MAU Art & Design Glossary




Typography originally referred to the technique of letterpress movable type printing, but today refers more broadly to the technique of arranging characters for the production of printed materials.

Since the invention of printing technology by Gutenberg in the fifteenth century, media for textual data such as books, which had been produced by hand, began to be composed using movable type made from a given typeset, printed in mass quantities, and then disseminated. As part of that process, the techniques of typeface design and typesetting—font sizing, line spacing, kerning, and layout planning — are very important.

Designers of printed materials must use these techniques to produce texts that are both beautiful and easy to read. In its narrow sense, “typography” refers to these techniques of typesetting; in its broad sense, however, it can also refer to the cultural and historical elements of printing and texts. This is due to the fact that technological and intellectual circumstances play an important role in the process we know simply as typesetting. For example, printed texts of the late-nineteenth century employ artisanal decorative aspects, such as elegant typefaces that maintain elements of handwriting and symmetrical page composition. By contrast, the movement known as “new typography,” which began in the early twentieth century, produced an entirely new typography marked by the use of sans-serif fonts, the absence of decorative elements, and asymmetrical page composition. This change is related to a change in people’s perception of printed texts themselves, from seeing them as private works of art to seeing them as public, functional objects. Today the domain of typography has expanded beyond printed texts to include text used in images and on the web. This has led to new challenges, such as type design that must address motion and the use of characters as part of webpages.