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Simple rules for good typography
January 2, 2010 10:51 PM   Subscribe

Most of what a non-expert needs to know about typography, all in one easy to digest page. (via)
posted by Dr Dracator (89 comments total) 66 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is a nice little thing.
Two nitpicky things: a) Typeface and font are not the same thing. Yes, I realize in modern parlance they are and it's not really a big deal, but come on, dude, you're supposed to be the expert here
b) the "don't touch letters!" thing should probably have at least a little note about ligatures. They are a good thing. They are your friend.
posted by The Esteemed Doctor Bunsen Honeydew at 11:21 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


I like this, and it's a good reference for print material. But here's my nitpick: his links are all done in the exact same style as his paragraph headers. This a big no-no in online typographic design. Since online text has to not only read but interacted with in a way that's not possible in print, the rules are a bit different.

But I still may print this out and hang it on the wall at work.
posted by echo target at 11:26 PM on January 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


You use use the Golden Ratio without sticking strictly to fibonacci numbers.
posted by mike_bling at 11:49 PM on January 2, 2010


Bullet points, should ideally be in the page margin. Not indented.

yeah, good luck on that.
posted by Artw at 11:55 PM on January 2, 2010 [4 favorites]


Most of what a non-expert needs to know about typography, all in one easy to digest page blinking comment.

DO NOT USE COMIC SANS.

Or Papyrus. Or Ransom. Or Verdana or Times New Roman, really.

Oh, you're actually formatting a real book with pages and everything? How about some Goudy? Have you tried some Goudy in a nice bookface? Times New Roman is designed for newsprint. It was a clever hardware hack designed to make cheap ink more legible on cheap paper. It's not designed to be pretty. It's designed to be legible on extremely cheap, pulpy paper with cheap, blurry inks printed off of high speed rotary presses.

How about some Helvetica? Have you tried Helvetica? You really should try Helvetica. In fact I've secretly replaced all over your fonts with Helvetica. You'll thank me later after Suitcase crashes for the 5th time when you go to RIP.
posted by loquacious at 12:17 AM on January 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


But here's my nitpick: his links are all done in the exact same style as his paragraph headers.

Good catch. I didn't even notice those were links until I read your comment. Then I went back and started mousing over all the bold text and checking whether any of the paragraph headers were actually additional links.

I suppose this style would make a page look cleaner if it were meant to be printed, but it is a little confusing for content that is meant to be used on the web.
posted by Avelwood at 12:22 AM on January 3, 2010


Since the Renaissance, many artists and architects have proportioned their works to approximate the ‘golden ratio’. Therefore in typography it is a good suggestion to consider using only these numbers to structure your chosen point sizes to. It will give your whole document a natural elegance.

Wait... what?

This is... not so bright and that's putting it kindly. It fails to both understand how the Golden Ratio is used in art and how fonts are measured. If you applied the same concept to a layout but you were measuring your font or grid in a different measuring system you would not get some kind of magical Golden Ratio relative size between the fonts.

It's like homeopathy for typography or something. Disturbing at best.

The best way to get an aesthetically pleasing relative size relationship between different font specs for the same document is to use your eyes in combination with your brain and adjust them until they have an aesthetically pleasing relative size relationship.

About half this article is wrong to the extent of however much you can be "wrong" about the aesthetics of a design. There are glorious De Stijl posters and pieces that break every rule listed here.

Anyway, there will never be a "simple rules for typography" cheat sheet. It's too complicated, creative and hidebound all at once. It's like expecting there be a simple, handy cheat sheet to cook exactly like Julia Childs.
posted by loquacious at 12:29 AM on January 3, 2010 [23 favorites]


Use fonts exactly the way everyone else does. Do not innovate.
posted by theora55 at 12:40 AM on January 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


I think the Golden Ratio bit ties in with a minimal number of font sizes - using different sizes that are close might lead to dithering over which size is best, when it's subtle enough to be missed or misread.
posted by Pronoiac at 1:26 AM on January 3, 2010


This is illiterate in places. "These numbers are meant to have a natural visual elegance to each other. " What is that supposed to mean? It suggests that our host has not even taken the notion of a ratio on board.

Similarly:
But more than this its just a case of looking at the page and asking other people what they read first. As a designer we should be thinking about communication constantly. This is our primary focus.
Should people who don't know how to use an apostrophe be giving advice to all and sundry about fiddling with default kerning on Helvetica?

There must be literate and insightful resources out there, but this isn't one.

Is an exaggerated concern about typography a kind of latter-day synaesthesia?
posted by fcummins at 1:39 AM on January 3, 2010 [3 favorites]


It's interesting that a page about typography, and displaying information correctly to the viewer, is not viewable correctly in my browser - the right side of the paragraphs is all cut off. (Ubuntu Karmic, Firefox 3.5.6)
posted by greasepig at 1:40 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


As an addition, I found the elements of typographic style applied to the web to be extremely fascinating and useful.
posted by jbr at 2:56 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


When I spend hours reading a book or scanning web sites or slipping through magazines, I don't want to notice the letters at all. The only time I do (consciously) notice such things is when some font fiddler has made a mistake, such as making it difficult to distinguish between 1 and I and l, because it was more important to impress other font fiddlers.

