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.

Get to Know a Typeface! Connecticut State of Mind

We recently received this question from Friend of IBD Patricia Perry through our Ask a Nerd! link:

I am a font nerd. I collect fonts much the same as other folks collect small china porcupines. I recently discovered “Connecticut.” I am in love with this font. Although it is not appropriate for every venue, I find its form and grace appealing. What are your thoughts on this cute little font?

To my knowledge, Patricia has never been in my house and I’m certain that she does not have a key to the safe in the basement, so I’m a little freaked out that she knows about my china porcupine collection. Nevertheless, Patricia is the one and only person ever to review our book on Amazon and she gave it five stars, so any question Patricia asks, we answer.

I had never heard of Connecticut as a typeface before (though I do know that there’s a suburb of New York City called Connecticut*). There’s not a lot of information about the typeface available online, but my guess is that it was designed by someone with artistic talents, but not much experience in typeface design. The first clue to this effect is that it’s available as a free download from a number of sites, including FontPark and Fonts 101.

I agree with Patricia that Connecticut is graceful. (I can’t believe I wrote “Connecticut” and “graceful” in the same sentence after this month’s college basketball championship.) The individual letterforms are great. They have an elegant, organic form, accentuated by tall ascenders, like those seen in the lower-case h and d in the sample above.

What bothers me is the way the letters interact with one another. You can see what I mean the sample above (which was created by a random text generator). The typeface is meant to emulate script writing, so it bothers me the way the letters don’t connect. This can be seen most clearly in the space between the i and s of is.

Look at the h and e in Shea. Not only does the terminal stroke of the h not connect with the e, but the angle of the stroke where the h would connect to the cross stroke of the e is different, so the illusion that you’re looking at handwriting is broken.

I would take Patricia’s comment that this typeface is not right for every venue one step further. I’d say that with this typeface, you have to not only choose the appropriate venue, but also use it in specific ways. I would definitely not use this typeface for large blocks of text at a small point size. But at a large size, short words, like my favorite Scrabble word Qi, emphasize the elegant, organic form while offering the opportunity to minimize the issues caused by the way the letters interact (if you’re only using this typeface for one or two words at a large size, you can take them into Illustrator and fix those issues).

There’s a lot to like about Connecticut (the typeface, not the cheating basketball team and its corrupt coach). Patricia’s affinity for its grace and elegance is certainly warranted. But as with many free typefaces that do not come from established, well-known typeface designers, it’s important to use it carefully and pay attention to the details.

And whatever you do, avoid the Merritt Parkway at rush hour.

*Note to Shea: This joke is funny because Connecticut is not just a suburb of New York, it’s its own state. I thought I’d explain, given how little time in your life you’ve spent in or near New York.

Get to Know a Typeface! Minion

Normally, on this site, we write about expressive typefaces that evoke strong responses. And since Shea and I are bitter, unhappy people, we write about typefaces that are easy to hate like Comic Sans and Papyrus.

Minion, designed by Robert Slimbach in 1990, is one of those typefaces that only a typographer could love (not that other people dislike it; they just don’t notice it). If Minion were at a high school dance, it would sip punch with its back against the wall trying not to make any sudden movements while Curlz MT and Mistral breakdanced in the middle of the floor. Meanwhile, Comic Sans would try to make his friend Marker Felt laugh so hard that milk came out his nose and Papyrus would be smoking in the girls room. (This metaphor may be starting to break down.)

The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst is one of the most influential books on typography. It discusses everything from the anatomy of individual letterforms to how to choose and combine typefaces, from the basics of effective composition to the history of the field going back more than 500 years. Some designers call it the Typographer’s Bible, and it’s set in Minion. (The cover pictured here is from an old edition of the book; I used this one instead of the newer one because it’s the one I’ve had on my shelf for about 10 years.)

