Right-reading (adj): Having the proper orientation (used in printing)

Today is Tuesday, September 23, 2014 10:21 am (U.S. central time).

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Tom Christensen
("xensen") . tom [at] rightreading.com
 

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art and illustration posts

Google font API

google font api - example typefaces

Google has quietly introduced an API (application programming interface) for web fonts. This could potentially result in better — and also worse — web typography — depending on the skill and knowledge of the people who implement it. Unfortunately only a small minority of font users these day take the time to educate themselves about the print tradition.

Google’s font system involves referencing fonts stored at fonts.googleapis.com. The open source license fonts are then served up by the Google servers and should appear on your web pages without your needing to upload or embed them. There are instructions here.

Only a small number of fonts are available at present but no doubt the list will grow. I wonder what the type designer community will think about this.

100 meters of humanity

hoegsberg photo

For the 100-meter-long photo of which the detail above is a part Simon Hoegsberg shot one-hundred seventy-eight people, “in the course of twenty days from the same spot on a railroad bridge on Warschauer Strasses in Berlin in the summer of 2007.” Impeccably stitched together into one enormous photo, the images create something like one of the great narrative scrolls of the East Asian tradition. Check out the full image here.

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Via Substraction.

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How to pick a typeface: The flowchart

how to pick a typeface flow chart

You could do worse. Click the detail to view the entire chart at inspiration lab.

Mistakes designers make

Tara at Graphic Design Blog lists seven mistakes beginning designers make. It’s a pretty good list — I see the first item a lot.

  1. Producing two or more design concepts that are very similar
  2. Adding things in rather than taking them away
  3. Concentrating on features rather than benefits
  4. Not targeting the right audience or having enough gravitas
  5. Not presenting the finished design in the best way possible.
  6. Not sketching first
  7. Underselling your design work

Read more at Graphic Design Blog.

“Books” in the age of the IPad

books on an infinite plane on the ipad platform

Craig Mod makes an interesting case for celebrating the (supposed) demise of “disposable books” — he elaborates at some length a simple distinction between books where the content and form are integral and those where they are independent — and welcoming the IPad as a reading platform. Here’s a sample:

We’re losing the dregs of the publishing world: disposable books. The book printed without consideration of form or sustainability or longevity. The book produced to be consumed once and then tossed. The book you bin when you’re moving and you need to clean out the closet.

These are the first books to go. And I say it again, good riddance.

Once we dump this weight we can prune our increasingly obsolete network of distribution. As physicality disappears, so too does the need to fly dead trees around the world.

You already know the potential gains: edgier, riskier books in digital form, born from a lower barrier-to-entry to publish. New modes of storytelling. Less environmental impact. A rise in importance of editors. And, yes — paradoxically — a marked increase in the quality of things that do get printed.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everything in that last paragraph were true! Unfortunately, part of this is fiction writing. Check out the NYT bestseller list and see if you can observe “a marked increase in the quality of things that do get printed.”

To me the most interesting part of Mod’s argument is his vision for booklike content that disposes of the metaphor of the page, as shown in the image above (the image is Mod’s). In this vision the content metaphor is not the bound book but the East Asian handscroll, on which stories were rolled out continuously from one end to the other rather than proceeding page by page.

The book is a perfected technology, but why should the electronic platform inherit the binding metaphor?

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Link: Books in the Age of the IPad

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Trilby, Allumi, Calluna, Giorgio, Leksa, Sentinel, Catacumba

Who or what are Trilby, Allumi, Calluna, Giorgio, Leksa, and Catacumba?

a. Captains of vessels in the fleet of the early seventeenth-century Dutch adventurer Joris van Spilbergen.

b. Winning dogs in the hunting dog category at the Westminster Kennel Club dog show.

c. Characters in a new Star Trek television series to be released next fall.

d. Other.

. . .

. . .

. . .

The answer, of course, is “other” — these are some of the best typefaces of 2009, in the opinion of I Love Typography. Another favorite from this set is the amazingly extensive (and expensive) Trilogy, shown below. An interesting selection, worth checking out (the type sample is clickable).

Rag or justified?

rag or justified? These are preliminary design pages for a new book about the art of Bali. The font is Garamond Premier Pro. The image is a cool piece by I Ketut Ngendon (1903–1948) called Goodbye and Good Luck to Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson, 1938 (Batuan, Bali. Ink on paper. Mary Catherine Bateson).

The pages are the same, except that in one spread the main text block is ragged and in the other it is justified. I’m curious which version people prefer.

What’s your type?

what's your type?

The latest iteration of this hoary shtick comes to us via Pentagram. To play along, use the password CHARACTER.

Early 20th-century scenes of Paris

Eugène Atget made a number of interesting sets of photos of aspects of Parisian life in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The Bibliothèque Nationale de France has made a number of them available on the web. This is a detail from a photo of the Cabaret Alexandre, 100 boulevard de Clichy, printed between 1910 and 1912 from a negative taken in 1910. Great stuff! (I love the way the type echoes the form of the doors in this one.) See more here.


Vatican type


Yesterday I showed some ancient inscribed letterforms from Ostia Antica. Today we flash forward some seventeen hundred years to this inscription over a gate in the Vatican complex, which is dated 1831.

I don’t like this one so much. Whoever inscribed these letters was clearly working from typeset models. But the thin lines, right angles, and sharp serifs of the Romantic period are the result of developments in typesetting equipment and papermaking that have nothing to do with letterforms inscribed in stone.

These kinds of incongruities often result when work in one medium is transferred to another without consideration for the essential character of the medium.

