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The Science of Font Selection - 4/5/2016 -

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the monthly publication of the American Society of Landscape Architects, began a complete overhaul of the magazineís outdated design.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 think about?

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 your choices?

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 use?

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.


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