Minion is a serifed typeface designed in the “classical tradition,” which is designer code for “It was designed to look like pretty much every other serifed typeface out there.” What makes it so great is its flexibility. If it played high school sports, it would never make the football team, but I can guarantee you it would make varsity running cross country. (Meanwhile, Comic Sans would play sousaphone in the band and Papyrus would smoke in the parking lot and make snarky comments about how people who play team sports are such conformists.)

There is nothing to dislike about Minion. Sure, typographers who like to argue about the tiniest of details will say things like, “The slight upward angle of the cross-stroke of the lower-case e is too whimsical,” but it’s expertly designed to maximize legibility, and the practical advantages to most designers are immeasurable.

In short, the advantage of Minion, specifically Minion Pro, is that it contains more characters (called glyphs) than most other fonts. A small fraction of Minion’s glyphs are pictured here; you can see that it has a lot more versions of the letter O than you’re likely to ever use. When I laid out an article in Legacy magazine that required unique characters from the Hawaiian language, Minion Pro was the only typeface on my computer that had characters with the diacritical marks I needed. The cover of The Elements of Typographic Style pictured above pays homage to the importance of glyphs by featuring 11 of them based on a lower-case a in a row in red.

Minion Pro has multiple weights (bold, semi-bold, medium, roman) plus old-style letterforms and small caps. Most typefaces simply use small versions of upper-case letters for their small caps, while in high-end typefaces like Minion, small caps are upper-case letters specifically designed to be read at smaller sizes.

Beyond the practical benefits of a large character set, there are aesthetic applications as well. Suppose you were setting the word “Phlegm” at a display size and wanted give it that extra bit of flair we all know it deserves. Most classical typefaces don’t give you many options, but among Minion’s many glyphs are traditional characters that contain swashes. The swashed m in the top “Phlegm” is just that much more elegant than the traditional version underneath.

Another important feature of Minion is ligatures, where certain letters in sequence are joined. Most classical typefaces include “fi” and “fl” ligatures, but Minion Pro includes many more. The top example of “Office” here features an “ffi” ligature, while the example underneath does not. (Most of the time, your computer will default to any ligature included in the font you’re using when the appropriate letters appear in sequence. I had to trick the computer into not defaulting to the ligature on the second example.)

Some interesting typographic trivia (if there is such a thing): The ampersand (&) derives from a ligature of the letters E and T (et is Latin for and).

Like many who were scared to talk to girls and who were not that great at sports in high school, Minion found a niche in the grown-up world where it is appreciated for its strengths. These days, Comic Sans thinks about those high-school glory days while it goes to work on take-out menus and garage sale flyers, and Papyrus begrudgingly tries to make a living promoting massage therapists on business cards on coffee shop bulletin boards, but that nerd Minion is the one that finds itself on the pages of the book typographers call their Bible.

Logo Abuse

I have wasted too much brain space on pop-culture factoids. I have always been fascinated with elements of pop-culture. It probably has something to do with me primarily living outside pop-culture trends and my late-80s Dungeons and Dragons expertise. I have even been dubbed by one IBD reader as the “trend-guru.” I’m not sure if that is a compliment to me, an insult to Paul, or some sort of club that I unintentionally joined that has been charging $14.99 a month to my credit card. I like the idea of staying current, and I especially find it gratifying when I see something in popular culture that relates to my work or passions. 

A couple weeks back, I was really excited to watch the Academy Awards. Not because of the red carpet, a movie that made me cry that will go unnamed, or seeing what typeface the larger than life letterforms on the stage are set in, but because of a movie where design was at the premise behind the film.  The short film Logorama was up for Best Animated Short Film. Some of you may remember my post on the film Helvetica (by some of you I mean Paul) where I mentioned that “the 2007 release Helvetica brings recognition to a typeface that was created not to be noticed.” That’s right I just quoted myself.

The short film Logorama won Best Short Animated Film. If Helvetica was created to go unnoticed then the logos featured in Logorama were created to get noticed. The 16 minute French animated film does an excellent job of highlighting logos by taking them out of their context and pretty much abusing them. This is no different from me trying out for the football team as a freshman in high school.

