Working with words

Typography

Week 5

This week we put down the letters and glyphs of the last few weeks, took a step back, and started to consider whole words. This was one of those lessons, where you learn proper stuff, like that leading used to be the space between lines, so you’d have 24/12 for example. But now it is the measurement from baseline to baseline, so the same layout would now be 24/36.

The space between words (or ‘wordspacing’ – shocking) should be the width of a lower case ‘i’ of the same font you are using;

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Also ‘tracking’ which is the inter-character spacing on a chunk of content – a word, sentence, paragraph etc. I always though this was kerning – I didn’t realise kerning only refers to the adjustment of space between individual letters. Larger tracking should always be applied when using all caps, or if you are reversing light copy out on a dark background, including back-lit signs.

We played a bit of hand-kerning, with some tricky combinations. The rule is, find the trickiest pair of letter to sit together, sort them out and then take that spacing as your lead for the rest.

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These were my attempts… the feedback was that the W is too far away and the S too close,  but not too bad on the whole apparently. Interesting looking at the letters so closely, and fun to stick them down with glue… no second chances! Or deleting and starting over.

Obviously the Kerning Game was mentioned. But also mentioned was a critique of the game by Paul Shaw, which I haven’t read yet but will.

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Bit of history, bit of writing

Typography: Week One

I’m very excited to be studying typography. I feel like I’ve picked up quite a lot from working with print and graphic designers, but to be able to concentrate on it and try things out for myself is going to be great.

Th first class was an introduction. What is typography, what is not typography and a bit of the history. Like, that Gutenberg didn’t actually invent movable type, but he was the first to do it in the western world. Homework was to watch a good documentary – Stephen Fry’s ‘The Machine That Made Us’. Lovely story about making a similar machine to Gutenberg’s.

An introduction to uncials, minuscules and gothic letters followed. Concerntrating on how to write the letters, using the angle of the ‘pen’ – two pencils taped together, with the points level. The idea being that we experience what it was like to draw the outlines of some of the letters, that in the old days would have then been carved out in stone.

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Creating the different shapes by hand was lovely, and it provided context for how the uppercase and lowercase letters we know today evolved from Roman characters like those used on Trajan’s Column.

And then the fun part! Using a piece of balsa wood, and watered down ink, we painted the letter shapes we had just learnt on a larger scale. Using multiple strokes to create the curves and lines, and overlaying the glyphs created a colourful, layered ink mass of letter forms that stretched down the table.

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Looking closely at the glyphs and figuring out how to draw them. Forcing us to look at letters as shapes rather than the meaning of the letter. It felt like a worthwhile exercise. Like the beginning of an adventure, when you know you need to journey through places you already know, before finding new and exciting things to see.

It’s been a while…

Yeah, so I think I did quite a classic thing of getting a job, being busy and stopping writing things. But I have been thinking about it more and more, so here goes again.

Over the last couple of years I have been working with creative directors/art directors/print designers/digital designers on their hybrid publishing apps. Explaining the process, requirements and restrictions and helping them realise their publication in a digital format.

The HTML content we create is fully responsive, and generally fully templated to allow integration with a CMS. As you can imagine, this creates a whole load of issues, when working with print designers that are used to a fixed format – no orientation change, no text resize, no million Android devices. It’s a steep learning curve.

I heard an art director ask a great question recently (not to me, thankfully);

“Where is the fun in web typography?”

Typography is such a massive part of editorial design that I think it’s almost the hardest thing to come to terms with, in digital. Yes we have webfonts now, and can control the line-height and letter-spacing etc, but what we can do looks like nothing when compared with InDesign. Which is what print designers are used to.

When working on the digital version of UK Grazia, we used a Google Doc for them to ask questions/make feature requests/raise bugs about the CMS. Thinking this was the easier option than introducing and supporting their team on our formal PM tool, it actually ended up with them requesting “the rich text edit functionality of Google Docs” in their CMS editor. It came from a desire to recreate what they had done in InDesign, but for the digital version. Which is kind of fair enough really, just not completely possible yet.

So back to the question about typographic fun. I reckon it is possible to be playful with type on the web, but in my world it needs to be responsive and template-able, which is where the difficulty comes in. But I like a challenge. I’m taking a primarily print based Typography course at Central St Martins at the moment, which I will be using as a starting point for experimenting with web type. I’ll take the excersizes we do in the class, and see how a digital version would work.

I’m not exactly sure what the classes will entail, or what the focus of each digital version will be, but it’ll be fun. And I guess the overarching aim is to find the fun in web typography.