I would hope the main rule for selecting a typeface is to select the one that has performed best in empirical studies, not just the one that is rated highly by a few people who are fascinated by the shapes of letters. Ask test subjects -- people who don't know or care whether a font and a typeface are different things -- what they thought and felt about the reading experience and see how well they performed as readers by observing them in action and asking them about what they read.
posted by pracowity at 3:03 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I can't believe that he advises custom kerning. I, for one, am not about to adjust the positioning of every single letter in any document, unless it's collage. The font designer set the kerning, and if I don't like it, I'm just going to use a different font.

However, I did appreciate that early rule for leading:
the letters should not overlap at all!
So that's what I was doing wrong!

All in all, it's good advice if you are striving for a nondescript look.
posted by Jimmy Havok at 3:06 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who found the text too small to read comfortably?
posted by robertc at 4:48 AM on January 3, 2010


Am I the only one who questions taking advice on typography from someone who uses a fugly gradient-colored Helvetica version of his page title as a background?

Seriously. Wtf? Helvetica? No.
posted by spitefulcrow at 5:22 AM on January 3, 2010


> All in all, it's good advice if you are striving for a nondescript look.

That doesn't sound so bad when one recalls there are only two choices:

1. "nondescript"

2. pages that look like something a magazine salesman shoved under your front door


> I don't want to notice the letters at all

Any page that shouts "A designer designed me!" is in category 2.
posted by jfuller at 5:24 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


There are a lot of off-notes here in this article as a few others have already pointed out. Still, newcomers to typography could probably do worse.

However, for a better explanation that includes web typography, I recommend Mark Boulton's article on five simple steps to better typography.
posted by jeremias at 5:33 AM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


My boss, who has no background in print media of any kind, insists all text must be justified at all times in all print documents. I have spent close to three years trying to convince him that there is nothing wrong with left alignment, but no appeal to reason or industry best practices will get through to him. One day I'm going to throw him down the stairs and plead justifiable homicide.
posted by dortmunder at 5:50 AM on January 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


Mostly good advice, but... why is his website so ugly? It looks like shit with the "fred. clean, simple, blah blah blah" crap on the right.

Here's a screenshot in case I'm hallucinating or my browser (Firefox) is ruining things, and that's why nobody has mentioned it: http://i50.tinypic.com/2d9l6f.png
posted by autoclavicle at 6:11 AM on January 3, 2010


A nice piece on the difference between a font and a typeface
posted by criticalbill at 6:22 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


The justification question confuses me. I do understand the issues with full justification. I do accept the argument for left justification. So why does every book, newspaper, and magazine in my house use full justification?
posted by rlk at 6:32 AM on January 3, 2010


dortmunder, my god it sounds like my old copywriter (who left my office head first) is now your boss. He had a fetish for justified text. A very sick man.
posted by dabitch at 6:39 AM on January 3, 2010


One simple rule (for ANY subculture, including type-nerds): Get upset over shit nobody else cares about.
posted by mccarty.tim at 6:42 AM on January 3, 2010 [6 favorites]


It seems like his argument against full justification is for narrow columns, which I totally understand. I kinda like full for wide columns, though, like books. But I'm no expert.
posted by chinston at 7:11 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


Is an exaggerated concern about typography a kind of latter-day synaesthesia?

I'm sure many future seers thought typography was a doomed craft 15-20 years ago, with the rise of home DTP and the internet. But here we all are, having this conversation, holding strong opinions on kerning.

As it is, I would like to send a big heads up to people who publish pdfs in two column format: stop it, it's not big and it's not clever.
posted by Sova at 7:38 AM on January 3, 2010


Every typographer is against full justification. He explains pretty plainly the reason why: it creates vertical rivers of unevenly spaced white spaces in the text, which makes it harder to read and visually unappealing.
posted by johnasdf at 7:45 AM on January 3, 2010


He totally lost me when he advocated re-kerning.
posted by seanmpuckett at 7:47 AM on January 3, 2010


Many of the recommendations, in this and other linked articles, make reference to readability or legibility. Is there any actual research showing that (for example) bigger line spacing is better or worse, or full justification is better or worse, or sans is better or worse than serif? Because I work in assistive technology and have struggled in the past to come up with much actual information rather than convention.

For example, I recall one study of typeface versus reading speed indicated that Comic Sans was best. And worse yet I've lost the reference and paper so can't be sure I didn't dream that up.