Logorama deservingly won the Oscar.  It is worth watching from a design standpoint. Every time I watch it another logo stands out to me that I didn’t notice previously. It is amazing how many logos are involved in the film and it is great fun to see how many you can count. No wonder I didn’t make the football team. I have to give a disclaimer here, as much as I enjoy the artistic approach to the animated logos some of the content, violence, and language in the film is for adult audiences (not that kind of adult). Based on the amount of Disney films shown in my house, I was a little taken back by some of the violence and language especially coming from Ronald McDonald. You could mute the movie and just watch the visual scenery (the best part), download the French version to learn words they never taught you in French class, or make up your own story and act out the parts in funny voices. Really, no wonder I was the manager for the tennis team. Logorama can be downloaded for $1.99 on iTunes.

I also hope that in 2011 that another design-type movie is nominated for an Academy Award. I have yet to see it but based on the title alone, it’s awesome. Typeface the movie has to be great. Everything that I have heard about it echoes my enthusiasm, but I do have a small circle of friends. In a world of digital design Typeface focuses on a Wisconsin print shop where layout and design is still one element at a time.

From what I have read the Hamilton Print Shop and Museum is similar to Hatch Show Print Co. in Nashville, Tennessee. Some of you may remember my post on Hatch (by some of you I mean Paul, who am I kidding even Paul doesn’t remember that one) where I mentioned that “Hatch Show Print Co. is in operation today using the letterpress process in a world of desktop publishing, offset printing and computer processing.” Okay, two quotes from me, by me, is even too much for me in one post. The film is currently available in limited screenings but I hope to offer a full review in a future post. The film has a great website with the story of the movie, photos, video, and store. A DVD of Typeface is scheduled to be available later this spring.

Now I’ve got to explain to my wife how I failed to notice three months of $14.99 charges on the credit card to dnd.meetup.com.

Inspired by Deadlines

Happiness for most interpreters is seeing a school bus leaving your interpretive site. Other interpreters and interpretive designers find complete happiness and satisfaction in their work by coming up with an original idea, working with it through the development process, and creating a program or piece that communicates the intended message and works effectively with visitors. I find happiness in sugar-based cereal, my children sleeping, and discussions about letterforms. Oh yeah, and being married to a wonderful woman.

I recently have found myself working from deadline to deadline with very limited amounts of time to dedicate to important projects. This is not how I like to work, but it is where I find myself. Working in this form and fashion does not allow much time for finding inspiration.

How can one become inspired? If we are in the business of inspiration or inspiring others, should it not come easy for us to be inspired? David Larsen in Meaningful Interpretation writes, “Interpreters must channel their own understandings, enthusiasm, passion and love for the resource so that their audiences can form their own understandings, enthusiasm, passion and love for the resource.” As interpreters know, this is no easy process and we must constantly work to develop programs and products that assist this process in taking place.  The best interpretive products, personal and non-personal, ever developed were led by inspiration.

There are many ways to become inspired. Most people in careers outside of interpretation believe that interpreters have the best jobs in the entire world. They think about how great it would be to work in that park, museum, aquarium, historic site or nature center. This happens to be one of the first things that interpreters forget about at work. They forget what brought them to the field of interpretation in the first place. I came to interpretation for the guacamole (if that makes no sense check this post out). It’s easy to do. Budgets, staffing, groups, visitors, emails, discussions about baseball, meetings, phone calls, and many other elements of day-to-day operations cloud the view of where we work.

The first thing you can do to help improve your inspiration is remember the resource. Get out in or bury yourself in whatever resource is at your disposal and be inspired by it. If you work at a zoo the latter part of that suggestion may not be the best idea, but draw colors from what you see, extract shapes from what you find, take textures and turn them into products, and finally develop meanings and relationships from what you love. Freeman Tilden referred to this as the “priceless ingredient.” This ingredient is something we hold that others would love to hold. Take advantage of how close we are to that resource and love it. Tilden wrote:

If you love the thing you interpret, and love the people who come to enjoy it, you need to commit nothing to memory. For, if you love the thing, you not only have taken the pains to understand it to the limit of your capacity, but you also feel its special beauty in the general richness of life’s beauty.

