Oded Ezer is a leading graphic artist and typographer, best known for his typographic design fiction projects. In our podcast, he describes the typographer’s work, explains how to choose the right font for your website, and tries to forecast the future of typography.
Oded Ezer is an award-winning graphic artist and typographer, based in Tel Aviv. He is best known for his typographic design fiction projects, such as Biotypography, Typosperma, Typoplastic Surgeries and, more recently, for his series of eight typographic videos.
In 2000, Ezer founded his own independent studio, Oded Ezer Typography, where he specializes in typographic and fonts design. Ezer’s projects, posters and graphic works are showcased and published worldwide, and are part of permanent collections of the New York Museum of Modern Art (MoMA, NYC), Israel Museum of Art (Jerusalem), Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A, London), Museum für Gestaltung (Zürich) and Design Museum Holon (Tel-Aviv).
Ezer is also a senior lecturer at the Holon Institute of Technology (HIT); Teaches at the Nuova Accademia di Belle Arti Milano (NABA); Was an artist-in-residence at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD); And frequently leads typography workshops in the US, Europe, and Asia.
What Does a Typographer Do?
This was the first podcast we discussed typography, so we wanted to start from the basics: what does a typographer’s do? What kind of project are they involved with? And how did this field change since he started?
“A very complicated question. First, a typographer works with letters, basically. There are a few levels of working with letters, starting from the very basics of designing the letters themselves, like designing fonts, which I do, and then the all these areas of arranging type within a certain format, let’s say in a website or a book or so on. And then there are more aspects to it that I’m deeply involved in, like experimental works and even artistic works where everything is around letters. So, it’s a very vast area, you can choose whatever aspect of it is really interesting for you and because I’m really kind of in love with letters so it doesn’t matter to me in which angle I work with it. And also, it doesn’t matter to me really whether it is in Hebrew, Latin, Arabic, Chinese and so on, because typography is a language.
You must like reading if you are deeply involved in typography, but there are two phases to it. First, I do something that most people don’t do. When I open a book, for instance, I usually just stare at the type. I mean it’s something that I can’t resist and then, of course, I want to read, I want the content. But yes, it’s always on these two levels. It always starts with the shapes and then goes to the content or the opposite — starts with the content and goes to the shape. I’ve started as, besides playing the guitar, I wrote songs and from there I moved to poetry. It’s like pure poetry without music.
So I had this phase of dealing with the content as a pure subject without thinking about the type, so it’s kind of a round topic that you have the content from one side, you have the visual appearance from the other side and you go back and forth within these two aspects.”
Print Vs. Web Typography
Is there a different approach for typography in print as opposed to web design or other mediums?
“Well, I think there are some similarities and there are some different aspects to these two appearances of type. Of course, when we deal with print, we don’t deal with aspects like motion and the behavior of screen that we have to consider when we design for the Internet for instance, or for television.
When we open a web site, it’s completely different from opening a book and there are a lot of aspects that we have to think about when we decide to these two very different platforms. But saying this, I must say that there are some fundamental aspects for typography that are similar everywhere, like all these areas of thinking about the mood that you want the reader to be when he or she reads the type. This is something that is universal or if we’re speaking about a certain genre in type design, that is, you can find it either on the web or screen or in print. So there are subjects that are similar, there are subjects that are completely different.”
Choosing the Right Font
We asked Oded how should novice users, without previous experience in typography choose the fonts they intend to use on their website:
“Well, this is a kind of the million dollar question. A lot of designers are struggling with this issue, but I think it’s quite, should I say a simple issue. When you think about something slightly different, when you think about the values that you want to transfer to the reader or the or the user, when we talk about values, we talk about words that you can describe the feeling that you want to achieve.
It’s similar to describing a person that we’ve just met now. I mean, you shake hands and you suddenly see that this person is very light. He’s not heavy or a person that you just spoke with and he’s full of humor. So these are values that we can apply to our font because usually when you open a website and you start reading, you have the visual, but you also have the type and the type can carry those values and transfer them to the user without him or her even know that. And this is a fantastic subject. I mean this is how I suggest a designer to start to think about which font is suitable for their design.
