Typographical Boats & Goats

Title page set in Centaur

During my time at Folio I’ve designed and typeset approximately sixty titles. Each time work begins on a new book (such as The Song of Roland shown here) and I have to think about choosing a suitable typeface, the issue of readability rears its legible little head. Given the diverse range of fonts available to us here at Folio it’s vital that we select ones that don’t tire out the eyes of our readers.

Two factors are always present in good typographic design – tracking and kerning. It is imperative to strike the right balance between too little and too much spacing. As I’m sure you would expect, if the space is lacking the characters begin to clash with one another; if you’re over enthusiastic with your s p a c i n g , readers will have trouble determining where one word ends and another starts.

Digitised Bembo, based on a Roman cut from 1495 and a Monotype version from 1929

The human eye doesn’t read letter by letter but in phrases, and it is the shape of words, rather than characters, that determines the speed of reading. Serif faces, in particular, enable the eye to absorb information with ease. As a result they are regarded as more readable, particularly when printed on good old Folio paper. It is, however, worth noting that at smaller sizes there is a risk of the serifs colliding with one another; hence the more common use of sans-serif fonts on the internet. Historically, we are more accustomed to serif faces; they have been used in printed text since the fifteenth-century and after all this time their rudimentary form has remained largely the same, having only been tweaked slightly to keep up with the changing demands of printing technology.

Digital revision of Optima by Hermann Zapf & Akira Kobayashi from Zapf's 1958 orginal

Whilst I hope that you’ve found this instalment informative I trust that it won’t mar your enjoyment of the typography you encounter in your immediate environment; I have not been able to appreciate books, advertisements and, most notably, album covers in the same way as I did in my pre-Folio days, without mentally rating their typographic charm (Gerry Rafferty is very dependable; Barry Manilow, on the other hand, should be ashamed of himself). However if you come across anything particularly striking, whatever the medium, I urge you to inform us so that we can build as clear a picture as possible about what floats your font-based boat and gets your typesetting goat.

3 thoughts on “Typographical Boats & Goats

  1. “Digital revision of Optima by Hermann Zapf & Akira Kobayashi from Kapf’s 1958 orginal”

    Zapf or Kapf?

    Interesting blog though :-)

  2. I should like to extol the virtues of initial capitals or drop caps. Sadly underused in Folio books, they would seem appropriate for titles such as Thoreau’s Walden. (If they had been used there, the volume would have been perfect!) A recent exception is Kenneth Grahame’s Dream Days. Its visual appeal is greatly enhanced, I feel, by the judicious use of its drop caps: a G ending in a cowlick, a stately T that boldly extends into the left margin, and best of all, an appropriately feudal F that introduces “The Reluctant Dragon.” I have spent hours trying to identify this typeface. Can anyone help solve the mystery?