legibility is under siege
Typography can be perceived in many ways but is dependent on a variety of ultimately defining factors including; aesthetic value, context and even how it is read to name but a few. Legibility and readability play a massive role in communicating exactly what a designer wants to convey. However, throughout the design world legibility is being tested all the time and the question needs to be asked: is legibility that important and what can it convey without context? In a post-modern age, rules are being pushed and it’s becoming evermore exciting to do things ‘wrong’ as designers manipulate the rules to work against themselves. Seeing as typography is the literal visual embodiment of the spoken word it is important that it is communicated in a fit manner, how a piece is presented can completely alter how it is perceived by the audience and it is vital that it’s conveyed in a way in which the meaning does not get lost. After all, does good type design and typography allow an experimental approach at all?
Furthermore, it is important to understand how manipulating typography correctly, changes how a piece is read or perceived effectively by the audience. Creative yet professional applications of rules such as; kerning, leading and tracking, can create an outcome which alters how a piece is perceived. In everyday life this is becoming evermore essential, in everything from magazines to high street branding, even the smallest of adaptations within a typographic piece can drastically change what it communicates. However, we tend to ignore typefaces or the letterforms themselves, as they are usually only a vehicle for the message. This is because a successful typeface is often invisible except to the designer, if the audience does notice the typeface it may be for a negative reason as it could be impairing the legibility of the text . In these instances type can be used in a way to be more predominantly visible such as decorative lettering or calligraphy to enhance the aesthetic of the page but is not the actual message trying to be put across. On the other hand, maybe legibility is dependant less on the visual aspect, but rather on the meaning associated with it, and it is the way designers expressively communicate meaning which is mistook for ‘illegibility’.
Type is legible if individual letter forms can be easily deciphered, but manipulating typography opens possibilities to enhance aesthetic value to a design while effectively communicating the message a designer is trying to convey. Especially in recent years, it is becoming increasingly popular to distort pieces of text typographically, but will distortion add to the design? What message is being conveys by distorting? Will the type be legible? Does it need to be? This is better understood if you refer to the Shannon and Weaver model, which notable philosopher John Fiske states to be “widely accepted as one of the main seeds out which communication studies have grown” (Fiske, 1982). The model states there are five stages in communication; ‘Sender’, ‘encode’, ‘channel’, ‘decode’ and ‘receiver’. Regarding typography and legibility, the ‘sender’ is the designer, ‘encode’ is the message the desgner is trying to convey, the ‘channel’ is the medium and how its presented, ‘decode’ is how it is perceived by the viewer, and the ‘receiver’ is the audience. However, if noise is introduced it can severely change how a piece is percived, baoise being anything which interferes with decoding the message. Designers are increasingly manipulating the Shannon and Weaver model and creating ‘noise’ within their work to purposefully portray or evoke a certain characteristic, aesthetic or emotion.
Fiske notes thats there are three levels of problems that the shannon and weaver model highlight. These are: ‘technical problems – how accurately can the symbols of communications be transmitted?, semantic problems – how precisely do the transmitted symbols convey the desired meaning? and effectiveness problems – how effectively does the received meaning affect conduct in the way desired?’ (Fiske. 1982)