G-Rated Type Stories

As if we needed any further proof that graphic designers are superior beings, a recent study at Johns Hopkins University found that only a shockingly minuscule percentage of skilled readers have a handle on the fact that the lowercase letter G commonly takes two distinct forms.

Of course, we typophiles are well aware that there is a common lowercase G with a partially enclosed “aperture” descending down below the baseline, and also a more formal, old-fashioned lowercase G with a fully-enclosed loop below the baseline (and that a similar concept also exists with the lowercase A, albeit inverted vertically). We refer to these simpler, more common letterforms as a “single-story” and their more ornate counterparts as “double-story,” describing how the later has two “levels” stacked on top of each other, while the former has just one level.

The researchers at Johns Hopkins found that most participants failed to recall the existence of a double-story G when asked if G has two lowercase print forms, and almost none were able to write it. I came across this information via a great article published by The Atlantic which takes a deep dive into the origins of our current multiple-G personality disorder through the lens of Google’s former logo—arguably the world’s most recognizable G-centric name. The fact that so many people cannot consciously recall the shape of a letter they have presumably read millions of times over was super fascinating to me as someone who agonizes over the specific shapes of individual letters on a daily basis for a living. It’s a testament to the brain’s ability to automatically suss out pertinent information from what it is given without engaging its overburdened analytical faculties. In the same way, for example, it deson’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod aepapr; the olny iprmoatnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteer are in the rghit pcale. The rset can be a toatl mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit pobelrm. Or, how S1M1L4RLY, Y0UR M1ND 15 R34D1NG 7H15 4U70M471C4LLY W17H0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17. (Source)

Meanwhile, designers and graphic artists all over the globe are busy scrolling through endless lists of fonts, searching to find the perfect typeface for a particular project because we all subscribe to the belief that those letters are inherently communicating something more than the words they make on the page or screen, by virtue of their design alone. We understand that a typeface can be friendly, sophisticated, fun, elegant, formal, ironic, fun or quirky, and that pinning just the right emotional content to our work is paramount to communicating all the nuances correctly and effectively. Conversely, we worry so because there is no avoiding this two-way street and we understand that choosing the wrong typeface can make a project feel stale, boring, stuffy or out of touch. The ironic part of this whole subconscious type consciousness scenario, however, is that true success for the designer does not come via the end consumer stopping to admire the beautiful G in the typeface they have designed/selected/manipulated; instead it comes from the end consumer automatically understanding what the designer intended to communicate, whether or not they are even conscious of the shape of the letters they’ve read.