Anyone?
posted by alasdair at 8:03 AM on January 3, 2010


Can we have a ban on posts about type? It brings out the fascist in too many people.
posted by lodurr at 8:13 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


I'm really, really bad at keming.
posted by Ratio at 8:14 AM on January 3, 2010 [26 favorites]


OK, done some actual work myself. Got something quite quickly: only a poster, but an ACM conference.
Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI '01 extended abstracts on Human factors in computing systems. Seattle, Washington, 2001. pp175 - 176 Michael Bernard, Chia Hui Liao, Melissa Mills.


My summary:
  • 14pt is better (more legible) than 12pt.
  • Small sans-serif typefaces are read slower than small serif typefaces.
  • People prefer 14pt sans-serif typefaces.
  • "Designed for screen" typefaces like Georgia aren't any better than print typefaces like Times.

  • posted by alasdair at 8:22 AM on January 3, 2010 [9 favorites]


    OK, let me clear this up...

    1. You may adjust the letterspacing of the body copy by adjusting the overall kerning settings of the text, but you don't go in and adjust each letter in a 300 page novel. On headlines you would adjust individual letters.

    2. Helvetica is the greatest typeface yet invented, so stop the hatin'.

    3. "All in all, it's good advice if you are striving for a nondescript look." This article is meant for meant for non-professionals, so yeah, strive for a non-descript look. Typography is a way to communicate better, not a vehicle to show how clever you can be. Unless you're Stefan Sagmeister.
    posted by Mcable at 8:25 AM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


    The missing rule here that more designers would do well to heed is "have someone proofread and edit your copy". The language there was horrible.

    it creates vertical rivers of unevenly spaced white spaces in the text

    It's odd that a guy who prescribes manually kerning character pairs just accepts the default H&Js. If you're getting rivers in your justified text, your hyphenation and justification settings are wrong. Fix them and you're halfway to winning.

    The other half comes from manually going through the finished text and spacing it out by hand, inserting soft turns to fix nasty spacing, fixed spaces to pull out lines etc. Every newspaper I've ever worked for has done this, scrutinising every line by hand. (Well, at least until InDesign's TeX-derived Paragraph Composer mode came along, and got it right in 85% of instances).

    Oh, also, baseline grids: they're not for stopping curvy lines of text, they're to ensure text in separate columns stays aligned.
    posted by bonaldi at 8:26 AM on January 3, 2010


    OK, "Serifs and font legibility" by Ares Arditi and Jianna Cho in Vision Research Volume 45, Issue 23, November 2005, Pages 2926-2933 says that serif versus sans-serif doesn't matter EXCEPT that serifs in typefaces make the letters further apart and this can make text more legible, especially when small. But I can't get the full text of this one.
    posted by alasdair at 8:31 AM on January 3, 2010


    Oooh, "Variables affecting the legibility of computer generated text" by Simon Hooper and Michael J. Hannafin in the Journal of Instructional Development, Volume 9, Number 4 / December, 1986, pp22-28 says:

    "Text presented on computer display terminals is read faster when the text is left justified, characters are small, and lines are long and separated by blank space."

    and also:

    "Although each of the variables affects the efficiency of reading text and may also have affective consequences, the overall effect of each on learning outcomes may be negligible."

    This predates modern screens and greater awareness of print impairments like dyslexia, however.
    posted by alasdair at 8:37 AM on January 3, 2010


    He uses the term "kerning" incorrectly to include both kerning and tracking. Tracking is the overall character spacing while kerning is for spacing between two specific characters. You really shouldn't have to mess with kerning in body text unless you're using a poorly designed font family, in which case, you should use a different font. Changes in tracking should be restrained. If you're trying to get rid of widows and orphans, find lines of text with short words wrapped to the following line so that adjustments can be very small. Generally, you shouldn't have to mess with tracking.
    posted by effwerd at 8:38 AM on January 3, 2010


    This is supposed to be typography advice for the web? Don't use anything except 8 - 10 pt for body copy? This guy must test his design only in IE. fonts that small are unreadable on smaller screens (think laptop with high resolution or mobile device) and even on a larger screen will send most people over the age of 30 looking for the text zoom button. Metafilter has some of the best font sizing I have seen in web design, but too many other idiots follow his advice and use tiny fonts. All he needed to do to hit the trifecta of design idiocy was to advocate gray body font and black for comments (because everyone knows the comments should have more emphasis than the original article!)

    Content is king, folks. If your design makes it hard for me to read your content, then your design is shit. Never forget rule #1 of web design: there's no shortage of other sites for me to visit instead of yours.

    Also - I thought the point of kerning was to AVOID rivers. If you manually kern every character and still can't get it to
    look good with full justification, you suck. Pick up any magazine as an example. It can clearly be done and done well.
    posted by caution live frogs at 8:50 AM on January 3, 2010


    Apropos of nothing: One thing I wish HTML could handle is conditional header wrapping. If, for example, I have a header over an article with a title of "The Case for Conditional Header Wrapping in HTML" and the line breaks, I'd like to be able to place markup in the text to define the optional breaks.