Remember, to find that first love that you had with a site or subject and inspiration in that area can be expected to follow.

Some find a steady flow of inspiration through thought and study. Immersion into thought is difficult to many designers and creators since it can be difficult and exhausting. Some of the greatest composers in the world speak to how fatiguing the thought process can be before creating. Freeman Tilden writes, “Except for the rare instances of inspiration, I should guess that the adequate interpretive inscription will be the result of ninety percent thinking and ten percent composition.”

The largest factor contributing to unsuccessful thinking is the demands on our time (and for Paul the digestion of sausage). There are always deadlines and to-do lists that are in the back of our minds blocking the creative flow. That is where thought or study through collaboration can be a great friend.  By joining forces when the blocks hit can allow developers to move forward in the creative process. Another set of eyes or cerebral lobes can bring out small elements that spark the imagination leaving you saying, “I didn’t look at it that way” or, “That’s a good idea.”

Back-up plans also include copious amounts of caffeine, frustration-driven design and finding a job where you can make real guacamole…like a restaurant. No matter how inspiration is discovered, remember where it came from, so the next time it is needed you can draw from the same source or use it to inspire new sources.

Helvetica Cookies

cookiedough

cookiecuttersThe first official Canadian Friend of IBD Joan Lawrence knows us well. She clearly knows that we enjoy unique expressions of typography, especially three-dimensional type, and that we’re suckers for the typeface Helvetica. She also knows that we enjoy eating.

Joan sent us this link to a site featuring cookie cutters based on Helvetica, created by graphic designer and food-lover Beverly Hsu:

http://beverlyhsu.com/cookies.html

Needless to say, I must have these.

In the never-ending debate about the typeface, we have always leaned a little more towards “Helvetica is the ultimate achievement of typographic design” rather than “Helvetica is a corporate shill, emblematic of The Man holding us down.” But even the most vehement anti-Helvetica voices out there would have to soften at the smell of those fresh-baked sans serifs just out of the oven.

The beauty of this project is that Helvetica is the last typeface you’d associate with cookies. How many people on their way into the New York subway system look at the signage and think, “I sure am hungry for something sweet”? Sure, Max Miedinger and Eduard Hoffmann might have been striving to create the perfect neutral typeface in 1957, but cover those uniform stroke widths and unadorned letterforms with pink frosting and rainbow jimmies, and you have performed the ultimate act of recontextualizing.

I realized (perhaps too late) that my interest in food shaped like specific typefaces is not normal. I showed the Helvetica cookie cutters to Friend of IBD Howard Aprill, who, like some people we know, talks about typography in his free time (Howard once started a conversation with me by asking, “So what do you have against Comic Sans?”). Instead, Howard, who is one of the top three nicest people on the planet and has never said an unkind word about anyone, doubled over in laughter for several minutes before catching his breath and saying, “Boy, you are a nerd.”

Related to the theme of design and food, Friend of IBD Kelly Farrell sent us a link to a story on NPR called “Rectangles Vs. Triangles: The Great Sandwich Debate.” We write in the book Interpretation By Design that odd numbers of columns in a composition are more pleasing visually than even numbers. This statement from the NPR article relates to that idea:

The number 3 has always been more popular than 4, says [emeritus professor of mathematics at Vermont Technical College Paul] Calter, who writes about the intersection of math, art, and culture. Three is mother, father, and child, he says. Three is the beginning, middle and end. Three is birth, life and death. Without three, there could not be a best — only a good and a better.

As soon as I get my Helvetica cookie cutters, I’ll have to find a way to cut those fresh-baked letterforms into triangles.