The Rule of Third (Base) and other unwritten rules of graphic design/baseball

Not too long ago, my co-author and friend Shea called me with an interesting question: “Is there a way we could somehow incorporate baseball into our blog about graphic design and interpretation?” It seemed like a stretch, but since baseball is a mutual interest, we thought we’d give it a try this week.

In today’s post, I will discuss how graphic designers can make use of some of the unwritten rules of baseball (actually, for the purposes of this post, they are, in fact, written rules of baseball). Thursday, Shea will address how interpreters can do the same. Here goes:

If you intentionally hit a batter, don’t aim at his head.
Sometimes a baseball pitcher needs to send a message. Suppose the pitcher is unhappy with a player on the other team for violating one of the many unwritten rules of baseball, and he decides to intentionally plunk him with a pitch. It’s an unwritten rule that the pitcher should aim at the batter’s backside rather than a more vulnerable area, like his head.

Designers send messages, too, and it’s important not to aim at your audience’s head. Large fields of bright red, using lots of different typefaces, bolding everything, and filling every last square inch of white space—these are all examples of being overly aggressive, or aiming at your audience’s head. It’s important to get your message across, but you don’t have to beat people over the head with it.

Don’t step on the foul line.
This is more of a superstition than an unwritten rule, but many players—pitchers, mostly—avoid stepping on the lines drawn on the field as they enter or leave the field between innings. There are parts of the field clearly designated for different purposes—fair territory is for game faces and steadfast focus, foul territory is where players can relax and prepare for the next inning. Stepping on the line between those two areas muddies the distinction between them.

Designers rely on lines and areas with clearly defined purposes as well. A grid system helps designers decide where to place important elements on a page. (See a post on the grid here.)

Don’t slide with your spikes up.
When a runner slides into a base with the spikes on his shoes up, there’s a risk of serious injury. This is something noted jerk and Detroit Tiger Ty Cobb was famous for. Clearly, for designers, this rule relates to using starbursts. You’d have to be a real Ty Cobb to intentionally inflict those pointy aberrations on your audience.

Don’t make the first or third out at third base.
For various strategic reasons that I will resist detailing here, base runners should avoid making the first or third out of an inning trying to reach third base. They’re better off staying at second, if the situation allows, rather than risking making an out at third base. That said, there are occasions where it’s okay to force the issue and aggressively try for third base.

Designers use a Rule of Thirds as a guide to attractive compositions. Like baseball’s Rule of Third Base, though, there are times when the compositional Rule of Thirds can be violated. See a post about the Rule of Thirds here.

Pitchers should not show up their fielders.
When a fielder makes an error, pitchers have to resist outwardly showing their displeasure. Even though the pitcher has inherited a difficult situation because of his teammate’s misstep, he has to suck it up and focus on that next batter.

Similarly, every design project is a collaboration. If the copy writer comes in with too high a word count or the photographer gets thrown out trying to stretch a double into a triple, the project manager still needs to own the project and work with team members to get it right.

Don’t bunt to break up a no-hitter.
This is just a weasely thing to do. Swing the bat. This is not a concern in the American League because no one bunts there.

Well, there you go. Tune in next week when we’ll delve into the importance of working pitch counts when setting type!

What’s the difference between a typeface and a font?

This is one of those “Do we dare bring it up?” subjects, not only because the definitions of these terms have been muddied with common usage and changes in technology, but also because nothing makes you look like a bigger nerd than trying to explain the difference between a “font” and a “typeface.”

Changes in technology and the way these terms have been used by computer programs have caused some (mostly people who have social lives and talk about things like movies and current events) to use the terms interchangeably. These people might think they’re happy, but little do they know that there’s a difference between a font and a typeface.

To encapsulate the many arguments out there, “typeface” describes the design of a set of typographic characters. It describes the aesthetic, visual form. (“Helvetica” is a typeface.)

The term “font” is more specific and therefore leads to more impassioned discussion and angry posts on graphic design blogs. Some say that fonts are simply styles within a typeface (Helvetica bold, oblique, roman, etc. are fonts within the Helvetica typeface), while others get more specific, arguing that a font includes not only styles but point sizes (Helvetica oblique at 10 points is one font, Helvetica oblique at 12 points is yet another font).

An important, further distinction is the origin of the term “font.” It describes the technical aspect of how typefaces come to be represented. Before computers, a “font” was the set of metal characters representing a typeface in a certain style at a certain size for use on a printing press (this is why some people define a font as a style and a point size of a typeface). Since the advent of computers, a “font” is the digital file a printer uses to print Helvetica oblique (this is where the people who think of fonts as a style without specifying point size are coming from).

Unfortunately for people who like things clean cut, all of the above people (except those happy know-nothings who don’t even realize that there’s a discussion to be had) are correct. The term “typeface” is pretty easily defined, but because “font” has its origins in technology that has changed drastically over the centuries, it is harder to pin down.

Of course, we’re not the first to bring this subject up. Here is a small sampling of articles out there on the subject:

“They’re not fonts!”

“When is it wrong to call a typeface a font?”

“Font vs. typeface”

“Typeface != Font”–font

“Font or Typeface?”