    Not preferred but generally the case:
    The Case for Conditional Header Wrapping in
    HTML


    Preferred option:
    The Case for Conditional
    Header Wrapping in HTML


    There would have to be some way to include multiple options in case the title has to break over two, three, or four lines. It might not always work well, but I think it would still fail better than the current function.
    posted by effwerd at 9:07 AM on January 3, 2010


    Well, you could put nonbreaking spaces in there. Seems like a bad idea.
    posted by Artw at 9:29 AM on January 3, 2010


    The thing he says about incorrect bulletpoints is incorrect; and the thing he says about correct bulletpoints is incorrect.
    posted by cincinnatus c at 9:33 AM on January 3, 2010


    While well-intentioned, I feel for the many, many designers out there whose clients are going to read this and use it as writ-in-stone commandments. There is nothing more frustrating/maddening than a client who has read an article on typography.
    posted by Thorzdad at 9:46 AM on January 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


    It's like homeopathy for typography or something. HA!

    Re kerning; I would groan every time my old employer wanted to use Futura for body text, because yes, they did make us go back and kern the letters that ran into each other. All of them.

    We broke all of these rules actually; justified text all the time (with adjusted hyphens/soft breaks, etc. to get rid of spacing issues), and his "nice and tight" leading paragraph would have been deemed too tight. Just barely not having your descenders/ascenders crash was not acceptable.

    I don't do much layout anymore so it doesn't come up, but I do have to deal with a boss who still holds to the "two spaces after a period" rule which is unnecessary and drives me batty.
    posted by emjaybee at 9:59 AM on January 3, 2010


    I am glad type/font geeks are out there. Us laypersons find it easy to laugh (and fume) at the passionate and surgical splitting of hairs many of these discussions result it, but this is important stuff. Type is everywhere. It is the brute force workhorse of both creative and pragmatic communication. It can deliver a message with pristine complexity. Or it can deliver that same message with boogers in its teeth.

    My issue with this type of article is that it should, in my opinion, be geared towards third graders. This information is a basic of printed communication and its principles can set the foundations for creativity in general; the idea that how you say something, in whatever medium, matters. It introduces basic ideas of technique and craft transferable and useful throughout life. It also seems like the discussion should move relatively quickly to web-based guidelines, as this type of interaction with the planet will be the new default routine for children, and the planet will be better for their being well-versed in these first principles.

    It is curious though to see that, apparently, even the basics of technique seem to still be open to interpretation. And I think this must be what gets people riled. I think conscientious professionals will always bristle when they see what they consider to be hack work, especially when that work somehow surfaces to the level of publication or commendation. As an architect, I know it irritates me when I see some ego-penis think they are reinventing the wheel, when all they are doing is demonstrating that they understand neither the rule, nor when to break it effectively. And we all have to live with their mistakes.

    Type is a bit like plumbing. It should never go wrong. Nothing looks or functions well if its shit is backed up. There are no excuses. If you find yourself needing to explain, you have failed.
    posted by nickjadlowe at 10:00 AM on January 3, 2010 [5 favorites]


    I didn't think this was particularly profound or beautiful, as I was hoping it would be. And I'm not buying the pullquote or bullet "rule," either.
    posted by maxwelton at 10:00 AM on January 3, 2010


    It's like everytime someone does one of these they've got to throw in their own littlequirk that's (a) hard to do, (b) you don't see often and (c) doesn't look any better. I bet they defend thatindentingthing to the death.
    posted by Artw at 10:20 AM on January 3, 2010


    Tschichold's The New Typography is the only necessary read on this. The idea is not to make a page so bland and boring as to be completely useless (egads, the hyperlinks aren't highlighted!). The idea is that the content should rule the presentation.

    It really helps to look at other applications of Bauhaus design, like the Wassily Chair to truly grasp the philosophy of modern typography. The Wassily Chair is the most base element of a chair, it is a chair stripped of all decorative flourishes and what is left is some sort of primal Pythagorean monad.

    It is an engineer's philosophy: you know you are done when you can no longer take anything away.

    I'm a bit bias, but I've very rarely felt I was in a "Google application" and their restraint when it comes to design is really the standard. Compare two static documents (very little interaction beyond links, not really an application):

    Google Books Settlement
    Microsoft's Customer Partner Experience

    It is sort of funny, you can tell rather easily which one was derived from a Photoshop mockup from an ad department and which one was engineered.
    posted by geoff. at 11:15 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I'm a bit bias, but I've very rarely felt I was in a "Google application" and their restraint when it comes to design is really the standard

    google's approach to design is not the standard in anything beyond "don't do it like this". It's an actively design-hostile company, preferring to think that you can engineer aesthetics like you can algorithms. That their resulting minimalism fits with a dominant reductionist fashion doesn't affect matters much. The Microsoft one isn't bad, it's just deeply dated.
    posted by bonaldi at 11:28 AM on January 3, 2010


