Hanging Out with Punctuation

If you couldn’t guess from today’s headline, it is time to bring the house down with another Typographic Minutiae post. (Please note that the preceding sentence works best if you make that “Raise the roof” gesture while you read it. I can wait if you want to go back and try it again.)

If you’ve ever felt that your punctuation was out of place but weren’t sure why, it probably has something to do with hanging punctuation (or possibly a low-grade psychosis). Basically, it goes like this: When you’re aligning text the way civilized people align text (flush left, ragged right), punctuation should “hang” in the margin or gutter to allow the actual letterforms to align.

I’ve demonstrated what I’m talking about with a quote from one of my favorite authors, Douglas Adams, here:

The example on the left (heretofore “the so-so example”) has some things going for it. It’s set in Minion Pro, which we love, and it’s flush left, ragged right, which, as I mentioned above, is how civilized people set type. However, it does not employ hanging punctuation.

In the example on the right (“the typographically awesome example”), you’ll see how the opening quotation mark “hangs” to the left of the line created by the left-justified type. This is one of those tiny things that you may not think about often, or possibly ever (and if that’s the case, I envy you; please take me to that place), but it can be the difference between so-so type and truly professional type.

And this doesn’t just go for punctuation at the beginning of sentences. Again with Douglas Adams:

Notice in the example on the right that not only does the punctuation hang out in the margin, but so does a tiny bit of the capital T. What’s happening here is that the example on the left is a mathematical alignment (the exact left edges of the typographic characters are aligned), while the example on the right creates an optical alignment (the left edge is created by aligning the strongest visual element of each character). To your viewer, the version on the right creates a stronger line and is therefore more visually pleasing.

Some typographers even apply this to bullet points. I couldn’t find a Douglas Adams quote with bullet points, so I just wrote whatever came into my head:

I actually do not hang bullet points because they hang so far into the gutter, they can interfere with the preceding column of text.

In a rare bit of actual technical information on this site, here’s how you make your text hang in Adobe InDesign: Click on the text box in question, then select “Type” and “Story.” (It’s not intuitive, I know.) This will give you the pop-up window pictured here. Click the “Optical Margin Alignment” box. You can adjust the degree of hanging with the numeric value.

I have to admit, this post is design-nerdy even by my standards. Check back next week, when I promise I’ll have jokes about sweater vests and some photos of funny signs.

The Annual IBD Holiday Gift Buying Guide

Christmas gift buying personifies my procrastination. I was well trained by my father to make last-minute holiday gift purchases so that pressure aides in the decision-making process. I’m of course in the same boat again this year. But as a gesture as to the selfless person I am, I’m going to keep tradition alive of the annual IBD annual gift buying guide. (Well, this is actually the first in the line of a soon-to-be tradition. We have dropped hints before.)

By focusing my efforts into online searches of items for the designer, interpretive designer, blogger, or all around geek, it keeps me from thinking about the needs of my friends and family.

This really began when IBD reader Phil Broder emailed Paul and me saying, “All I’m saying is that one of you is getting Superman socks, and the other is getting Wonder Woman socks, and I’m not gonna say which.”

We are still waiting on the socks. Phil, here’s the link just in case you lost it, Fashionably Geek.

Check out these other gifts for the IBDer.

This shirt actually shows you available WIFI connectivity strength by lighting up. It also measures how many bars of geekiness are available from you. It can be purchased at Think Geek.

Amazon.com describes this book as “interesting and eclectic journey examining the unending versatility of nature, showing how to uncover nature’s ingenuity and use it to create beautiful and compelling designed communications.” I haven’t read it yet but I plan on it (as soon as I receive it as a gift). As an interpretive naturalist, the concept sounds promising. I’m always down for an interesting and eclectic journey.

Interested in getting your little woman inspired in the kitchen? First stop calling her little woman and second, buy her this. That’s Nerdalicious reports that the Kitchen Aid mixer are only available in Brazil, which seems well worth the trip for your Wonder Woman.

I’m not much on hyperbole, but this is the single greatest piece of furniture ever made. I can be purchased at Tom Spina Designs.

What would an IBD Christmas list be without a flow chart? This one leaves all other weaker flow charts (including Which Baseball Team Should I Root For? and Which Football Team Should I Root For?) tapping out in submission. This appeals to me with the subject matter and the taxonomy. It can be purchased at Pop Chart Lab.

Once you have bought all of this nerdy loot, you have to wrap it. This is the coolest wrapping paper I have ever seen. Based around QR codes (You can read Paul’s post on QR codes here. Also here.) Design Boom states the “UK-based studio The Chase have designed several Christmas wrapping paper using QR codes that suggest gift ideas when scanned.”

I have more. If you are interested let me know and I’ll put up some more. Happy shopping!

Great Expectations: Lessons from Los Angeles

Last week, Shea and I conducted a two-day workshop for employees of the Mountains Recreation and Conservation Authority (MRCA) in Los Angeles. Before I go on, I have to thank Amy Lethbridge, MRCA’s deputy executive officer, whose idea it was for us to present the session, and Jamie Cabral, MRCA’s chief of interpretation, who went to great lengths to plan and implement a full and truly entertaining itinerary for those hours outside the session.

