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Listen With Reason columns
Why a column like this? Because too many web sites seem devoid of personality. Because the world of newspaper design can always use a little more dialogue. And because, hey, it's my web site. So I thought, why not create the first regular online column about newspaper design, on the first web site devoted to newspaper design? Why "Listen With Reason?" Because "Listen to ..." sounded a little too preachy.
Back to home page:
(more tips on newspaper design, graphics and editing).
| [Note: This column was published in the Spring 2002
issue of the Society for News Design's "Design"
In recent years my e-mail inbox has filled up with inquiries about news design, and I've noticed a distinct trend in the topics. Some people write to ask the difference between a broadsheet and a tab, but overwhelmingly, people write for advice on which fonts to use, specifically for body text. Imagine my surprise recently when the following people wrote me with similar questions in just one 24-hour period. (I swear on my AP Stylebook, all are real inquiries from the same day.)
I'll share with readers of this column the response I generally send to questions like this. Not to be coy about the mystery or art of selecting body text (or headline) faces, but it's not an easy (or totally appropriate) question, and one that I no longer think is helpful to address in a generic context.
In a full-scale redesign, weeks of testing and assessment are often involved in the selection of typefaces. The success of their use depends so much on a number of factors, including, obviously, the intrinsic characteristics of the text styling - weight, point size, tracking/kerning, leading.
Then take into account complementary design elements on the page - the visual relationship of the text in question to the multitude of other fonts used nearby for captions, headlines, subheads, labels, etc., not to mention non-text elements such as white space, rule lines, dingbats, etc. (You also want to consider what fonts your competitors might be using - you don't want to look too much like them!)
Third, you have a multitude of technical issues - quality of paper and ink being used, age and type of presses used for printing, the number of words per line and per inch desired by the editors, hyphenation and justification allowed by your grid. And finally (and here's a big one) there's the mood of the editor who inevitably views his or her options for typography and decrees, without further articulation, "I like it" or "I don't like it."
Certainly, I feel comfortable saying I have used or admired Century, Poynter, Nimrod, Optima, Miller, or other fonts in my design work. And in the past, I have recommended fonts and other design elements in a generic context (seminars or other workshops present many pitfalls for the givers and seekers of such blanket advice). However, sometimes I have later picked up the paper in question and find a typeface used, poorly, by editors who didn't understand not to squeeze it too much, or use it in conjunction with a weak medium-weight sans serif for captions, or whatever.
I liken this syndrome to dispensing psychological advice for free - something to be very wary of! Once all the above is stated, I think the best advice I can give is this:
1) Ask around to see what others are using.
2) Experiment, experiment, experiment. Try many variations, and look at the whole picture - test the type in conjunction with real elements that it will later be published with - and you'll be at least a little bit closer to making a sound decision.
That very day I also received the following inquiry:
"Mr. Reason: I would like to make an MS Word file look as much like a newspaper as possible. Can you point me to any basic style rules that would help?"Sorry, the doctor is OUT!
Want to share your own experiences in type exploration? Anecdotes about how editors perceived your typographic choices? Email me and IÕll share responses online or in a future column.
Special thanks to Rick Nease/Detroit Free Press, for the illustration above.
Don't forget to peruse today's front pages from around the globe, in Live Newspaper Pages Online, updated regularly! (The link has moved, but go here to change your bookmark.)
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Web posted: April 4, 2002.