Monday, January 28
On Type and Text - DISCUSSION #3
Design is all about communication. Ads, magazines, packages, brochures, logos, etc. all communicate to the viewer through visual and verbal cues. The complexity of the information can vary but the targeted result is the same. Create desire and encourage comprehension. The challenge of publication design is to simultaneously make an enjoyable environment for the eyes and make text easily readable for long periods of time. Unlike a poster or package, however, a publication tends to be based heavily upon the written word. Comfort while reading those words is a must. We've already discovered that our Publication Design Workbook, while an excellent text on the topic, is difficult to read for a sustained time. The text is small, condensed and grey - three factors that strain the eye and prevent enjoyable reading.
The easy part of using large amounts of text is picking a typeface. Designers feel no fear of going through the font list in any given program. Pick a serif and san serif. Find two that go well together. Place them into your layout. Piece of cake. Or is it? Text isn't merely the way the letters look individually. It's also how they look line to line, paragraph to paragraph and page to page. A font may look great as a subhead yet not read well as a paragraph.
Think about it as tones of color. Each paragraph on the page create a block of color. It's not merely lines, it creates a shape on the page. It creates relationships with other shapes on the page. Column width and length, choice of alignment, size of type, size of leading and tracking, and color can all affect how the shapes of type appear to a reader. How does your type flow. Is your x-height too high and your leading too tight creating big solid blocks of tone? Is your font too tiny and too pale creating washed out tones like PDW? Where is that balance? How do you get a nice even tone? Many other elements come into play; elements not always thought of when setting paragraphs. Long line lengths can create difficulty finding one's place at the beginning of the next sentence. Too short of a line length can create choppy sentences can cause a staccato effect when reading. Sometimes a poorly designed font will have too much space between words or too tight tracking. All factors in promoting difficult comprehension. It's the overall effect that affects reading more than any individual line. Finding that balance takes time and effort. Finding that balance also means you may have to put more attention on your text than just placing the story and saying "done." You have to pay attention to the size, the leading, the kerning/tracking, the alignment, the column width, the column length, the type color, the space between columns... need I go on?
In addition to all of this (you mean there's more?), it's also a necessity to create clear hierarchy so the reader can navigate the article or story. Which, leads me to the next factor which can affect readability and goes hand-in-hand with hierarchy, space. Type cannot read without adequate space, both between lines and paragraphs but also in relation to the page. Type squeezed onto a page, no mater how legible it may be, will always be less readable due to the lack of breathing room around the shapes it creates. Readers need space for their thumbs to hold the page, they need adequate distance between paragraphs, both top to bottom and side to side, in order to navigate a page and a picture will have more visual impact if the type is not right up next to it. Misuse of the previous statements can create tension on a page negating any effect your other efforts to make reading the publication pleasant. In lay man's terms? Don't crowd the page. It's not necessary to fill every corner and every inch of the page.
So now that I'm done with the soap box, what does this all mean to you? What can you, as a designer, do to ensure your publication is as enjoyable to read as it is to look at? Why it it so important to make this effort when it comes to designing with text? Possibly share examples of text in publication which read well and ones that don't and explain your findings and how you can use it in your own design work. Or possibly offer your own design thoughts on the matter.
PS - curious about who makes decisions about the color of the year and other color related trends? See the new post below this one.