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.

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.

Odds and Ends: Music Lovers

So this is one of those posts where I’m cleaning out my email inbox filled with ideas from readers to share on IBD. Keep the pictures and ideas coming our way.

I must admit, I have had my momemts. This incident of misspelling takes the cake.

The only thing more egregious than the spelling mistake is the overuse of punctuation by ABC Columbia. By the way, I’ve dropped stuff too.

In my post Relevance for the Irrelevant, I took on how something so old could still be relevant. It looks like VW is back with a second installment.


I can’t wait to see what the’ve done for the Super Bowl.

The last item I wanted to share today was sent in from IBD reader Joe Jacobs.

We both found it funny that they went out of their way to call out music lovers. It does make you look twice at the quiet hours.

The Rule of Thirds: It’s Just a Suggestion

To clear up some confusion, the Rule of Thirds has nothing to do with the minimum number of trips you’re supposed to take through the line at a Las Vegas buffet. Turns out it’s a useful and simple technique for guiding composition!

That said, the word rule can be a little oppressive, so I’m going to write this post about the Suggestion of Thirds. In short, it goes like this: A composition divided into thirds (or fifths) is natural and pleasing to the eye, like a National League pitcher, while a composition divided in half or into an equal number of parts is cumbersome and awkward, like an American League hitter trying to bunt or pull a jersey over his steroid-engorged head. (The Suggestion of Thirds is really just a simplification of the Golden Mean or the Golden Ratio. There’s a good post on that here.)

Some rules are designed to be ignored as soon as you learn them (see speed limits), while others are ignored because some people missed that week of school (see Shea and punctuation). The Suggestion of Thirds is one that you should know, but once you learn it, you may decide it’s not necessary in every occasion.

With all of that as preamble, the Suggestion of Thirds is widely used for good reason. Take the case of the adorable kitty cat souvenir in Greece.

In this original, uncropped version, our adorable kitty cat souvenir is smack-dab in the middle of the photo. It’s not terribly interesting.

Using the Suggestion of Thirds, you might crop it like this.

The lines that occur naturally in the photograph (in this case, the horizon and the wall) fall roughly on the superimposed guidelines that divide the photograph in thirds. The focal point of the photograph (in my opinion, the cat’s eyes) falls on an intersection of one vertical guideline and one horizontal guideline.

This is another possible cropping of the same photo.

This cropping has the advantage that one of the secondary visual elements, the mannequin in the background, falls on one of the vertical guidelines.

The Suggestion of Thirds can be applied to most images. This caterpillar in Malaysia curls around a vertical guideline and a horizontal guideline, with its head landing right at the intersection of two guidelines.

The focal point of this photo is the pillars of Apollo’s temple in Delphi, Greece. The pillars land roughly on an intersection of two guidelines.

And the eyes of this koala outside of Melbourne, Australia, fall right on the first horizontal guideline.

With landscapes, many photographers push the Suggestion of Thirds to the Suggestion of Fifths, as with this photograph of Philadelphia. (Note that the tallest building in the skyline, the Comcast Center, falls on one of the vertical guidelines.)

In instances where the Suggestion of Fifths is employed, the horizon typically falls either on the bottom guideline to show a lot of sky, as with the photo of Twin Lakes, Colorado, above…

…or the horizon falls on the top guideline to show the terrain, as with this other photo of Twin Lakes, Colorado.

The very worst thing you can do with any composition is put a starburst in it. The next worst thing you can do is split it in half, as with the photo of Puerto Rico here. This is one of the reasons we oppose centering things, and it’s one of the reasons we suggest that compositions like interpretive panels and even individual pages be divided into an odd number of columns.

One of your responsibilities as a designer is to edit images that are delivered to you. None of the photos I’ve used as examples in this post arrived perfectly cropped and ready to use. They all had to be cropped in some sort of layout program.

As a designer, you should be thinking about the Suggestion of Thirds at all times, even when you’re watching The Big Bang Theory or combing your goatee. You should use it when laying out compositions, cropping photos, or combing your kid’s hair. It’s easy to remember, simple to implement, and visually pleasing.

But it’s just a suggestion.