Typography in a Nutshell

… and in a very, very well-done web site too: http://practicaltypography.com
In case you are pondering about the best text representation for your app or web site, it’s a highly recommended read. Only open question: Why is Comic Sans not listed in the section of bad fonts?


Thanks, Michel! That site has a great logo too! :smiley:

(You know how many children’s books I had to design where the publisher proposed to use CS? Uarghs!)

Read the piece and I still have no idea why the author hates Comic Sans,( or why I should care)… :slight_smile:

I quite like it myself, but have never found a place Id want to use it…

The author is the Typography website is very traditional:

What is the benefit of using the curly stuff? None. What happens if you try to read italic text on a monitor? You start squinting. Oh, I’ll add this to the pet peeves thread.

Typography is home for a lot of extremely dogmatic people, for whom the slightest variation from norms established since the early days of set type is as horrific as a Gioconda with a mustache for art ayatollahs.

One can understand their plight. Sure as they were that type was about characters etched in metal, they almost lost their marbles with phototypesetting back in the sixties. Then in the late seventies and early eighties, their stomach churned at the idea of electronic type. Macintosh and desktop publishing achieved to push them into insanity, and they lost their last hair at the sight of web typography. Let us not be unkind to these anguished lost souls who long for the past, hate the present, and fear the future.

Maybe I shouldn’t have pointed to the bad fonts lists explicitely :wink:

I find the general rules a good starting point - especially too narrow or too broad paragraph widths are something that influences the readability of text, no matter on what material, widely. And, to give credit to Beatrix, he recommends using bold and italic as rarely as possible.

For every area that’s founded in aesthetics, you may find rules but should always be aware most of them are valid because of tradition, not because of hidden sacred laws. For somebody who grew up in the western world asiatic music may sound awfully wrong. That’s simply because they designed the intervals between notes differently, and if you are trained to them from childhood on they are no more or less more right or wrong than the western, purely mathematically founded well-tempered tuning.

The same is true for typography: Many things are just so because tradition taught us so. Thus, they may change over time and the new form is not necessarily less valid than the old. Only when you shake too many traditions at once you harvest confusion, not interest.

Some other things, like optimum line length, have physical reasons, but again they are influenced by tradition. You may very well train yourself to pick full paragraphs with one look (I don’t mean techniques like fast reading that skip the words, trying to get the approximate content only). A music teacher I organized workshops for used to read novels that way. A page in a few seconds, and he could tell you about the content, the writer’s style and all. Very impressive. He told me when he learned to read he didn’t know to stop input and start processing when he read a word, so he expanded his attention span to full sentences and then to paragraphs.

Best advice I could distill for myself: Learn the basics, but keep in mind the teacher may confuse tradition with general laws. I don’t know many current books that use Jan Tschichold’s rules of the Golden Ratio for their layout anymore. Still, his work’s a very good read to understand how the tradition developed. And extrapolate how it developed further on from there in between. The same for the website. Again full agreement with Michel therefore.

Typography is essentially tradition, but it is also technology. A good deal of tradition came to be from typographers who dealt with movable type.

For instance, lower and upper case were literally cases where movable type was stored, capitals upper and minuscules lower case.

One of the first dent in tradition was the typewriter. People could experiment with composition without needing a printer. Old school printers used to hate typewriters when they still existed. Now they rather hate computers.

The advent of electronic type has already thrown a good deal of tradition by the window, just have a look at the gazillion grunge fonts around.

The web is adding more and more nails in the coffin everyday. Good.

My preferred typography reference book is “The elements of typographic Style”, by Robert Bringhurst.

@Michel and @Ulrich: thanks for your insights. I’ll check out the book. Typography IS important to make text more legible. But I dislike pedantic persons.