9th February, 2011: Typography matters

In a past life I think I must have been a typographer, maybe a famous one or one responsible for a famous typeface, because I’m a confirmed typography snob. There, I’ve said it. And I’m not ashamed to admit it either. In the world of commercial art and design, typography is the most important factor. Depending on the purpose and function of the design, the typography can transcend illustration, photography and other non-type components. Taken further, good typography can save any bad design. Poor typography can destroy it, no matter how wonderful and perfect the other elements of the design may be.

I’m not a designer myself, and my own practical experience with typography has been mostly limited to TSV, the fanzine of the New Zealand Doctor Who Fan Club that I edited for a few years. When I took over from the previous editor I undertook a complete top-to-bottom, inside-out redesign of the publication. Given the limitations of TSV – black and white A5 interiors, with layout done in Adobe Indesign CS – I deliberately chose a simple typographical style and stuck to it throughout. The result, I think, was a very simple but readable interior – article headings, boxouts, bylines and introductions in variations of Gill Sans and Gill Sans Light; body text in Adobe Garamond Pro; occassional use of special font for particular articles, but with a rule never to use free fonts or fonts pre-installed on most computers. When I was designing this here blog, the font choice was very important and it took a long, long time to settle on League Gothic for the main title banner (oddly enough, the banner is the one aspect of this site that I get the most feedback on).

I must admit I was quite surprised last week when I mentioned the issue of poor typography on Twitter. A lot of people didn’t really know what I was talking about and most of the replies were jokes about “anything is fine except Comic Sans”. Several said that typography didn’t matter at all – for example, most people I asked didn’t know why the use of the common font Papyrus for the film Avatar is so egregious. I know it wasn’t exactly a scientific or representative survey, but the discussion that followed was a bit worrying.

I was not, however, entirely alone. A friend of mine used to be a typesetter for an artbook publisher, and she and a few others joined me in lamenting the lack of typographical understanding. As a writer I’m interested in books, and as books tend to have covers, typography is tremendously important. Typography, for example, is usually the key element of design that will alert you to the fact that a book listed on Amazon from some unknown publisher is actually a self-published work. But even in the world of mainstream publishing, I’ve seen countless examples of excellent artwork or illustrative design totally and utterly steamrollered by the worst typography imaginable.

Anyway, an interesting study on the use of bad fonts came out the other day, suggesting that hideous fonts actually increase reader understanding. Freaky stuff. There’s also some good linkage at the bottom of that piece about good (and bad) typography.

Writing and editing
The first day back from Camber Sands was spent trying to get through a backlog of day-gig work and get rid of the traditional post-convention cold. Yesterday I managed to grab some time to give The Wasp in the Lotus another run-through, and made some further adjustments here and there before sending it off to the two other UK-based writers joining me in this anthology. We actually met up at the SFX Weekender and had a chat about our stories, and an interesting discussion about how fast-turnaround “production-line” writing is actually very good for the creative muscles. The ability to produce fiction on demand and to a fixed schedule – and for that fiction to be good – is a very valuable skill. I think the three of us all felt that writing the novellas was like being thrown into some kind of steampunk bootcamp, but a worthwhile experience.

I’ll be able to post more information about The Wasp and the Lotus and the other pieces, and the anthology they’ll be appearing in, later. For the moment, our submission deadline is tomorrow! But with Wasp out of the way, I can now get back to writing. As far as I can work out (I still need to double-check my schedule) I have got to:

  • Write the next chapter of Godless and send it off to my co-writer Kate.
  • Get back into the first draft of Hang Wire.
  • Plot a post-apocalyptic novel called The Suicide Tree and hammer a synopsis and sample chapters into shape for a pitch.
  • Get the final edit rolling on Ludmila, My Love, so it will be ready for my beta-readers on 1st March

Working out what needs to come first is the tricky bit. Godless and Hang Wire have no fixed schedules, but that’s not to say they don’t need to be chugging along at a good pace. I have maybe this month to get the pitch for The Suicide Tree ready, but the sooner the better for this really. I have started the final edit of Ludmila, My Love, having revised the first two chapters this week already, but the pressure is on there as my beta-readers are booked in and expecting to have something to read.

Today then will be filled with list making and pouring over my calendar to see what can fit where and when. Fun times. Proper stats will reappear tomorrow!

Reading
I’m back into Firestarter and just getting into the swing of the story, so it’s hard to make a judgement on it so early. The prose is classic King though, which is enough to keep me happy.

Books: A page or two of Firestarter by Stephen King.
Comics: Issues lined up and ready for today and tomorrow.

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  • Glammer

    Ditto. Not a trained designer but did some web design and learned from David Siegel, the early html pioneer, inventor of the single pixel transparent gif trick and creator of the Tekton font. He gave me a love of good typography and I’m still castigating people for being more in love with their backgrounds than their message.