Classical letterforms from Ostia

Here is some handsome lettering from ruins at the ancient port city of Ostia, west of Rome. I don’t know what period this fragment dates to, although the age of Hadrian always seems to be a good guess.

For comparison, here’s a sample of the typeface Trajan (the movie font!), designed in 1989 by Carol Twombly for Adobe based on inscriptions on Trajan’s column in Rome. They might just be the effect of the centuries, but I prefer the softer serifs of the inscribed letters in the photo. I also like their less regular vertical axes.


Photography’s rule of thirds

There’s nothing new about the rule of thirds — it’s almost a photographic cliche. Still, as a, well, rule of thumb there’s a good deal of sense in it. Let’s have a look.

One of the worst instincts of amateur photographers is to aim the camera directly at the main subject, as if it were game to be bagged. You can see this in society pages, like one in the back of a magazine I’m responsible for (I try to keep the section’s space to a minimum). The photographer’s strategy in these situations is just about always to line the subjects up in a grinning row facing the camera. You can see what I mean in the above image (I’ve replaced the people’s faces with smilies so as not to embarrass anyone, and to highlight the composition).

The rule of thirds says that you’re better off arranging your composition with a main element a third of the way from one of the edges. In effect you imagine your image as composed of nine equal rectangles. Consider this image from the Sentiero degli Dei in the Lattari Mountains above Amalfi.

You can see that the cliff at the left is a third of the way in from the left edge of the photo. (You can also think of each of the nine squares as a section to be balanced in its own right.)

Or look at this photo from the Sentiero della Republica in the same region.

Read more »

Driving from Furore on the Amalfi Coast to Agerola in the Lattari Mountains

While driving the Via Amalfitano has its motoring excitements as well as its famously spectacular views,

Read more »

The Path of the Gods

Okay, I guess I’m still a little jetlagged — or maybe just worn out from coming back to an office in crisis mode. Anyway, too tired to do more than post another couple photos (click through for larger versions) from the Sentiero degli Dei — the path of the gods — in the Lattari Mountains overlooking the Amalfi coast.


Gathering storm clouds over Amalfi

This photo was taken from the spectacular trail in the Lattari Mountains overlooking the Amalfi Coast called the Sentiero degli Dei — the path of the gods. A few hours after the photo was taken a fierce storm hit the coast. (Click through for a larger version.)

I’ve just returned from a trip to Rome and the Costa Amalfitano and will return to blogging. I’m processing my photos from the trip and sorting them into smaller and more manageable sets and hope to post them to Flickr over the weekend.

In this blog I try to mostly focus on issues of print and electronic publication, from concept through distribution. But I am likely to be off topic for a bit as I share some Italiana over the next week or so.

Sites we like: The Art of American Book Covers

The first post at The Art of American Book Covers, by Richard Minsky, was made on August 26, so this blog is less than a month old. I regret that I don’t remember who directed me to it, but this blog is so rich in knowledge about techniques of book production that it makes me feel like an absolute novice. The blog will apparently focus on fine books of the nineteenth century. The image above is a detail from a book published by L. C. Page, who it seems offered each of their titles in red, white or blue cloth (wow!). Instead of stamping, a white cloth panel was glued onto the red and blue books. Following is a portion of the blog’s commentary related to this detail, but you should check out Minsky’s blog for the full story:

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Redesigning Craigslist

Recently Wired magazine asked a group of designerz to reenvision Craigslist. According to Wired, “Visitors arriving at craigslist are confronted by a confusing homepage cluttered with links most people will never click on. Overall, the user interface is in dire need of an organizing principle that guides you to the details you seek while filtering out extraneous information.”

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Will Powers (1946-2009) and “The Printer’s Error”

A friend and colleague, Will Powers, died suddenly of a heart attack on August 25. I had worked with Will when I was at North Point Press, employing him as a free-lance copy editor and proofreader. He had worked previously as a typographer at Stinehour Press, and he brought a craftsman’s eye to the projects he worked on. About twenty years ago, Will moved to the twin cities, and for the past eleven years he worked as design and production manager for the Minnesota Historical Society Press.

Above, where I mentioned his work as a proofreader, I initially typed “proofreading” instead, and I was sorely tempted to retain that error, for reasons that will become apparent. Sometime in the past year or two Will e-mailed me the following poem, entitled “The Printer’s Error,” by Aaron Fogel. It seems a fitting memorial, and I hope the author will not mind me running it here in Will’s memory.

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Ikea replaces Futura with Verdana

Ikea has used the geometric bauhausesque Futura (left above), designed by Paul Renner around 1925, as its signature font for some fifty years. It’s a font that emphasizes the Platonic essence of letterforms in an interesting way but provides little forward momentum, so to speak, for extended reading.

Verdana (designed by Matthew Carter around the late 1990s, I think; at right above) is a more “humanist” (the letterforms to some degree evoke traditional Renaissance pen letterforms) font that was designed for use at small sizes on computer monitors. To this end it has a large x-height, large counters (openings), broad character widths, and other features that help to identify letters and tell similar ones apart at small sizes.

A lot of typeheads are distressed by Ikea’s decision, largely because Ikea is using Verdana as a display face, a function for which it wasn’t really intended.

Well, true, it doesn’t look as good, so why are they making the change?

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Pow! Comic Sans! Meets! Its! Match!

Yes, if Comic Sans (I know, I know, it’s not really a comic book font) has lost its appeal, you now have a wealth of alternatives from which to choose. If your idea of cool looks something like the sample above — who am I to judge? — you can find many many more at comicbookfonts.com.