One Year of Interpretation By Design: What Have We Learned?


Photo by Michael Lorenzo

One year ago today, we asked the question “Why do we think the world needs another blog?” and with that, the Interpretation By Design blog was born. We have yet to achieve our stated goal of eradicating the world of clip art and Comic Sans, nor have we overthrown all world governments in order to impose our own merciless rule. But we have enjoyed the opportunity to dialogue with and learn from readers, as well as to rant incoherently about whatever random thought pops into our heads every Monday and Thursday.

We have gotten to brag about our respective favorite baseball teams winning the World Series (the Phillies earned their title in 2008; the Yankees purchased theirs in 2009). We have discussed design pet peeves (drop caps for me, the typeface Papyrus for Shea), and we have revealed our deepest, darkest secrets (I used to work in TV news, Shea likes Walmart).

We have learned (to our surprise) that our readers are passionate about grammatical and typographic minutiae like the difference between less and fewer and whether to single space or double space after a period—and whether they’re setting that type on a Mac or PC.

We are thrilled to have had the opportunity to use the phrase “Friend of IBD” often, not to mention that our respective marriages are still intact even after our families vacationed together during a blog-intensive week in Chicago last August. We’ve enjoyed (nearly) all of the comments that readers have left (even the one telling me that “life is too short” and that I should “get over it” in my post about drop caps).

In that first post exactly a year ago today, I wrote, “We don’t want your Social Security number, credit card information, or first-born child. You don’t even need a username or password. All you need is an interest in interpretation and/or graphic design and a moment to share your thoughts with us.”

Quiet sign on the road to Hana1Since then, we’ve enjoyed interacting with readers, especially when you send entertaining links and photos like this one from Friends of IBD Lori Spencer and Don Simons, who wrote after a trip to Hawaii, “Hi guys, You’ve got us noticing signs now.”

And that’s really what IBD is about. We know we’re never going to shut down a server because one of our posts goes viral on the Internet, but we hope to have found a niche of readers who find beauty in the quirky, who care about type and design, and who enjoy the way our natural and cultural heritage is presented visually at interpretive sites. We write this blog because we enjoy discussing interpretation and design. (If we didn’t have the blog, we’d probably end up writing all of the same content in emails to one another, only probably with even more snarky baseball-related comments, so it’s best for our mental health that we do have the blog.)

If we have changed the way you look at the world—noticing worn-down signs while others might be soaking in a beautiful rainforest or seascape, wondering whether a specific typeface was appropriate while others enjoy the content of an interpretive exhibit, or cringing at the use of a double space after a period while others read happily along without a care in the world—then our job is done, and we are truly sorry.

And finally, an announcement: For the next year, Shea and I will use the typeface Helvetica every day until a major Hollywood studio makes a movie about us called Shea and Paul and Max and Eduard. The movie will span seven decades and tell the parallel, touching stories of the creation of the typeface and our use of it. Shea will be played by Meryl Streep.

The Great Space Debate: To Single- or Double-Space After a Period

A while back, I declared my allegiance to the serial comma, and I am ready to take another stand.

I believe that double-spacing after a period at the end of a sentence is outdated, clunky, and typographically unsound. (While I’m at it, I also believe that college football’s postseason format is fraudulent, the designated hitter rule is silly, Conan O’Brien was treated unfairly, and Arrested Development was taken off the air way too soon.)

This is not exactly a cutting-edge opinion, but there are still plenty of people out there using the antiquated post-period double space. This is fine if you’re writing e-mails or crafting ransom notes from magazine clippings, but if you’re creating professional-quality printed materials, the single space is the way to go.

monospace-1The double space after periods was a standard in the days of typewriters, which used monospaced typefaces in which each letter or grammatical mark, whether a capital M or an apostrophe, is given the same amount of space. The typeface Courier, pictured here with ugly, gaping double-space holes after the periods, mimics a typewriter and is an example of a monospaced typeface. (Note the way the characters line up in columns, delineated here with pinstripes, because of the monospacing.) The thinking at the time was that the double space helped provide a visual break between sentences, but when the computer came along and allowed for more subtle variations in spacing, the double space became obsolete.

proportional-1Since the advent of the computer, most typefaces are proportional, allotting the appropriate amount of space for each typographic character, including spaces after periods. See the typeface Minion, set with elegant, contemporary single spaces, in the example here.

These days, most style guides, including The Chicago Manual of Style and Associated Press, call for the single space. Another proponent of the single space is Robin Williams (the not-funny female graphic designer and author, not the not-funny male actor), who has written several books on technology and graphic design, such as The Mac is Not a Typewriter, The PC is Not a Typewriter, and The Non-Designer’s Design Book.

You’ll notice that nearly all professionally designed printed materials (books, magazines, newspapers, etc.) utilize the single space. The double space after a period looks especially silly if you are using justified type, which already skews word- and letterspacing to force lines of text into a certain amount of space.

The proponents of two spaces after a period seem to harp on the same point: I was taught that way. Many are trying to stop but can’t. Others refuse to hear reason, desperately clinging to their Sholes & Glidden typewriter in one hand, waving the jagged end of a broken moonshine bottle at you with the other.

In the end, there is technically no right or wrong when it comes to spacing after periods, unless you are obligated to follow one of the many style guides out there that call for the single space. But then again, there’s technically no right or wrong when it comes to wearing tapered jeans and paisley shirts, and people do that, too.