    To me those both look like some random webdev or "editor" shovelled something into a standard template.
    posted by Artw at 11:58 AM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


    The site is using a half-assed clone of Subtraction’s grid system.
    posted by joeclark at 12:02 PM on January 3, 2010


    I dunno. I'm interested in fonts and the topic of typography in general (began to create my own font for fun at fontstruct). But in the real world, if you want the words to be read and your meaning to be derived from those words, your best bet is Helvetica.
    posted by marimeko at 12:05 PM on January 3, 2010


    Where did the Helvetica hard-on come from? Was it the movie? I mean, the differences between Helvetica and Arial are so small as to be noticed only by font nerds, but you never hear people saying "your best bet is Arial", even though that's way more likely to be installed on their machines.

    Arg, fashion.
    posted by bonaldi at 12:10 PM on January 3, 2010


    Where did the Helvetica hard-on come from? Was it the movie? I mean, the differences between Helvetica and Arial are so small as to be noticed only by font nerds, but you never hear people saying "your best bet is Arial", even though that's way more likely to be installed on their machines.

    I should have said Helvetica or Arial. I agree the difference is silly.

    Fashion? More like tried and true. It's clean and timeless and it works, so why mess with it? I find toying with fonts to be fun, yet always makes me question the authority (for lack of a better word) of whatever I'm reading. This is stupid. Yes. But when font is too obvious - that screams fashion to me - and is usually distracting from the content.
    posted by marimeko at 12:36 PM on January 3, 2010


    It's clean and timeless and it works, so why mess with it?
    I don't think Helvetica is particularly clean: it can be crufty, especially at smaller sizes on screen. As a print body font it's plain nasty. It is quite clean at larger display sizes, and they're where it's usually best used. That's a specific use though, it doesn't make it good for a universal rule.

    It's not especially timeless either: that's why so many people use it to say "modernity and now!". The thing about that is that it dates, more or less quickly. Helvetica's had a longish run, to be fair, but it's not going to escape fashion forever.

    Works: Well, again, not really. Look at the rt clash in the posted link. Eugh. What's more, people like Robert Bringhurst (who has at least seen more typefaces than I've seen pies) condemn it for being coarse and too monochrome for any sort of real readability, so "works" is not a universal judgement on it.

    I get the goal of an unobtrusive font that lets the content speak, but really, such a thing no more exists than does one suit for all occasions. Helvetica and Times leap out negatively to me just as much as other fonts leap out to you. I think the real problem here is in trying to boil this stuff down to a simple one-size-fits-all-rule. You wouldn't do that with clothes, though god knows AskMe tries, so why try with fonts? The clothes you dress your words in will say something about them, to somebody, and pretending that putting them in a Swiss workman's outfit will be good for all social occasions and usages is fundamentally not helpful.
    posted by bonaldi at 1:00 PM on January 3, 2010


    Interesting ponts. It comes down to sujectivity, I guess. For me it depends entirely on the context. If I'm reading about fashion or design or the music industry, I expect there to be some playfulness with the font.

    I think of the Mobile sign when I say "timeless". It hasn't changed in over forty years and doesn't look at all dated (to me). I look at advertising from the sixties and early seventies - particularly that which was almost entirely copy (in mostly outscale lettering, yes) and it still looks valid to me. Not arguing. Just more intersted in such things that I probably should be.
    posted by marimeko at 1:16 PM on January 3, 2010


    subjectivity
    posted by marimeko at 1:18 PM on January 3, 2010


    having had to sit in Wassily chairs, I can't share the idea that they are a "platonic monad" of THE CHAIR. A "platonic monad" of THE CHAIR (in my humble opinion, speaking as a frequent chair-user) should not leave you in pain after you use it.

    What I would like to see is a little less design and a lot more research.
    posted by lodurr at 2:00 PM on January 3, 2010


    I'm a bit bias, but I've very rarely felt I was in a "Google application" and their restraint when it comes to design is really the standard. Compare two static documents (very little interaction beyond links, not really an application):

    Google Books Settlement
    Microsoft's Customer Partner Experience
    The first one is from Google Sites, which is basically a really really shitty version of Word, but for making web pages. It is not very readable at all, and is very ugly. Essentially, it is a Google application. Notice how the text is small, but all squashed together. Applying just a little bit of leading would improve things dramatically. Also note the near-complete lack of structure, and the utter lack of headings (except for the page heading).

    The other one is some kind of marketing page. It has a more-typical large-corporation look to it, that I think is why someone above described it as looking dated. It is much more readable than the Google Sites document, however. Note the use of sensible headings, leading, and other whitespace to give the page structure. Of course, it's a Microsoft page, so it doesn't quite display correctly in my browser (Google Chrome), and it wants me to install Silverlight for some reason.
    posted by !Jim at 2:10 PM on January 3, 2010


    Can we have a ban on posts about type? It brings out the fascist in too many people.

