gotham, to the mix in early 2014.
Sidebar: Whatís your favorite
font? What do you love about it?
McGee: Of LAMís four typefaces, my favorite is
Gotham. Gotham became very popular over the past couple of years due to its
versatility. Gotham can be tracked fairly tightly, but its real strength in my
opinion is its ability to be tracked extremely loosely. Some fontsí readability
falls apart as you increase the tracking, but Gotham holds together even when
very loosely tracked.
I love the play of white space around a headline,
and in my layouts, I have been unafraid to go bold, go small, and really track
out a headline. The net effect is a powerful punch without having to hit the
reader in the face with a large hed.
Sidebar: Whatís your biggest
font-related pet peeve?
McGee: Do I have to pick just one? There are so many out
there that I canít narrow the field. Poorly kerned headlines, script fonts in
all caps, improper use of hanging quotes, poorly tracked lines in a paragraph,
widows and orphansÖbut the one that makes me shake my head the most would have
to be straight quotes used for anything other than to indicate feet or inches,
and I see it all the time! On billboards, in print, in ads, everywhere. I wish
that typographerís quotes were the default on all applications, but obviously
they must not beÖ
Sidebar: Anything else you want
readers to know?
McGee: White space is your friend.
Sarah Berger is the production
manager for Landscape Architecture Magazine, the magazine
of the American Society of Landscape Architects. She is also a member of the
Association Media & Publishing Content Creation Committee.