On Web Typography

I finished Jason Santa Maria’s book On Web Typography today. Having worked with Jason, I heard his voice as I read, knowing much of what he was saying were things he has said to me before, but I am so grateful to have them on paper to refer to again and again. In addition, his way with words taught me a lot about writing. In several instances I laughed out loud, with the funny metaphors and phrasing. Well done Jason! And of course, I have tweaked the type on this site a bit today, along with thinking about possible other changes.

Below are the highlights I particularly enjoyed.

…[T]ypography is the craft of setting type to give language a visual form. Typographys is a designer’s voice. (p 1)

…[D]eveloping a feel for typography trumps an encyclopedic knoweldge of its history. (p 2)

Being good at typography makes you a more adept thinker, communicator, and designer. When you immerse yourself in the fine details of text, you not only make yourself aware of those details and how they affect communication, but you also put yourself in your readers’ shoes. (p 3)

This is the most interesting things about typography: it’s a chain reaction of time and place with you as the catalyst. The intention of a text depends on its presentation, but it needs you to give meaning through reading. (p 5)

Slapping words on a page won’t ensure good communication, just as mashing your hands across a piano won’t make for a pleasant composition. (p 12)

Learning about typography is about figuring out what choices work best for each situation. (p 13)

…[G]ood typography is hard. And the sheer number of options we have can feel overwhelming. (p 14)

…[O]ur typography needs to put its best foot forward. That means setting our type to avoid getting in our readers’ way, and nudging them to give us a moment of their busy day. (p 15)

We call these psuedo or faux italics and bolds, and they’re the typographic equivalent of mistakenly tucking your shirt into your underwear. (p 34)

When considering text faces, a high x-height is sually ideal; more space for the letterform means more information to help the reader. This is true of typefaces for print or web, but is of utmost importance where interfaces or wayfinding are a concern. (p 35)

The easiest way to see if a typeface has the right mixture of attributes is to set some text and give it a read. (p 36)

The rewards of typographic knowledge are cumulative. If you already know a typeface well, you can build on that knowledge to find other typefaces. (p 49)

Helvetica is a technically beautiful face, but it’s also so overused that I have trouble feeling any response when I see it. To me Helvetica has become a generic default. People use it as a safe choice rather than face the fear of making a bad choice. They’d rather say nothing than risk saying the wrong thing. (p 50)

Choosing typefaces relies on weighing the context of what you’re designing against your technical requirements, typographic knowledge, and gut instinct. Just as the best coffee machine won’t necessarily make you the best cup of coffee, good typography depends on the ingredients you choose, the particular combination of those ingredients, and the ways you combine them. Your typeface choices must fit the circumstances you need them for and so must your design. (p 58-59)

…[R]eading large swaths of text in all caps or in a decorative face is like yelling at a reader when you really mean to talk in an even tone. (p 62)

…[A] reader shouldn’t notice the type. They shouldn’t stop or stumble over the text, or wonder why something looks the way it does. Because when a reader notices the type, they’re taken out of the act of reading and are instead trying to decode why something else is calling attention to itself. (p 62)

…[D]on’t get attached. While you may have your list of the usual suspects, each project carries its own needs and goals. Be ready to abandon your favorite typeface. It doesn’t matter if it’s the loveliest hairline or the most elegant serif. If it doesn’t server your design, it doesn’t serve the reader. (p 66)

Some typefaces look beautiful when you see them in printed specimens or in the context of their marketing pages on type foundry websites. However, when you work with them in the frame of your own project, you may experience different results. (p 69)

…[T]here are no right answers, just different degrees of appropriateness. (p 73)

Good fonts cost money because they take a lot of work to become good fonts. They can stretch your budget, but consider this: a type designer’s work provides tools for us to use to make money, and our money gives them the means to keep making tools. We get paid for our work, and they get paid for their work. It’s that simple. (p 75-76)

When it comes to choosing and pairing typefaces, I keep two things in mind: distinction and harmony. (p 78)

Finding the kind of typographic design that speaks to you helps you spot your own influences and develop your own cannon of design classics. To be an informed student of typography, you need to train your brain to look for good typography everywhere. This is actually easier than it sounds. Once you’re aware of type, you can’t help but notice the good and (unfortunately) the aweful. But this is one of the parts of typography that I enjoy most: we always have new methods and tools to discover at every turn, because typography is a living craft. We’re still standing on each other’s shoulders, pushing this rich tradition forward. (p 85)

Contrast is, in my humble opinion, the most crucial tenet of graphic design. It instantly forges connections and distinctions between elements and, when used in concert with other tools like a grid, it helps our viewers discern what’s vital, what’s related, and what’s not. (p 87)

Hop along that scale as you need—and think of the numbers as pant sizes. They all do the same thing (dress your legs); you just need to choose the one that suits your situation (your waist and height) the best. (p 126)