The semiotics of type


Italics has many uses. Too many. We rely on it for referencing Latin (per capita) or slang or snideness or asides or internal monologues (I wonder if this sentence is a run-on).

We can get you to pay attention if we use bold, sparingly.

But now there's an explosion brewing, because we've given everyone the tools they need to set type, and because almost all our communication is done in type.

So alt-2 is a great way for me to remind you that I just-coined-a-phrase™. And a blue underlined term is a clear signal that there's an internet link that might be worth clicking on.

Because we're scanning instead of reading, the need for these glanceable shortcuts is increasing… and because we're ever more connected, it's more likely that someone will coin a sign and have it spread and be adopted.

Like green type as a sign that you've linked to something for sale. Or the #hashtag to indicate a categorical term that's friendly to Twitter. Or just a way of typing a word in a certain form of hip aside. #clever.

Or comic sans type when referencing something done in bad taste.

When we push too fast, our type ends up looking like a ransom note, which was endemic after the early Mac let people start mixing and matching typefaces. Here's the thing, though: the typical Wikipedia article or tweet is such a mix and match and mismatch of signs and signals that to someone from ten years ago, it probably looks as bad as those ransom notes did.