This Is Auto-Tune Typography

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From Medium:

A few uppercase words, centred or ranged at the top-left corner of a page, set in the regular weight of any grotesque font. More often than not, it’s black type on white, or the reverse, but colours may appear. Be it an international design exhibition, a show for the Venice Biennale, a new artist-run space or the output of a design school, in recent years our western “art-design” bubble is flooded with similar solutions.

While I was vainly waiting for this trend to slowly fade out, like any other tag on Trend List (which doesn’t list this one), I realised I needed a name to define it and to explain the annoyance I felt about it.

Over time I recognised a similar annoyance when randomly listening to music on the radio, and realised there is an audio equivalent to this typographic sameness: it’s Auto-Tune. Auto-Tune was originally developed as a tool to automatically correct vocal tracks in order to make them sound perfectly in tune, by removing accidental deviations from the melody; as we all know by now, it has turned into the standard voice treatment for a great amount of contemporary pop music productions, and is widespread to the point of being almost impossible to avoid.

Likewise, this default, CAPS-LOCK typographic treatment is largely present in our visual landscape. It can be applied to almost anything, and makes this anything instantly look OK, fit for our times (at least from a designer’s perspective). This is AUTO-TUNE TYPOGRAPHY.

In 1995, on Emigre#34, Mr Keedy wrote a piece titled Zombie Modernism. It Lives!, claiming that “modernism is no longer a style, it’s an ideology, and that ideology is conservatism.” What I’m observing in recent years is not a new personification of that conservative take on modernism: this one is apparently devoid of any ideology, and goes even further in renouncing to visually and typographically articulate a thought.

. . . .

AUTO-TUNE TYPOGRAPHY could be considered as one of the many manifestations of “normcore” or “post-authentic” graphic design, two labels currently used to identify reactions to previous visual trends seeking an idyllic “authenticity”; both labels relate to the concept of “default systems design”, which has been discussed for almost twenty years now.

Link to the rest at Medium

PG will admit that typography can be an art and he has seen some printed books that are beautifully designed.

However, type also has a utilitarian function and PG knows that he’s not the only one to find the presence of strange and unorthodox fonts an off-putting barrier to understanding what has been written. At times, he has suspected the creator of not feeling confident enough in her/his words, sentences, paragraphs and story structure to satisfy the reader’s expectations and has decided to throw in a strange font to liven things up.

PG also notes the OP uses the caps-lock to present AUTO-TUNE TYPOGRAPHY. The title of the OP was also produced with caps-lock, likely a sarcastic typographical comment on the subject of the author’s disdain.

PG substituted initial-caps instead so the post title wouldn’t look amateurish when visitors to TPV encountered the headline under circumstances that didn’t provide the opportunity for them to appreciate the original author’s superior disdain for Times Roman and other pedestrian type styles that are the accepted way of doing things online.

And tend to provide the best reading comprehension results for viewers.

Should a groundswell of demand for creative typography on TPV, PG will consider himself in error and might try to comply. However, the vagaries of various programs and apps used to read web content could easily turn cutsie, ironic and/or witty inside font tricks into a visual dog’s breakfast for most visitors.

(For any who wish to start the journey into the typographic avant garde at no expense, click here to obtain a free font, called Pepper Roman.)

5 thoughts on “This Is Auto-Tune Typography”

  1. I may be a Philistine, but typography should be transparent, something that aids absorption of the content, without getting in the way.

    I appreciate it well done, spent an enormous amount of time on typography of the interior and exterior of my own work, all for the illusion of transmitting an idea without flaunting itself.

    True artists would be aghast at me; but my medium is word, not shapes.

  2. Weighing in late, but it seems to me that the whole analogy is off. Using the same fonts as everyone else does not strike me as analogous to using autotune, but to using the same musical instruments. Rock bands all use guitars, pop singers are generally backed by synthesizers, jazz tends to go with piano and brass, and everybody uses bass and drums. These instruments are used because they are versatile and expressive, and lots of people know how to play them. The milder but also distinctive ‘voices’ of different typefaces contribute to the impression of written communication in a similar way.

    If you want to call attention to yourself with weird typography, or if you want to record your music with nothing but alphorns and didgeridoos, hey, fill your boots; but don’t expect to show up on the charts.

    • To me it’s all about function and need.
      If you’re doing a print ad or a piece for a trendy hip magazine, then yes, a bold, distinctive font is appropriate. Or a mix of same. Plus a complex showy layout.

      But for a novel where the purpose is to convey the narrative and get out of the way, a bland transparent font is best, the more familiar the better.

      These font pieces remind me of the early days of ebooks, typically from professional book formatters, decrying the bland and simplistic layouts and typography of ebooks and the need for ebooks to be professionally formatted.

      Thankfully those days are gone as by now it’s clear than an ebook is not a print book; that readers don’t care about fixed formats or typography, just readability, and that elaborate presentations actually get in the way of ebooks’ primary mission of immersion. And that when it comes to ebook fonts and layouts, just as with sales, it is the reader who rules. If the reader cares enough to bother, they have the choice of font, margins, justification, line spacing, and with tbe best reader apps, kerning, hyphenation, etc. It’s their reader, their eyeballs, their tastes. If they want to use 14 point ragged right Comic sans they can and it’s nobody’s business that they do.

      It’s a waste of time to fret about those things in ebooks because what the customer wants is a good story, presented cleanly and transparently. Most stick with the reader’s default font and if they bother to switch it’ll be to something as mundane as Helvetica, Times New Roman, Georgia, or another common book font they’re familiar with from their computer.

      This is a case, where, to stick with musical analogies, it is best to “blow air through the tuba”, than to be a first violininst. (With apologies to E.E. Smith.)

  3. I have said it before and will say it again – there is a special little ante-room in purgatory for people who obsess about typography.

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