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TypeTalk: Five Typographic No-Nos

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TypeTalk is a regular blog on typography. Post your questions and comments by clicking on the Comments icon above.

Q. You write a lot about good typographic practices. Any advice on what not to do, typographically speaking?

A. There are a number of poor typographic practices that can easily slip into your work. Here are five “don’ts” to avoid:

1. Don’t use tabular figures for non-vertical text.

Tabular figures share the same total width (glyph plus spacing) so that they align vertically when you set columns. But in other situations, tabular figures can create terribly uneven spacing (especially around the 1s), so proportional figures are a better choice because they have much more even spacing.

Many OpenType fonts include both tabular and proportional figures. Unfortunately, these options often go unnoticed, in part because tabular figures are the default figure style in the majority of text fonts. Check your font for the available figure styles, and select the style most appropriate for your layout. If a font doesn’t have proportional figures, manually adjust the spacing of tabular figures by kerning.

2. Don’t use the long s ligature as an f ligature.

Many historically inspired OpenType fonts, such as Caslon, Bodoni, and Garamond, contain a wide assortment of ligatures, some of which look like an f ligature without the right side of the crossbar. These are actually long s ligatures that were commonly used for sl, sh, si, st and ss combinations centuries ago. If you mistakenly use these as f ligatures, you’ll misspell every word they’re in.

3. Don’t use the space bar or default tab settings for paragraph indents.

The sordid typographic truth is, many designers create paragraph indents with the space bar. Not only can this be tedious and time-consuming, but it’s extremely inefficient, especially when you want to change the indent for an entire document.

InDesign, QuarkXPress, and other design software have First Line Indent features that take only seconds to set. You can change indents throughout an entire document just as quickly.

If you’re in a word-processing program, you can use the tab, but set the indent manually to a chosen measure. The default setting (usually half inch) may be too deep for your column width.

4. Don’t use smart quotes for measurements.

When typing quotes or importing text with quotes, most design software defaults to the (usually) typographically correct smart quotes. Unfortunately, the software also converts measurements containing inch and foot marks (also known as primes), which is typographically incorrect. Review your document carefully, and convert smart quotes in measurements to inch and foot marks.

Read more on this topic in the True Primes section of a past TypeTalk.

5. Don’t forget to proofread your work.

Check for major typographic faux pas, such as stray hyphens in reflowed text; double word spaces within words and between sentences; inappropriate hyphen, en and em dash usage; and spelling and grammatical errors. While you might not view the latter as part of your job, spotting errors saves your client embarrassment and makes you a more valuable professional.

Love type? Want to know more? Ilene Strizver conducts her acclaimed Gourmet Typography workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her e-newsletter at www.thetypestudio.com.

Ilene Strizver
Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer, writer and educator specializing in all aspects of visual communication, from the aesthetic to the technical. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, 4th edition, has received numerous accolades from the type and design community. She conducts her widely acclaimed Gourmet Typography Workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her free e‑newsletter, All Things Typographic, at www.thetypestudio.com.
Ilene Strizver

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Posted on: August 10, 2011

Ilene Strizver

Ilene Strizver, founder of The Type Studio, is a typographic consultant, designer, writer and educator specializing in all aspects of visual communication, from the aesthetic to the technical. Her book, Type Rules! The designer’s guide to professional typography, 4th edition, has received numerous accolades from the type and design community. She conducts her widely acclaimed Gourmet Typography Workshops internationally. For more information on attending one or bringing it to your company, organization, or school, go to her site, call The Type Studio at 203-227-5929, or email Ilene at info@thetypestudio.com. Sign up for her free e‑newsletter, All Things Typographic, at www.thetypestudio.com.

10 Comments on TypeTalk: Five Typographic No-Nos

  1. I am in general very strong agreement with regards to use of proportional figures in lieu of tabular figures. One case where one must be careful is actually demonstrated in your own example. In situations where you have one phone number (such as an office phone number) followed by another phone number (such as a cellphone or fax number) immediately underneath, use of proportional figures will yield visually very unpleasant results. In this case, figure spaces are more appropriate (guess that fits under the “vertical text” exemption.

    You might also note that in phone numbers (especially), a regular “hyphen” may not be appropriate compared to the same font’s “dash” glyph, especially in more decorative fonts where the “hyphen” is a bit shorter and not fully horizontal.

    – Dov

  2. Your correct use of primes is wrong. Primes should be straight up and down, not angled. Unless the typeface you’re using is designed like that, I believe that is incorrect.

  3. Thank you for gently pointing out some of the most egregious problems. Typographic faux pas are a pet peeve of mine. I would like to add something so obvious, you’d think it doesn’t happen anymore: do NOT put two spaces after periods. EVER. Okay, yes, that’s what we were all taught in high school typing class, but it was only ever appropriate for the manual typewriter, never any other type-set applications. Correct me if I’m wrong, but the manual typewriter is long dead now, is it not?!? I wonder if they ever updated the MLA? Or maybe kids don’t learn to type in high school anymore…unless it’s with their thumbs.

  4. Dov, I get your point about two vertically positioned phone numbers using proportional figures having different widths, but I would much prefer that to using tabular figures just to having aligning widths. That is akin to the use of justified type no matter how the letterspacing is compromised, just to align the columns, which is a major type crime in my eyes.

    As for your comment on substituting a dash (I’m assuming you mean an en dash) for a hyphen in some fonts, I’m afraid I can’t agree with you there either, as any properly proportioned en dash would look too wide as a separator in a phone number, in addition to breaking the typographic rule in that regard. But I do appreciate your observation of the differences of the design of these characters in each font, and in some other instances, such as when em dashes are too wide, it is an accepted practice to substitute an en dash.

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    T H E T Y P E S T U D I O
    Westport, CT
    203.227.5929
    http://www.thetypestudio.com/

  5. I’m afraid I beg to differ here. The straight inch and foot marks that are commonly available in fonts are actually typewriter quotes that were used for both quotes and primes on typewriters due to the limited keyboard. Typographically correct primes are angled and are only available in a handful of fonts, such as the Adobe Caslon Pro used for the example. You can read more about this under “True Primes” located here: http://109.73.225.113/article/typetalk-its-fontariffic

    Ilene

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    T H E T Y P E S T U D I O
    Westport, CT
    203.227.5929
    http://www.thetypestudio.com/

  6. Finally I can agree with a comment! More on double word spaces under “Seeing Double… Spaces, That Is” located here: http://109.73.225.113/story/feature/25853.html?origin=story

    Ilene

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    T H E T Y P E S T U D I O
    Westport, CT
    203.227.5929
    http://www.thetypestudio.com/

  7. “If you want your type to looks its best, “

    You speak English?

  8. > If you’re in a word-processing program, you can use the tab…

    In a text program maybe, but word processing programs have paragraph indent settings.

  9. So after reading this, I thought I would make some style sheets using the Proportional figures. Unfortunately, the first font I tried this with had two kinds of Proportional: Oldstyle and Lining. Is one preferred over the other?

  10. Thanks for commenting. You can read more about oldstyle vs. lining figures here: http://109.73.225.113/blog/typetalk-good-looking-figures

    Ilene
    .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. .. ..

    T H E T Y P E S T U D I O
    Westport, CT
    203.227.5929
    http://www.thetypestudio.com/

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