Fun with Fonts

I was strolling down 46th Street last week, keeping my eyes on my shoetops when I noticed this little honey of a sidewalk tile in the middle of the block:

45 W 46th St

45 West 46th Street

I showed this picture to the missuz, and the first thing she noticed was the chewing gum (the black spots — that’s what happens to chewing gum on the sidewalks of New York, for those who aren’t in the know). Me, I noticed the numbers. New York is loaded with interesting typography like that elegant little ’45.’ Take a stroll down a block downtown and you’re bound to walk past half a dozen fonts you probably won’t see again till you come back that way.

Typography is another one of my unschooled design-related hobbies. I go purely on aesthetics and hearsay, so for instance, when I read a professional-sounding article that suggests eight ways I can improve typography in my design, I generally assume it’s pretty sound advice to follow. (Whether I follow it or not is another story.)

So let’s say you’re me, you just took a picture of a font you saw on the street, and you wanna know more about it. Whaddya do?

Enter This is generally my first stop when I’m on the prowl for new typefaces. They have roughly a gajillion fonts tucked away in the corners of their site. More importantly, though, they have whatthefont!, a tool that makes a game attempt to tell you what font you’re looking at in any image you throw their way. If you stump the automatic guesser, you can submit your image to their forums and give the professionals a crack at it. Once they find the font you’re looking for, there’s a good chance myfonts will have it for sale, too.

I could end up spending zillions of clams on just to try out new sets and families that appeal to me for a moment at a time. (You knew these things cost money, right?) Only, on account of the fact that I’m a do-it-yourselfer and a cheapskate, there are a couple places I visit every time I’m on the lookout for typefaces that are stylish and free. The first place is the League of Movable Type. They don’t offer a ton, but what they have is fantastic, and their site shows it off so well it’ll make you drool over the chance to use it. If you check out the front page of this very site, you can see an example of League Gothic, which was a last-minute stand-in for Adobe’s Rockwell Condensed.

The next one is the Lost Type Co-Op. The Co-Op is run by a couple of cats who know what looks good and will sell it to you at a price you get to choose yourself. They’re practically begging you to let them give away the store! That’s my kind of deal!

These are all great for designing and graphics, but I also wanted to use a distinctive font for my actual website and blog (the one you’re reading right now), so I turned to Google Web Fonts for help. All you gotta do is pick a font you like, and then it’s a cinch to throw a style sheet link into your HTML code and a line into your CSS to make that font come to life. Incidentally, the font you’re peeping at is called Goudy Bookletter 1911. I’d tell you not to steal it, but it’s out there for public use, and I doubt I’m the first mug who thought of using it.

Getting back to our friend on 46th Street, I stumped WhatTheFont!, so it’s on to the experts now. I’ll be sure and let you know what they come up with…

Some more reading:

  • web designer wall – contrast & flow
  • HF&J – four techniques for combining fonts
  • Smashing Magazine – 8 simple ways to improve typography in your designs
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