If you use, make or draw type / letters, it’s your job to care. I’m personally guilty of using this kind of language. However, when we act like our work is somehow above the mental capacity of typographic plebeians, are we giving ourselves a bad rap?
Who’s worse: wine people or font people?
— Josh Barro (@jbarro) June 5, 2015
Wine people. They’re popularly (and unfairly) characterized as snobby, condescending, and pompous. Oenophilia is defined as “the disciplined devotion to wine, accompanying strict traditions of consumption and appreciation ” (thanks, Wikipedia). If we replace a few letters, we arrive at Typophilia, a term Ellen Lupton uses to describe “an excessive attachment to and fascination with the shape of letters‚ often to the exclusion of other interests and object choices. Typophiliacs usually die penniless and alone.” This wouldn’t be the first time a comparison was made between wine paraphernalia and typography, but I digress.
So, what are you?
AIGA’s recent Ultimate Typography Quiz challenges takers to test their typographic knowledge, especially if they’re someone who “weep[s] when a designer looks baffled at your ever-so-subtle suggestions to use proper ligatures”. Here’s a question from the quiz:
Notwithstanding the debatable definition of leading in the correct answer (no spoilers!), the tone of the entire quiz exudes a condescending and patronizing voice. Quizzes like this one, sponsored by a national organization for design, do little to help communicate the actual value of good type.
Efforts to promote typographic knowledge as some sort of superpower or unhealthy obsession can also alienate potential users and future makers of type. For students learning the ropes, early-career designers new to the field, and even seasoned professionals not weighted down by awards and accolades, entering into the discourse — at conferences, in online discussions, or in practice — can be daunting.
We might feel good about ourselves as gatekeepers of typographic snobbery, but how do we help others through the door?
I’d love to hear your suggestions. After all, it’s not rocket science.