League division one

League tables tell you anything you want, but it’s still nice to see Reading ranked number 4 in the country for art & design in the Complete University Guide.

Food, glorious food …

… is nowhere to be seen on Coralie Bickford-Smith’s new Penguin covers.

A top ten logo from Reading

Nice to see Ian Dennis's National Theatre logo has been voted by readers of Creative Review as one of their top ten favourites.

Ian worked on the project in 1974, and it has been featured in the April issue of the graphic design magazine, alongside Michelin, World Wildlife Fund, and Woolmark. His logo beat those of Apple, NASA and the London Underground to number ten in the top twenty list.

Ian, who now runs Indent Design in Reading, graduated in 1973 in Typography and Graphic Communication and almost immediately went to work for legendary Dutch designer FHK Henrion. ‘Henrion had been working on a design but had to go to a conference, so he asked us all to have a go.

‘He'd created a Union Jack design made up of triangles and I could sort of see a ‘NT' in it, but I worked up something at home in Letraset, then developed it by hand after suggestions from Henrion.’

The logo is still a feature of the Theatre's publicity and the South Bank site. And I agree with former National art director Michael Mayhew about why it has stood the test of time – ‘because it is so beautifully simple.’

Swiss hit

What our Part 2 students get up with Sara Chapman. Enjoy!

Typography is about reading – and so are ebooks

Amazon’s latest UK Kindle ad shows how little care it takes over the typography of the ebooks that it hosts. This is their latest full-page ad in the Guardian. I can just about forgive the opening words in ALL CAPITALS, because, although letterspaced SMALL CAPITALS are much nicer, even William Morris resorted to chapter openings in the all-up style. The real give-away is the confusion of the hyphen with the dash. My first reading of the opening sentence assumed a Joycean style, mimicking ‘riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s’, followed by ‘doubt-but’ (what a disbelieving goat does?). But no, I was supposed to read those tiny, close-up horizontal marks as dashes – and then the parenthetical clause should become clear. Except it doesn’t. And William Boyd is a parenthetical stylist, a major dash-monger, with three on the opening page of Ordinary Thunderstorms, all decisively mangled by Kindle. He also believes in the use of the hyphen when creating compound adjectives: ‘pale-faced’, ‘even-featured’, ‘charcoal-grey’. Oh dear, they get mangled too, as Kindle thinks that they are non-breaking hyphens, and so studiously avoids correctly justifying the line preceding them to ensure that the compounded words are not (as they should be) divided by a line break. Here by the way is the printed original:

How can so little care be given to the presentation of text on a[n electronic] page? Do publishers care, or even realize, what is happening to the texts they lovingly commission, copy-edit, and proof-read, when they enter the electronic domain? 
I wonder, especially if they sub-contract the ebooking of their print files to Amazon, rather than apply quality control themselves. Here, for example, is a complaint on Amazon about a student edition:
‘The reason for the poor review is not anything relating to the translation, but the rendering of text not only in this book, but many of [this publisher’s] translations released in this series. The main problem is that the text is not rendered in a clean manner, so that, for example if you highlight “Livy” in the introduction of this text it is rendered “Liz7"” when you look under “highlights and annotations”. This means that if you search for “Livy”, your search will not find this word. This has been a constant problem in a number of this publisher's books. I have contacted them about the issue but have received no response. I would recommend [another publisher’s] text which provides a clean rendering of the text as well as hyperlinks to the footnotes which this publisher does not provide.’
The image below is not from the text criticized, but shows what happens when a printed book is scanned, word by word, to produce a searchable PDF. 
And the original print edition:
Note how the running headlines, which orient the reader so successfully in the print edition, are very little use in the ebook.
Not that other publishers are blameless: the following screenshots are from an edition of the Canterbury Tales, where we can see
  1. headings not identified as such, because they do not ‘keep’ with the following text; 
  2. headings (such as ‘NOTES’ which are at the wrong level in the heading hierarchy;
  3. misaligned note cues causing text misalignment;
  4. verse not correctly formatted, so that a turn-line does not indent, nor does the start of a line assigned a line number align correctly.