Amy and Jamie were extremely generous with their time and energy, so the next time you’re in Los Angeles, find them and give them a big hug. Amy even gave me a Dodgers hat to take home to my six-year-old son, and while I had to burn the hat because it says Dodgers on it, it was still a very nice gesture.

Jamie spent the better part of Wednesday showing us all the LA sites only tourists visit.

Neither Shea nor I had ever been to LA, so when Jamie picked us up at the airport the day before the session, our heads were filled with preconceptions but very little actual knowledge of the city. When Jamie asked us what we wanted to see, we said, “The stupidest, most brainless tourist stuff you can think of.” This is how we ended up eating at Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘n’ Waffles in Hollywood at 10:00 that night.

Our time in Los Angeles (seen here from Vista Hermosa Natural Park, an MRCA site) was an interesting lesson in how our expectations of a place affect our experiences at that place. This is why it is important that brochures, websites, and other media portray an accurate sense of place and convey interpretive themes to visitors who have not yet arrived at a site. Nonpersonal interpretive media are often the first contact visitors have with a site, so they create expectations that will affect visitors’ experiences.

My image of Los Angeles was based almost exclusively on what I have seen in movies, so I knew that certain preconceptions wouldn’t hold up. We arrived to find that the city had not been destroyed by a volcano, climate-change-induced tornadoes, or alien overlords, so that was a good start to the day. And we found that places like Venice Beach and the Santa Monica Pier are indeed populated, at least in part, by attractive people on roller blades, so our good luck continued.

Seeing the famous Hollywood sign from the Kodak Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard itself was a thrill simply because it is famous. However, the sensation was the exact opposite of what I have experienced at sites like the Grand Canyon or Yosemite. I’ll never forget looking over the south rim of the Grand Canyon for the first time, in part because no photograph or preconception can ever prepare you for what you see in person. The Hollywood sign and Hollywood Boulevard, on the other hand, look precisely like what you think they’re going to look like, which is why the only people standing there taking pictures of it are tourists like Shea and me.

One of the highlights of the trip was being in the studio audience for a taping of the Jimmy Kimmel Live! TV show, which Jamie set up for us because, I reiterate, she is so cool. I had prepared myself for the fact that the studio would be smaller than it appears on TV. I had not prepared myself for the fact that it would be way, way smaller than it appears on TV. Because I had envisioned an experience much glitzier in a slightly bigger space, I left feeling a little underwhelmed about the whole notion of late-night TV.

Before the show, the audience was instructed on how and when to laugh and applaud during the show—something I knew would happen. Afterwards, I found myself wondering why people like me would go along with these instructions, only to be essentially treated as a prop by the one person they were there to see, in this case Jimmy Kimmel. For some reason, audience members do comply without hesitation, which is why I found myself cheering wildly for a musical guest named Chantelle, whom I had previously never heard of. I’m still not sure I’m spelling her name correctly. (Note added September 11, 2010: Turns out it’s spelled Shontelle. See the video of our horrible high five on YouTube.)

I also wondered afterwards why I enjoyed it so much, which I absolutely did. Is it the proximity to fame, glitz, and glamor? Maybe it was because one of the best jokes of the night related to graphic design. Kimmel, channeling my professors from graduate school, critiqued the cover of the new book Kardashian Konfidential like this: “I imagine this is what it would look like if a unicorn got drunk on cosmos and vomited on a book. It’s easy on the eyes.”

Every preconception I had about seeing a Dodgers game in person was accurate. The stadium is beautiful—a monument to the game. The weather was perfect, and the palm trees scattered around the stadium (though not on the actual field—that may have spiced things up a bit) reinforced the fact that we were in one of the nicest places there is to watch a game. Again, it was a thrill to actually be in a place I had previously only seen and heard about through various media.

And the fans, per their reputation, arrived late in the game and left early. During the game, they amused themselves by doing the wave and bopping beach balls around the stands, even during tense, important moments. All of this was in complete keeping with my expectations.

Finally, the workshop was conducted at King Gillette Ranch in Calabasas, an MRCA site. I had an idea of what the setting would look like because I knew that the site is nestled among the same mountains where the TV show MASH was filmed. Fans of the show The Biggest Loser would perhaps recognize the setting, too, because it is filmed at the ranch.

As with any great experience, though, it was not the setting but the people who made the difference. The MRCA staff who participated in the workshop were a particularly engaging group, and they tolerated two days of our nonsense, which our wives will tell you is an impressive feat. Some workshop participants even took Shea birding over lunch.

Here we are at the King Gillette Ranch with Amy, who loves LA.

My experience in LA was indeed affected by my expectations. I was a bit let down by the glitz and glamor of Hollywood because, let’s face it, nothing can quite measure up to what is portrayed to the public. Other experiences exceeded my expectations—in part because my expectations were colored by friends telling me things like “It’s a big scary place” and “SO LONG, SUCKER!” The Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall (pictured here) and MRCA’s Vista Hermosa Natural Park in downtown Los Angeles were beautiful surprises, and seeing a game in Dodger Stadium was every bit the baseball experience I expected.

Ultimately, I left Los Angeles with highly positive associations, not because of Venice Beach or Jimmy Kimmel or even Roscoe’s House of Chicken ‘n’ Waffles, but because the time I spent there was with people like Amy, Jamie, and the MRCA staff, who see its beauty and are enthusiastic about sharing it with others.