Closing Quotes

If there’s one thing we’ve asked IBD readers to do over the last three years, it’s been to notice details. The problem with this is that people hate details. When they’re good at noticing them, it makes it impossible to function in normal society. When they’re bad at noticing details, it irritates people who are good at noticing details. Take this email (subject: “Ruined!”) that I received from an IBD reader just last week:

I’m reviewing applications for summer internships, and I just came across one where the first and third paragraphs of his cover letter are left justified, but the second paragraph is justified both left and right. And it’s driving me crazy! Why would he do that?! And why do I care?!  I blame you.

I read this email and I thought, Our job here is done. But everyone knows that’s not true. Our job here will never be done. Just walk down the street and you’re sure to find Comic Sans and Papyrus, centered type, clip art, double spaces after punctuation (including one in the email quoted above), undefined color palettes, too many typefaces in one composition, and design elements not arranged on a grid, just to name a few of the things we’ve been trying to rid the world of for 36 months.

Sometimes, the only way to appease detail-induced anxiety is to share your aggravation with others. This is why blogging is so much fun. If you have a blog, you can channel the rage you feel when someone says “presently” when they mean “currently” away from bludgeoning that person with a dictionary and toward a wittily worded blog post that no one will read.

[Note: This was my longest IBD preamble before getting to the point ever.]

So with that, I give you another detail that drives me crazy, and I hope it will drive you crazy, too: smart (curly) quotes versus dumb (straight) quotes. Smart quotes are called that because they know which direction they’re going. There is a clear delineation between the opening quote and the closing quote:

Dumb quotes are called that because they don’t have clarity about which way they’re going. (In fairness, maybe they should be considered quotation marks looking for a direction in life rather than dumb quotes. Seems less judgmental.)

Despite the judgment inherent in how typographers refer to these characters, they each have specific functions. Smart quotes are used as quotation marks around text, as with my hilarious typographic pun here (finger quotes—ha!):

Many typographers will tell you always to use smart quotes. InDesign has a setting in its preferences called “Use Typographer’s Quotes,” which automatically converts all quotation marks and apostrophes to the smart variety. But all too often, these typographers use their beloved curly quotes even when they shouldn’t. Specifically, when you abbreviate feet and inches, the straight quotes (called “prime” and “double prime” marks) are appropriate, as with this typographically sound description of my height:

If you were to use the smart quotes here, my height would go from “five feet, nine inches,” to “five apostrophe, nine closing quote.” (By the way, to get InDesign to give you prime and double prime characters, you have to go to “Insert Special Character,” then “Quotation Marks,” then “Straight Double Quotation Marks” or “Straight Single Quotation Mark.” Every single time. If you copy and paste, it turns it curly.)

In the end, I imagine that what this post will do for you is drive you a little bit more crazy than you already are. Just one more thing to notice out there that will annoy you. And for that, I offer my own closing quote: I’m sorry.

New Year’s Resolutions for 2011

Last year, I made one New Year’s resolution—to figure out what was in the mystery Tupperware in the fridge in my office and get rid of it. I have four days to achieve that resolution and I doubt it’s going to happen. I’ve sort of grown attached to the container, and I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the new life forms that have started to form inside it. This year, in the interest of adopting a more positive outlook, I resolve to cultivate my relationship with the Tupperware container and understand the world from its point of view.

A year ago, since I had my own resolutions taken care of, I made 10 resolutions on behalf of designers everywhere, and this year, the tradition continues. Here are 10 resolutions that I’d like to see the graphic design community adopt for 2011:

  1. I resolve to stop feathering edges.
  2. I will kern away the space between the 1s in 2011.
  3. I will root for baseball teams that are within 1,500 miles of my birthplace or anywhere I have ever lived.
  4. I will not use apostrophes to pluralize, even when it comes to numbers, acronyms, and names.
  5. I resolve to use fonts that did not come pre-installed on my computer.
  6. I will not comment on the typography of my menu to waitresses at restaurants. (This one’s for me.)
  7. I will run spell-check and proofread everything before it goes to press—even headlines and captions. (Thanks to Friend of IBD Steve Dimse, who took this photo near his house and reports, “These guys couldn’t get it right even when the dictionary was two feet away with letters five feet high!”)
  8. I resolve to use a grid.
  9. I will pronounce the T before the L when I say Chipotle.
  10. I will blur less.

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If you have some of your own resolutions, we’d love to see them in the comments here.

Happy new year, and see you in 2011!