And here is the original printed page, showing text and notes simultaneously:
But at least this edition of Chaucer has line numbers. Another publisher's edition of Wilde simply omits them, leaving the reader floundering helplessly in relation to a citation in any other edition or critical text, or indeed in relation to the edition’s own notes, which are identified by line number, but are not accessible by hyperlink from the text.

Let’s look at the original print edition, and see how effectively the reader is oriented by indentation, headlines, line numbers, and page numbers; and how easily one can look up a note at the back of the book, and know where to return to in the main text.

In comparison with the inadequacies of consumer electronic texts, printed books are still miracles of compact, considerate texts that care for their readers, and how they are used.


Here’s an interesting link to a TeX implementation of justification on a Kindle.

Edit 2

Thanks to all the readers who picked up my misreadings and misspellings.

Use ’em, don’t pin ’em on the wall

Paul Shaw’s careful explanation of why it’s dangerous to fetishize fonts.

Reading the news in Arabic and Persian

Titus Nemeth’s excellent Nassim font is now used on the two major middle-east news sites run by the BBC, the Arabic and Persian services. And here’s a link to the BBC’s global visual language with its specific focus on typography as the primary design element.

Reading the papers

The publications of the Simplification Centre during its time at Reading can be downloaded here.

Paul Stiff and what interests typographers

Re-reading some of Paul’s writings since his death (see Robin Kinross’s obituary), this perhaps-overlooked piece in Typography Papers (because it was a ‘response’, not an article in its own right) seemed to sum up some provoking views about what should interest typographers.

‘… typography is far more about configuring and positioning characters than about the shapes of characters. A theory of writing and typography based solely on the construction of letters, allied to a view of reading which looks no further than ‘legibility’, is like traditional linguistics in which nothing much of interest happens outside the sentence.

‘From the telescopic perspective of information design the challenging problems of today are not connected with what type designers and typographers do or do not do. This is because most designing is done by people who are not professional designers and who get no help from professionals. Some digital typographers have tried to solve the problems which non-designers face by devising ‘automatic typography’ systems which do the designing work. The aim of these systems has been to design documents as they are written. The idea is to let authors get on with their writing, and let the designing take care of itself: so all that authors have to do is declare, as they write, that this bit of text is a chapter heading, and this is a list, and so on. Realizing the idea means that a ‘meta-document’ has to be designed before any real document is written. Designing a meta-document entails prefabricating a whole repertoire of graphic formats for text elements (‘chapter heading’, ‘list’, ‘subheading’, ‘caption’, and so on) which visually represent the whole range of text elements which may occur in any text which has not yet been written.

‘This is different from what professional typographers normally do: design texts after they have been written. Here there is an obvious parallel with lettering and type design: the fifteenth-century revolution in ‘automatic typography’ systems led for the first time to sets of letters, and their spatial relations, being designed before the texts in which they would be used were written.’

Typography papers 4, 2000, pp. 92–133.

Royal wedding blues

Heraldry is an aspirational art: if you don’t have a coat of arms, you might like to think that some day you will be granted one, or that perhaps some long-forgotten ancestor indeed was. Michael Hancher suggests that this is one of the reasons that heraldic terms are illustrated so frequently in early (and even recent) dictionaries: being a gentle(wo)man involves understanding the arcane meanings of a blazon (or even what a blazon is).

So the forthcoming royal wedding makes even the Guardian anxious to inform us of the exact meaning of Kate Middleton’s new armature (she won’t be fully armed till she’s married, if you see what I mean). The explanation brings in another English obsession, punning. But it also usefully reminds us how we've got our colour–gender assignment twisted over the years. Middleton’s lozenge is suspended from blue ribbons as a sign that she is an unmarried daughter: blue for a girl, perhaps because of the traditional association with the Virgin Mary, who is often depicted wearing a blue mantle.

Hancher, M. 1996. ‘[The Century Dictionary:] Illustrations,’ Dictionaries, 17: 79–115.
—— 1998. ‘Gazing at the Imperial Dictionary,’ Book History, 1: 156–81.