    To be fair, people on the internet who think they know a little something about typography are more tolerable than people on the internet who think they know a little something about graphic design. Or any kind of "design," for that matter.
    posted by hamida2242 at 2:13 PM on January 3, 2010


    As to the Wassily Chair, the entire thing is an aesthetic flourish. Please, the basal elements of a chair are the ground and rock to rest your back against, or a tree stump. If you wanted to make a chair without aesthetic flourish (if such a thing is even possible. Is there ever anything that lacks an aesthetic?), you would take two piece of plain plywood and attach them to each other at slightly greater than a right angle, and then attach four legs made from 2x4s. Now that's a chair lacking aesthetic flourish!
    posted by !Jim at 2:15 PM on January 3, 2010


    Also note the near-complete lack of structure, and the utter lack of headings (except for the page heading).

    Which has nothing to do with typography or design, and everything to do with how the content-creator chooses to organize the content.
    posted by lodurr at 2:16 PM on January 3, 2010


    Which has nothing to do with typography or design, and everything to do with how the content-creator chooses to organize the content.
    It has everything to do with design, because design is a two-way street.

    Any designer worth their salt will say "here, some headings needed here", and depending on the house will either write them themselves, or have an editor do it. "content-creators" are a starting point, not output dictators, especially in large companies.
    posted by bonaldi at 2:22 PM on January 3, 2010


    !Jim, I can't tell for sure what you're trying to say about the Wassily. Are you saying that one ought to make chairs that are devoid of aesthetic flourish, or that the Wassily just doesn't accomplish that?

    I expect I'm with you on the 'is that even possible' sentiment, though. Functionality is an aesthetic, and while Bauhaus may have done better in hewing to an aesthetic of real functionality than many previous design movements, as far as I can see Arts & Crafts has it mostly beat on that count. (I love the idea behind the backwards chairs.) Of course, you can't manufacture real Arts & Crafts; but then, you couldn't really manufacture a lot of Bauhaus, either (at least not cost-effectively).

    I find most Bauhaus really appealing visually, but the idea that it's swapping aesthetics for functionality (which is how it's so often been presented to me) has always seemed odd to me. If I look at it as "industrial Arts & Crafts", I feel like I can make a lot more sense of it.
    posted by lodurr at 2:23 PM on January 3, 2010


    Any designer worth their salt will say "here, some headings needed here", and depending on the house will either write them themselves, or have an editor do it. "content-creators" are a starting point, not output dictators, especially in large companies

    Are you suggesting that a designer should review all outputs? I'm sorry, but that's insane. It's nothing more than a "guaranteed employement for 'designers'" solution to an extremely minor problem.

    This was a document prepared by a mid-level (or probably lower) drone, it serves a functional purpose that is not meaningfully degraded by the deficit that we agree exists. I.e., there are very likely no cases where the document would fail to fulfill its function because of that deficit. So there's no specific cost justification for fixing this document.

    In such a case, it's an insane waste of resources to have a designer review the document.

    In any case, it is not a design deficit. It's a problem of organizing information. You can call it "information design" if you want to, but the plain fact is that "designer" does not mean "information designer," and the type of "information design" being engaged in here has nothing to do with anything that normal people would identify as design -- or that 90% of design students could explain in relation to design without employing a hatload of rationalizations.

    What this document needed review by was a writer, not a designer. Better yet, the mid-level drone who created it would have been well-served to attend a workshop or two on effective communications. If they all had to do that, even some basic peer review could probably have addressed that deficit. And much more cost-effectively (especially once scaled) than by employing a designer.
    posted by lodurr at 2:32 PM on January 3, 2010


    There are too many things like this and they're all pointless. None of this will actually help you. Ignore it.
    posted by tehloki at 2:47 PM on January 3, 2010 [1 favorite]


    Are you suggesting that a designer should review all outputs? I'm sorry, but that's insane. It's nothing more than a "guaranteed employement for 'designers'" solution to an extremely minor problem.

    It depends! Mostly on how much the company cares about design, appearance and communication. You think Apple lets a single document go out the door without design input? Even their employee contracts are designed within an pica of their lives.

    but the plain fact is that "designer" does not mean "information designer," and the type of "information design" being engaged in here has nothing to do with anything that normal people would identify as design

    I think the only plain fact here is that you've not really got much understanding about what the design process consists of, and are trying to hide that under bluster about "normal people". A clue: design isn't about tacked-on pretty-making that happens at the end, or at some remote make-templates-and-hand-it-down-to-the-writers that happens at the beginning. Design (in this field) is about communication and projection. A "writer" can read 60 long un-headlined pages and see absolutely no problem with the text. An editor might raise some more objections. A designer will see the ocean of grey text and most likely say "this needs some headlines".

