Letterspacing Again

Anyone who’s ever read my column knows that one of my biggest nits is letterspacing. Ever since I was first taught proper letterspacing in design school, I couldn’t let go of it. Even now I see bad examples everywhere, and there’s no reason for it to exist.

Some of you may say, “Well, that’s the font. It has spacing like that.” Nope, I say. Too bad. Fix it.

I saw an ad the other day on TV touting the services of a local air conditioning and heating firm. And I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought maybe it was a glitch in the television transmission of the signal. But when I visited their website, there it was: the spacing in the name “And”. It’s just three letterforms and they couldn’t get it right—the giant space between the “n” and the “d”. With just three letterforms, this is certainly not the fault of the font.

I hope they didn’t pay big money for this gaffe. Worse, even if they didn’t, they can’t see it. It’s displayed all over their broadcast area. Do they do work like this, leaving gaps in their installations?

The designer of the logo did this: he/she took a design feature of the Avant Garde font—the cap “A”—and applied it to the Helvetica Bold font for this design. They didn’t quite get the right stem of the cap “A” to a perfect vertical (they didn’t shear it quite enough), but the intent is obvious. He/she liked the angle it presented, adding the snug “n” to it. But just where in his/her mind the “d” fell off that train of thought, I’m not certain.

If I were teaching a class in typography, this error would’ve received an F. And, folks, it ain’t the font.

In looking at the website, you can see the same error on their trucks. Very nice.

You see this kind of thing everywhere. And from reputable firms all over. In some cases the font is to blame. But that’s still no excuse. Thing is, if you don’t know that something is wrong, and there’s nobody around to point out the gaffe, then how are you going to learn? And then this type of thing will continue.

The way I see it is this: either these places hire people to design their logos who have no knowledge of type design, or they don’t care.

Setting type in a word-processing program is different than doing type design with a design application. The bottom image shows what happens when the font or something else is to blame. The space between the second “a” and the “t” in Manatee is too great. My guess is that whatever software or computer platform the Manatee County government is using to design their forms is not using the font’s natural letterspacing correctly or the person typing this did not use the auto-kerning feature available.

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My Two Favorite Nits on Type

 

Most people (non-designers) have no real appreciation for good type design. And it’s not their fault. After all, unless someone (a good designer) points it out to them, they wouldn’t know the difference.

Like, for example, my son enjoys fishing. I’m a novice at best when it comes to fishing, and I didn’t know how to cast with a certain type of reel until he showed me how. Now I know. The same can be said of type design, and the following two things are no exception. So for non-designers, this is a definite learning experience.

Typography is a first-year course in the design school I went to. And in that class, I learned about letter-spacing. The course also teaches the basics of font design, its stems and kerns, ascenders and descenders, counters, serifs, etc.

Wow. Getting complex. But I’m not going to teach you about all that today. Today I’m going to say something about letter-spacing and one other thing. Because as a designer, it kills me to see these two things misused.

The visual at left is from a TV show I watch on the DIY network. The letter-spacing you see in the visual is bad because there’s too much space between the W and the a and the t in the name Waterman. A good designer would not allow this to happen. The thing is (like the following instance) you see this kind of mistake everywhere. It’s on signs, on the back of trucks, in store windows, even on the Internet and—holy cow, on TV.

I know, I know. Some of you (designers) are saying something like, “Well, that’s the font. That particular font has letter-spacing like that.” Too bad. Correct it. I come across a ton of fonts that have bad letter-spacing. Usually they’re fonts found on many of the free download websites. The problem here is that these font designers don’t pay enough attention to the way some letterforms interact with one another. In this particular case, however, it looks as though the designer intended this letter-spacing. Wow. Ouch. Or he’s blind.

Also, some type designers try to emulate old fonts. And of course, there’s a trend right now toward retro design—‘20s and ‘30s styles— using old fonts. This does not make for good design. That’s right: retro design is seldom good design, if ever. Some advertisers will sacrifice good design for retro styles, anyway, trying to be in.

That’s one nit. Now for the other. The visual at right is a classic example of misuse of quotation marks. People that do this kind of thing probably did not make it past the ninth grade or maybe schools don’t teach English and punctuation anymore.

You see this common mistake in the same areas cited above. The person who did this was trying to place emphasis on that particular word.

Good designers know there are variables in type design that are used for proper emphasis of a word or phrase. Italics and boldface are two of them. Color is another. But not quotation marks.

Please.

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