Right now let’s say if we want to design a website for children, but these are children an in a certain age, let’s say 10 to 12. When we think about this audience, we can think about certain words that can describe this audience. Let’s say they are smart, but they are light. They don’t like a lot of heavy stuff or something like this. It’s a description that we can use in order to find the right font. So I would straight ahead look for a font that will actually demonstrate those values. And it’s quite easy. You have to scroll down all the fonts that you have. Or if you go to Google Fonts, for instance, you just scan all the fonts that they have there and you just pick up those that you think that transfer these values. Then you can choose one of them that is best showing those values.
That’s it. I mean if you do it once, you get the technique and it’s like riding a bike basically. You start and then you improve.”
Fitting Fonts to Images
Matching the images on your website to the fonts is another process that designers go through. How does Oded go about this?
“Well, there are some ways that you can do it. One way is to match a typeface that says more or less what the picture says. Let’s see, if we have a man in a suit, right? You wouldn’t like to use a Comic Sans. You would like to use a font that will act in the same manner as the picture acts. It’s a bit abstract what I’m saying now because every time you have to to see the picture in order to understand what is the spirit that comes out of it.
One example that comes in mind would be, you know, fairytales. It’s always Gothic fonts, typography, and then the images are like really medieval days.
Yeah. It’s kind of cliche and you can use it if you think it works for you. There are a few ways of choosing the right type. One of them is to use cliches. What I prefer usually is to think about the values. So that was the first way of choosing the font as to how I describe the man in a suit. And you choose a font in a suit if I may say it like that.
But another way of choosing a font to the same picture would be maybe adding to the values that come out of the picture, more values that the picture lacks. So it’s like if you want this man to be serious, right? And the picture shows this man very seriously, but you want to add a lighter aspect to the website because actually this man in a suit, let’s say is a comedian, right? He’s a very serious comedian, but he’s a comedian.
We may choose a typeface that will add the humanistic aspect to this picture. So you see, it’s like talking about design basically. It’s very hard because you have to see the design in order to react to it and to make the right decisions. When we talk about it, it’s very abstract now. So it seems very hard, but it’s less hard than you think.”
Common Typography Mistakes
We asked Oded to share common mistakes he sees that designers make in regards to typography or design in general:
“I can say that there certain ways of making the design process much easier that we now face, I face, when I see the work of young designers. One of the things that we already noticed, that when we design a website, usually a lot of designers go straight to the known. I mean they start from something that is almost a Banno and this is very frustrating for the designer himself or herself. Because when you start like this, you in a way, the design process is something which we do because we want to solve problems. And when we go to the battle side of design, it is as if that we give the process to someone else instead of analyzing the specific problems that we face in this specific website that we designed now.
So, I think that if I can say it in a very general way, the hardest thing for a designer to do is to understand that every website has its own problems that he or she may solve. And this is a very good starting point. And this will release us from obeying, if I may say so, a Banno or regular solutions and so on. So maybe my answer is slightly general, but again, when I said that it’s very hard to speak about design without seeing the design. You will understand why it’s so general.”
The Future of Typography
In a world that the written words are disappearing and video and visual take its place, how does it affect typography? And how will the typography world look like in 10 years from now?
“Well, this is a very, very good question. A few years ago, I had a solo exhibition just around the subject. What would happen to typography within 10, 20, 50 years from now or even 100 years from now? I think that typography will not disappear entirely, but it will change dramatically. And I think that it already started. The thing is this, we prefer visual, we prefer storytelling through video and we read less and less. So the question is whether you start to cry about it or you just jump on this new way of thinking about type, and I think type will have to, and it already starts to do this, have to rely more and more on it’s visual appearance in new ways, in even unimaginable ways.
Let’s say type that is combined with video in such a way that you cannot divide between those two. It’s not type on video or video within type, but type that is a video and video that is a type, or a type that has a very strange shape that tells you a story and so on. That means typography will change dramatically in the sense that it will not be enough just to write a word on a screen, but you will have to do a lot of other stuff in order to keep people interested in what is written.”