I read a book about typography

William Caslon's sample sheet

I’m a graphic designer by day, so typography (among other things) has always interested me. (I’m a “technical writer” by degree, but I can fit all the “technical writing” I’ve done in any professional capacity on a quark. I haven’t done any.) I just finished “reading” Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style, 4.3 Edition, and…wow.

I knew a handful about typography. I thought I did, anyway, until I dug into Bringhurst’s book! Most of what I thought I knew is the remains of a few courses I took more than two decades ago. Now, I know the difference between abrupt or adnate serifs, ball and lachrymal terminals, rationalist and humanist axes, etc. Concisely stated, I know less than a handful about typography!

Beneath the Vault of Stars (BVS) is set in Adobe Caslon Pro1, a reasonably faithful reproduction of William Caslon‘s originals by Carol Twombly. But typography is more than just the face and weight of a particular body of glyphs. To that end, I spent the last couple of weeks re-setting BVS—still in Adobe Caslon Pro. Now, however, it’s set at 12/15×25p6 (12 point type, 3 points of leading [12 +3 = 15], and a column width of 25 picas 6 points).

So what, right? Fair question! When done well, I think typography should be “invisible.” The reader shouldn’t have to spend “clock cycles” accommodating poorly set copy; bad typography requires more work to parse. I’d like to think BVS has always been typographically accessible, but future iterations should be even more so. (They’ll also be a few pages longer because of other design decisions, but it’s the same story!)

Some things I’ve learned about Adobe InDesign

Typography also takes into account page shape and size, margins, gutters, etc. I kept things “FL&R” (flush-left and -right; that is, justified), but I didn’t know InDesign offered greater control than that! It does! Instead of the default justification tweaks, now I’m granting a subtle degree of character spacing within words, as well as glyph resizing. These adjustments help prevent rivers from running through the text, but nothing’s perfect. And to help gauge how effectively justification is working (from a computer’s perspective, at least), InDesign provides a progressively darker highlight on lines that could use some work. Here’s a screen shot from Chapter XV:

Adobe InDesign screen shot
Chapter XV screen shot with justification issues highlighted.

Above, you see that single yellow line. Because it’s the first line in a drop-capped paragraph, and because I’m using some of my made-up words (names), there’s not much to do except deal with it. I did a reasonable job (I think!) taming things down overall, so I’m not worried about the few remaining bits of yellow. You’ll also notice I have hidden characters turned on (non printing elements like carriage returns, spaces, story ends, etc.), as well as my baseline grid, guides, and margins. (None of this shows up in the final printed page, but it’s useful during the typesetting stage.)

Anyway, that’s one reason why I haven’t posted anything recently. I can’t remember if I already said so, but I have the outline for the last three-and-one-half chapters of Between the Lion and the Wolf typed up: it’s just a matter of making time to pound ’em out! Then I can start editing in earnest and all the other stuff that goes along with that! At least the typography is taken care of!

  1. The featured image for this post is from Caslon’s sample sheet.

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