    Does that mean it's always appropriate or cost-effective to pass every document through a designer? No, not really, especially if you don't care about how your output looks or how clearly you project and communicate your messages. Does it mean that Google were wrong to put out the document on their default templates? Again, no.

    All it does mean is that some of the problems of the document are still, nonetheless, design problems, and your dismissal of !jim and the claim that any problems there are all down to the "content-creator" is way wrong.
    posted by bonaldi at 2:48 PM on January 3, 2010


    Google Books Settlement

    Gah. If you think that looks good, try narrowing your browser window. The layout does something really god-awful ugly when the headline wraps onto the third line. On my system, that's at about 1040 pixels wide.
    posted by ryanrs at 3:37 PM on January 3, 2010


    I think the only plain fact here is that you've not really got much understanding about what the design process consists of, and are trying to hide that under bluster about "normal people"

    I'm a web developer, Bonaldi, these past 13 years. I implement designs for a living. I work with designers every day, and have done so for the past 13 years. Gone to conferences, hung out in clubs where designers and web geeks go. Know quite a few designers socially. Have sat and watched them wank about the importance of design (without bothering to explain where they get their empirical data from) on Metafilter, Plastic, and any number of other places, for, well, how long have such places been around?

    I'm also a writer. Been getting paid to write structured documents for...hm, gotta think about this...19 years.

    So, yeah, I know a little about both the design process and about structuring documents.

    You're playing really fast and loose with terms here, bonaldi, but I see you designers do that all the time. I hear lots and lots of bloviating about the Importance. Of. Design. And I've gotten lots of speeches about it from graphic designers who wouldn't know decent interaction design if it bit them on the ass. (The ones who are eager to inform me that they have degrees in Industrial Design are usually the most arrogant.)

    I take designers a lot more seriously when they had some kind of empirical basis for what they do. I don't see that a lot.
    posted by lodurr at 7:39 PM on January 3, 2010


    BTW, this: ....your dismissal of !jim and the claim that any problems there are all down to the "content-creator" is way wrong

    ... is astoundingly disingenuous. If you weren't squinting so hard from bearing that chip on your shoulder, you'd have been able to read what I wrote and would have noticed that my "dismissal" of !jim was a dismissal of the idea that a lack of headings in a document was a design problem. I argued that it was a problem of how the document was written. I said nothing about the design of the page, except to point out (you must have missed this part due to my failure to include heading tags) that the line lengths were too long when the browser was maximised, which makes it difficult to read.
    posted by lodurr at 7:45 PM on January 3, 2010


    Ha, wow, that's a hell of grudge you've got about designers and their fancy-pants talk, isn't it? What do you do in these clubs? Sit and scowl resentfully at those bloviating designers as they dance dances without proper citations and have the nerve to say what good music is without empirical studies?

    Resentment isn't going to make you correct, here. Grey text is a design issue, not a structure one. The document isn't difficult, it's just suffering from shit design. Even under the tightest terminology, the glaring problems with it are all design issues, not content issues, and if you want some knee-jerk snark to drop into this thread to derail it further, you need to find it elsewhere.

    God, you were spot-on about the fascism, though. This is some bad-faith posting in excelsis. I'm done with you.
    posted by bonaldi at 8:03 PM on January 3, 2010


    So I opened up the link to find it is the blog of the designer that is sitting opposite me right now.
    posted by Summer at 2:31 AM on January 4, 2010


    Hey, bonaldi, if you want to avoid "snark", speaking to things we were actually talking about would be a good start. Why did you bring in gray text? Why are you ignoring the fact that the discussion was primarily about the lack of structure in the document, not the design? Are you, perhaps, trying to obfuscate the fact that you didn't read carefully before you made a knee-jerk response on the assumption that it was a design issue, when clearly it was a content issue?
    posted by lodurr at 3:27 AM on January 4, 2010


    BTW, I haven't met a designer yet who didn't just plain LOVE gray text. the very idea of using black text brings a rictus smile of politeness to their faces. They love it almost as much as they love .9em body text (because text that's big enough to read looks "horsey") and getting rid of underlined links ("it's a different color so they'll just hover over it and see what it does").
    posted by lodurr at 3:50 AM on January 4, 2010


    Lodurr: the "grey" in grey text refers to its. A long unbroken slab of body copy is called grey. Elements such as headings and pullquotes break that up and give it colour. Were you listening at all in those 13 years?

    Anything further my MeMail is turned on.
    posted by bonaldi at 6:18 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


    ("to its density", that should read)
    posted by bonaldi at 6:19 AM on January 4, 2010


    What a bizarrely angry convensation. You've both got it turned up to 11 where 2 or 3 would do.
    posted by Artw at 7:23 AM on January 4, 2010


    So I opened up the link to find it is the blog of the designer that is sitting opposite me right now.

