Typography in the 21st Century

Editor and typographer John D. Berry has done extensive research on the overlap, and will explain how we can make differentiations that are useful and appropriate for 21st-century publishing.

Video Coming Soon!

Meeting Notes

(Written notes from the 03/11/19 meeting by Valerie Paquin)

John created this presentation because he has been a typographer for forty years, and an editor even longer than that.

In 1978, John started publishing the Pacific Northwest Review of Books (a critical success and financial failure). He has edited several books about design and a book about Microsoft’s C fonts.

Essentially, typography is all about space… and making sure the content is readable.

Is serif easier to read than sans serif? It really depends on the font. Splitting typefaces into serif and sans serif is just one way of sorting them, and it’s not always the most useful — don’t make assumptions.

Microsoft made Calibri (sans serif) the standard typeface in Word in 2007 to replace Times New Roman. It’s a beautiful type to read and it works, but it’s not serif. Calibri’s creator didn’t think Microsoft would like Calibri because it has rounded, soft ends, and he didn’t think that it would work onscreen, but everybody liked it.

Times New Roman was created for the Times of London for use on newsprint. It doesn’t have much letter spacing because they were trying to fit the text in skinny columns.

John does not recommend using Arial or Helvetica for anything (especially not on a business card with numerals). They just aren’t very legible.

Line length (in words, not size) is the most important consideration for readability.

Inconsistency of typefaces within a document or set of documents or from the same publisher (like an auction house) is a problem. You have to have the correct fonts installed on your machine or the spacing and line breaks won’t match what the client sees. (Especially in Adobe programs.)  

Make sure that the typeface you’re using has all the features you need, such as special characters, real italics, real small caps, etc. OpenType fonts have made things a lot easier because you don’t need to have the expert package for additional characters. PopChar and other apps and font managers show you what characters each typeface includes. Not every typeface includes bold, italic, small caps — don’t assume they do. (Most types in Word these days do have them.)

Use cap-height numerals only if you’re using all caps, not with lowercase or mixed-case letters.

Small caps are not just smaller capital letters (that is the definition of “fake small caps”). Small caps should be more loosely spaced than mixed case or all caps.

Sometimes in crazy circumstances you have to do the typography by eye (like with a chapter opening that includes a drop cap and the first line in small caps, but the first line is a Spanish quote so the small caps need to also be italic and the punctuation (“!) in the drop cap won’t hang past the margin well).

Some fonts have default/automatic kerning, but sometimes you have to put a little space between an “r” and a “y” or between a “y” and a period. (Such as in “Poetry.”)

How do you decide if the punctuation near italicized text is also italicized? Context. Does the punctuation belong to the italicized content? In metal typesetting, it was easier to just do the punctuation in italics, but with digital it doesn’t matter as much. This matches the new guidelines in CMOS 17.

Make sure the font shows commas clearly as commas, periods as periods.

Stacked/case fractions are so rare now that they might actually make a reader pause, but they are very readable.

There is no reason to indent the first paragraph after a headline because you already know that you’re starting a new paragraph.

John recommends Typography: A Very Short Introduction by Paul Luna. It has a good discussion of information hierarchies and how typefaces affect them.

John’s opinion: There’s no reason to capitalize anything after a colon — it’s internal punctuation, not terminal punctuation. (Of course, there are exceptions, such as when a colon is essentially used as terminal punctuation before a question.)

Book titles get treated certain ways and you probably have a house style guiding you; the most common treatment is italics, but you can use bold, small caps, etc.

Word should default to real italics (not just slanted roman) if the font has one. This is not always true, though, especially not in small caps.

Optical size — letter thickness and spacing should be designed into different styles. Footnote size would be chunkier, headline size a little thinner.

It’s extremely important to think strategically and use styles so you or the designer can make universal changes. What should this type of text do (not what does it need to look like)? Make sure you apply the style to each text element in that category so the designer can change the look of the category as a whole.

Worrying about widows and orphans is overrated unless they look really bad. John doesn’t care about an orphan at the end of each paragraph. But don’t hyphenate in such a way that it will mislead the reader (like the first use of an unfamiliar name or a hyphen that creates a different word on the first line). Choose the least bad solution (and least disruptive).

Audience questions:

Why does Calibri 11 look so different than 12?

It could be a screen resolution issue (low resolution could render the pixels differently). Screens are rendering curves out of squares. Today’s technology uses lots of squares, but it’s still rendering the same way.

How much is typography automated now vs. hands on?

First, it only works if you’re doing print. John’s trying to come up with automatic tools (using if/then scenarios) to make type look better on electronic formats.

Is there anything I can do as an editor to not mess up the typographer working on the document after me?

Don’t make text-level changes, make style-level changes. Use an italic style, not the local formatting (“i” button). Don’t use multiple tabs, hard returns, multiple spaces, all caps (this one is a bit controversial: whether an editor should have to assign a style to any instances of all caps or if the designer should use a wildcard search).

Is there anything I can do as an editor to help the typographer working on the document after me?

Make a note for the designer if there might be something crazy in the document that can’t be edited out. If you can make an edit to sentence structure or word choice and it’s appropriate, you can try that.

Can you talk more about semantic style naming?

It’s better for the designer if the editor/author uses semantic style names. For example, instead of naming a style “italic style,” name it “emphasis style” or “text message style” or “handwriting style,” etc.

My poet client sometimes uses lots of spaces, but I suggested tabs to help the designer; was that a good recommendation?

Yes, poetry is difficult. I need to see the MS to see what was intended. Are the lines supposed to be aligned? If one line is two spaces different than an adjacent line, I would ask the poet if that was intentional.

My clients use lots of bullets, any suggestions?

Get rid of as many of them as you can. Is there a reason to break the paragraph into bullets? If not, put them in paragraph form (or a serial list in a sentence). If it’s an instruction manual, bullets are more appropriate. Another good method, especially for readers who will need to reference the information again after a first read through, is to use a heading (type treated differently in some way) that describes the instruction and then provide detail within the paragraph below. This makes the content easier for the reader to scan.

Are there certain fonts that are better for proofreading?

Calibri, Cambria, Constantia (they all have bold, italic, etc.).

Would a difficult-to-read font help you catch errors?

That’s an interesting idea. You would need to make sure there is clear distinction between the letters. And don’t use a typeface with slanted roman instead of italic, so you can see the difference between roman and italics.

Do typographers have to create the weirder case fractions that can’t be rendered in Word?

In InDesign, you can take #/# and use the fraction feature to create a case fraction.

What do you think about fonts for inline text messages?

John prefers italics to monospace, but italics can be confused with other text types (imagined dialogue, foreign language, etc.). Two good foundries have created better monospace types.

Since you’re accepting rants, the main reason I don’t read e-books is the short line length.

You can actually change the margins and font type and size in e-readers. But that’s also what I’m trying to do with e-books.

There is a typography group in Seattle that you can check out if you want to learn more: typethursday.org/seattle.