Typography Insight: Font Wisdom on the Go

As more people are getting interested in design and it becomes a preoccupation across the Internet, typography is moving out of a realm reserved only for graphic artists and print publishers. Typography is instead now becoming accessible to the masses who just want to make a document, blog or landing page look really good. There’s a lot going on in those little letters though, and choosing a typeface comes down to more than just which is the prettiest.

That’s where Typography Insight comes in. If you’ve ever wondered what the difference between a typeface and a font is, or how to tell a serif from a sans serif, Typography Insight is there to help. With font comparisons, type inspectors and a dictionary of typography terminology, Typography Insight aims to help you learn the ins and outs of type.

A Typography Tutorial

Typography Insight starts you off with the basics of type, introducing terminology and historical typeface lessons that get you geared up for the other app functions. There are definitions for basic concepts and lots of diagrams pointing out type anatomy. (Who knew fonts had eyes and ears?) Bullet points and red markers draw the user’s attention to the attributes that set each type apart.

Tapping keywords takes you to definitions and diagrams.

Tapping keywords takes you to definitions and diagrams.

Six typefaces are displayed to demonstrate the history and evolution of typography. No actual dates or contextual information are included in the timeline, but Typography Insight gives you links to the Wikipedia article for each typeface if you want to learn more. I do wish the app had been beefed up a little here and included some of those useful facts without having to look elsewhere.

Playing Around with the Alphabet

That’s the book learning. For the fun stuff, you have to jump to the comparison functions of the app, which allow the user to overlay individual letters and place them alongside one another. You can make the two letters larger or smaller or look at the entire alphabet at once. It’s difficult to compare two letters of similar fonts when they’re side by side, and it’s here I miss the markers indicating font characteristics.

Two letters juxtaposed for comparison.

Two letters juxtaposed for comparison.

The overlay feature is the standout. A single letter is presented in a particular font and color with the same letter overlapping it in a different font and color. You can enlarge and move both letters or just one of the letters, placing parallel to or above one another. The app lets you choose which letter to examine, or even choose numbers and a few symbols. What makes the overlay feature so great is that here you can play with the fonts, get a real feel for what makes typeface families different, and compare the intricacies of each one.

Two letters overlaid show the differences in font attributes.

Two letters overlaid show the differences in font attributes.

That said, the ability to view an entire word overlayed in two fonts would go a long way to improving the functionality of this app. Comparing individual letters is a great way to learn about typefaces, but if you’re choosing a font for a document, you’ll want to see how words and entire sentences look, and the overlay and juxtapose functions could be really handy here.

Design App Lacking in Design

For what ultimately boils down to a design app, Typography Insight doesn’t look that great. The menu screen is uninteresting and the layout of the menu items is equally boring. The majority of the app consists of an interactive off-white foreground set on an off-white background. It’s not an app you want to hang around in for any period of time, no matter how useful it may be. It functions as a quick resource you want to get in and get out of quickly, and the design, unfortunately, supports that.

It's a design app lacking a well-designed interface.

It's a design app lacking a well-designed interface.

But What Will I Do With It?

With its definitions and basic comparison tools, Typography Insight is likely going to be most useful to typography students or armchair designers looking to learn more about the technical side of design. It’s a close at-hand reference that will give you the basics and nothing more. Brushing up on typeface elements is a breeze here and the interface allows you to switch among the definitions and diagrams quickly.

Professional designers and even those just looking to improve the look of their next PowerPoint will require an app with more features and, most importantly, more fonts, but anyone looking for an inexpensive guide to the basics will be happy with Typography Insight.

Conclusion

Where Typography Insight falls short is the feeble number of typefaces presented. Only sixteen are included with the app, with no option to download more. It’s certainly interesting to overlay Helvetica and Times New Roman, but if I’m truly shopping around for a font to use in a project or learn the ins and outs of modern and historic fonts, I will probably want to compare very similar typefaces or different versions of a single typeface, like Helvetica and Helvetica Condensed. With other more attractive, feature-rich, and admittedly more expensive apps out there bringing users vast type libraries, Typography Insight feels a little lean.

I kept struggling with what I wanted Typography Insight to be — an app that will help me make better design choices. Taken as a tutorial app, Typography Insight does the job; it gives you a few quick clues on how typefaces work and some tools to explore that new knowledge. As anything more that a learning aid, Typography Insight can’t stand against other apps with better tools that do give you real, applied insight into typography and design.


Summary

Great for beginners, lacking for the pros.

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