Typography is the foundation of environmental graphic design and many experiential graphic design projects. Along with color, scale, and form, typography is a basic building block of communications in the built environment.

Typography has been linked with architecture—and with creating a unique sense of place and environmental context—for as long as man has been building. Egyptian hieroglyphics, Roman inscriptions, and Mayan glyphs attest to the power of carving letterforms, pictographs, and symbols into structures to communicate their permanence and significance.

Type design for the built environment today requires a working knowledge of letterforms, scale, type families, type weights and sizes, letter spacing, legibility, universal accessibility and considerations for visual impaired people, and optimum typographical design principles for signs and other graphic platforms. With the advent of digital technologies, designers’ typography toolkits must also incorporate typography for moving applications.

The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) Standards for Accessible Design (SAD) outline specific guidelines for sign typography in public spaces. In particular, environmental graphic designers should be aware of the ADA’s guidelines for character width, stroke width, case, typographic style, and contrast between type and background. The SEGD 2012 ADA White Paper Update outlines the latest guidelines and provides specific guidance for typography in signage applications.

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