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White Space

December 22, 2010

There is so little creativity in school publications. So many professors want papers to conform to academic standards that are outdated and poor for reading. Do you know how many people I know still space twice after periods? People who use underlines instead of italicizing?

But notwithstanding that, the other standard paper settings are so stifling stifling. 1″ margin all around, double space, 12 point Times New Roman font.

I acquiesce because I want a good grade. But I strive for something more because I’m a huge dork.

Some history: this summer, I took an art class. At the end of the class, we had to make a presentation on some aspect of art we were interested in.

I had no idea what to do mine over. I don’ t know what possessed me to do it over typography, but that’s what I picked. Things have never been the same.

Garmond

What makes a Garamond?

The one thing that presentation made me realize was how utterly clueless I was. I still am. What typography makes me realize is how utterly blind I am. Sure, I can recognize Times New Roman; I know what a sans serif font is from a serif; I’ve heard of Hermann Zapf. But beyond that, there’s a world of nuance to which I am blind.

I have been captivated by something I cannot comprehend.

Quickly thereafter I became interested in presentation design. Why do most powerpoints suck, and why do some not? How did x do y? (Heh, not with powerpoint, most likely). And then that eventually led to typesetting.

I still don’t know what the heck I’m doing.

The other day, I stumbled upon the site Typography For Lawyers. It blew my mind. I haven’t purchased the book yet, but I thought, “What if I tried something like that?”

Of course, I couldn’t try it for the original assignment submission, since the requirements there were stringent: 12 point Times New Roman, double-spaced, 1″ margins all around.

So I waited until I got home from school to do it. I’m not even sure if I did everything right, but I’m happy with the results.

Tax Protester Memo

click me for larger size!

I actually messed up. That page number at the bottom is still in Times New Roman, when it should’ve been converted to Sabon.

Tax Protester Memo

Preliminary lessons learned:

  • The 1″ margins are too thin for the average reader. Reading across an 8 1/2 by 11 page causes some strange from going from line to line as is, but by increasing the margin, the column of text becomes more manageable.
  • 12 point font is actually a smidge too large; 11 point font works just as fine.
  • Double spacing is generally too much spacing. Spacing a percentage of the font size works a lot better.
  • Justified text with hyphenation makes it all work.
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9 Comments
  1. Chris permalink

    Nice, I like it. I took a typography class in college. Ever since, I’ve been quite anal when it comes to en and em dashes, the single space after sentences, leading, etc. Whenever there’s an opportunity to use an em dash, I actually get a little excited inside.

  2. alice permalink

    Bet you would enjoy the documentary film Helvetica by Gary Hustwit.

    http://www.helveticafilm.com/

    I found it fascinating and it does expound on what the place of typography is in our culture.

  3. Chris, since I change thoughts often, I use em dashes frequently. En dashes are my weak point.

    I would take a typography class if it fit in my schedule. But so far, the only free spots I have (if I don’t want to take classes that won’t fit into my degree plan, that is) are for business electives. Bah.

    Alice, indeed! I just need to get around to it.

  4. Interesting, I’ve certainly been on the “12 point Times New Roman blah blah blah” standard as a teacher… Honestly, for me it’s a question of “what is the easiest for me to read as a teacher.” Maybe I’ll try 11 point, ha. I do like standardizing it somewhat though for the whole class – it’s just a lot easier to grade 30 papers when they all look the same, rather than some with huge or unusual font (read: ineffective font), multiple colors, etc. And I don’t like justified text at all – it’s fine in books but not for papers. I don’t like all the extra spacing on some lines.

  5. Adam,

    That’s why I was surprised by some of the advice at the Typography for Lawyers site, but I realized that, really, 12 pt Times New Roman, especially combined with 1″ margins and double spacing, isn’t optimally readable. You don’t even need to do your own experimentation to figure this out. Just consider: how many published novels or magazines are published using 12 pt TNR, double spacing, 1″ margins? The 8 1/2 x 11 format gives this urge that we need to stretch everything out to the ends of the pages, but the problem is that when reading, we then have problem going from the end of one line to the beginning of the next.

    I agree about having a standard. It just seems like the current standard is a holdback from a time when typesetting was an ordeal (e.g., typewriter days or before). But now, it’s not.

    I also agree with your concerns about justified text. That’s why if someone is going to implement justification, they must also use hyphenation. If they don’t, then instead of sentences naturally justifying, you’ll have S P A C E — the final frontier. And that’s no good.

    • Hmm… maybe I’ll make my students use a 2 column format, with 11 pt. font, and only 1.5 spaced… 🙂 Whatever makes it easier for me to read… if only I could get away with that. Think they’d go for it?

      OR, I could grade them on “readability” and not have any standards, but encourage them to check out typography. 🙂

      • it seems like for a printed format, that would already work a lot better.

        the problem with reading things online or on computer, however, is that to see the second column, you have to *scroll* back up to the top of the page. Which is why reading multi-column PDFs can be annoying.

        I wonder how not having any concrete standards would work. I imagine it would be disastrous.

  6. No standards can lead to poetry instead of prose (good sometimes) and HUGE PURPLE FONT (not good).

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