    It's coming from inside the house!
    posted by pracowity at 7:25 AM on January 4, 2010


    Why, yes, bonaldi, I was listening. And no, I have never in 13 years heard that term used to describe unbroken blocks of text. And I work closely right now (and have done for 2 years) with an ex-typesetter who is very proud of her heritage in long-form layout.

    So you need to get your head out of your ass and realize that not everyone has the same experience of the world that you do. That extends, believe it or not, to such unpardonable sins as the use of Comic Sans.

    And "last-wording" by calling to MeMail? Come on, can you please be a little more transparent?
    posted by lodurr at 7:50 AM on January 4, 2010


    "..what a non-expert needs to know about typography needs to know about typography.."
    posted by marimeko at 7:54 AM on January 4, 2010


    Yeah, well, for all you typographical design doubters out there, have you even bothered to check out the Balfour Declaration? What a piece of crap! Think how much agony and bloodshed could have been spared if Balfour had used Helvetica, setting aside the fact that it hadn't been invented yet. Still, two points for ragged right.
    posted by chinston at 7:56 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


    ugh! (you know what I mean)
    posted by marimeko at 7:59 AM on January 4, 2010


    Thing is Artw, it turns out there's history here, as Lodurr is alluding to, but which I'd forgotten until I checked just now to see why he's quite so livid.

    I always thought MeFi did design quite badly -- when I saw this, I thought of the mess the formatting-tips-for-lawyers thread turned into in '08, and the Comic Sans clusterfuck of '07. Turns out it's not MeFi that does them badly, it's lodurr, who derailed all three discussions. It's usually "designers don't provide empirical evidence" or "designers are hypersensitive fascists", but in any case, this is what it's always like.

    Lodurr: I wasn't looking for the last word, I was hoping you'd take the appalling thread-shitting that you do in design threads off-list. We aren't adding anything to this thread now, and it's stopping all other conversation. I'm probably as bad as you, because I rise to your lame bait every single year, but really: you godwin this thread from the get-go and laughably call your knee-jerk snark at !Jim an "argument".

    You're not posting in good faith here, you're just venting your frustration at designers and their language. (How dare people with degrees in their subject treat you with disdain and arrogance. Don't they know the best way to learn about design is to look at designers in bars and sit beside a typesetter? Hell, you have lots of designer friends, I'll bet). You've done it for the past few years, every time this topic has rolled around. It's old, it's tired and it's fucking rude. Quit it.
    posted by bonaldi at 8:04 AM on January 4, 2010 [1 favorite]


    I was going to say something about Bringhurst actually endorsing the Fibonacci sequence for type sizes, but it looks like bickering from here on out. If anybody's got Elements handy, it's on page 157.
    posted by Dean King at 8:39 AM on January 4, 2010


    A "writer" can read 60 long un-headlined pages and see absolutely no problem with the text. An editor might raise some more objections. A designer will see the ocean of grey text and most likely say "this needs some headlines".

    Does that mean it's always appropriate or cost-effective to pass every document through a designer? No, not really, especially if you don't care about how your output looks or how clearly you project and communicate your messages.


    I am the copywriter working with this particular design blogger (we both work for PR company Porter Novelli). Arguing about what is or isn't design is ridiculous. I cannot design for shit and I don't know the first thing about how to aesthetically and logically arrange copy/type on a page, but I do know what is good and bad for the logical progression of the copy, something I'm good at after many, many years of wriitng.

    But getting to that point involves communication both at the copy creation and design stage. In other words, it's teamwork all the way through. Learning how to brief, instruct and to listen are the skills any writing/design team need.

    And no, not everything needs to be seen by a designer (we sometimes use strict templates laid down by design) but I can tell you that since most of our marketing collateral has started going through the designer team the quality has improved by a phenomenal amount, an amount that's made a difference to the success of the business.
    posted by Summer at 8:43 AM on January 4, 2010


    And of course that typo in 'writing' is very apt.
    posted by Summer at 8:45 AM on January 4, 2010


    Typeface and font are not the same thing.

    With this in mind, where did the author of the article actually use these terms wrongly?
    Is it improper to speak of "using" typefaces? If so, why?
    posted by kidbritish at 10:10 AM on January 4, 2010


    They love it almost as much as they love .9em body text (because text that's big enough to read looks "horsey")
    posted by lodurr at 3:50 AM on January 4


    There are literally zero typesetters in the print world who size text height as fractions of ems. So either you've only talked to web designers or you don't understand the difference. Your complaints are basically equivalent to someone bitching about his mechanic who "put the go-go-juice in the juice-box instead of the vroom-vroom."
    posted by Optimus Chyme at 10:43 AM on January 4, 2010


    I don't think I can trust somebody who doesn't know to use PNG for images that are entirely type.
    posted by BlackLeotardFront at 12:30 PM on January 4, 2010


    bonaldi: You're not posting in good faith here...

    Of course you'd say that. I have exactly the same opinion about you.
    posted by lodurr at 5:17 AM on January 5, 2010


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