This week has definitely forced a breakthrough in how I think about type. Formerly, I could read about typography, and appreciate anecdotally how we might find one type (Baskerville) more believable or credible than another type (Comic Sans). Beyond that perfunctory analysis, I had not fully appreciated how in depth this field can be, and how important type becomes in an overall design.
Despite the title of the week – we started off with a reading about color. As a non-designer, I enjoyed the basic descriptions about color pairings, how colors do and do not work together. The most helpful recommendation I found was looking to nature. I have always admired the color palettes that reflect a neighboring picture (as seen in the book). They look perfect together, and that is an easy way for me to begin.
The Thinking with Type book gave me a lot to think about. One of the very first lines talked about how design’s purpose is actually to help people avoid reading. This reminded me of Krug’s book and understanding the user and how the website might actually be used. Since this theme keeps re-appearing, it will be one that perhaps should be put on a sticky note at the top of my computer, as a constant reminder!
The book took me further, talking about how printed type changed the way we look at text and initiated the idea that the blank, silent spaces in between the words were just as important as the words themselves.
Talking flows in a singular, linear direction. Text liberates a person from those constraints, because it occupies space as well time. Due to its organizational construct, type allows readers to enter and exit where they like (similar to websites?). Is this why well-designed websites may have more power or ability to get their points across to their audiences – because they are not fighting the linearity of Word or PowerPoint? I wondered.
This is much more than a simple discussion of text. This is a conversation about how we convey information. It is also very telling about the human approach to information processing. Individuals seem to desire freedom and flexibility very strongly in how they process information. They want to be able to skip around. They don’t want to actually read – they want to get the information that is interesting or important to them, and then keep moving.
Digital readers are more impatient than hard copy readers. Why? According to the book, they are more focused on searching rather than processing. At first glance, this appears to be a valid statement; I find it to be true in myself. Why do the authors subscribe a cultural slant to that? Did culture change as a result of the digital age? Or did the digital age just reveal new aspects of the human condition? I’m not sure the answer is strictly cultural, but that is a longer conversation for another day.
The separation of style sheets forces designers and builders to think purposefully about design distinctly separate from content.
Somewhat contradictory points are being made – “text rising from its own ashes” on the web because it is a better medium than either film or television. Simultaneously the web is the dissolution of writing, as we know it. Symbols, logos and other design graphics take the place of text. Which is it? Can it be both? The author speaks of users somewhat derogatorily, vice readers or writers.
The Helvetica documentary – unknown to me until this week – but it provided an absolutely fantastic insight into the world of typography. It is ubiquitous. As I look around now, I see it everywhere. I am also beginning to look at type and try to see what might be easier on the eyes, how some make a statement and how some fail to attract attention – how type can encourage us to read further, to draw our eyes in or to make us want to run away. Now how in the world do I (a self-admitted non-designer) apply this to my website?
It is becoming clearer to me how thinking about design has to be an integral part to building any website. The content is a given. You have to have good content. But to get people interested long enough to look at the content, to absorb it and reflect on it, you have to encourage them to look further.
One of the commentators said that he challenged himself by trying to find ways to make Helvetica new and interesting. I liked this reaction best of all. Rather than just saying that Helvetica is wonderful and nothing can ever surpass it, or that it was old and boring, he was trying to create something new with it. This also makes me think that you almost have to have at least two fonts on your website – there needs to be the attention-getter, the one that draws the visitor in and makes them want to see more. There also needs to be the type that is easy on the eye, easy to read, so when the visitor gets to the content, they stay.
The Erroll Morris piece was fun, and doesn’t surprise me in the least that some fonts produce a more positive reaction than others. It goes back to our readings from last week about attractive things working better. That it made such a significant difference (as he asserts) did surprise me. Going further, I think we assign relative intelligence or educational (thus, credibility) levels to fonts. It’s not just that they are more pleasing, but Comis Sans looks like a little kid wrote it. Baskerville looks like it came straight out of the Salem Witch Trials. Perhaps that is a bad example. Nevertheless, people seem to equate “old” with intelligent or educated, and young with not as educated. Dunning uses “formal” and “informal” and “starchiness” in his terminology, but the gist is the same.
The transcription of Capt Walker was especially moving. Beyond the words or the appearance of the words, I feel his commitment to keeping a journal. Not a full 24 hours passed before he was back to committing the entire war to memory. His courage and determination in the face of such adversity makes me admire him.
The Lynda.com video was extraordinarily long (supposed that goes without saying). The best parts, for me, were the explanation of how to pair types and the practical application of what the HTML and CSS looks like. Being a non-designer (beginning to see a theme here?), I can look at two types that I may like, and tell that they don’t quite go together. However, I cannot begin to pair types in a determined way. This at least gives me a starting point and something to come back to.
The Lynda.com video and the HTML and CSS book were most helpful in identifying what the HTML and CSS might look like. It’s easy to forget just how new we all are to building websites, as we dive into the intricacies of design. Having a “copy and paste” type of description is invaluable – and hopefully will show up well in my Portfolio page!
Lastly, the piece on footnotes was greatly appreciated by the scholar in me. As we begin to build these pages, we need to be cognizant that we are still scholars, and still need to build a “breadcrumb trail”. A very thoughtful and informative piece, I appreciated the fact that it was written and especially appreciated the recommendation based on skill level and purpose of website. To a novice, the note/text markings in the CSS and the HTML itself were confusing. I would have to try it to see if/how it would work before fully understanding. I fully admit to feeling overwhelmed and under-prepared!
If the intent of the readings this week was to get us to think deeply about typography, and in new ways, then they succeeded splendidly. Side note – I think I’m finally getting used to putting one space at the end of my sentences! Bad habit a wonderful (truly) Catholic schoolteacher drilled into me 20+ years ago. Looking forward to everyone’s portfolio pages.
See my comments on Daniel’s blog and Anne’s blog.