Survey: justified or rag-right?

Palatine's picture

Do you prefer a well-set right rag, or a well-set justified page (body copy, long tracts of text)?

Give reasons, if you can. I usually prefer a nice rag, but I've been improving my ability to set justified type as of late, so I find myself torn between the two styles.

Nick Shinn's picture

>Weildon’s work has been roundy trounced by virtually everbody.

Such as?

hrant's picture

Such as you.
I mean the real you, not the one that pretends
to give a hoot about empiricism or readability.


enne_son's picture

"Typical typesetting: get some copy, put it in a rectangle, hit Justify. Tweaking the default settings? Maybe. But certainly not at the level of individual lines."

I consider myself a typical and decent typographer.
In any given year I am given miles of copy.
Typically I flow it into a rectangular grid, lock to a baseline grid and about 75% of the time I hit justify.
(When I set up the typographical specs for the project I dramatically adjusted the default settings and did several cycles of testing, often using film output.)
When I have completed my layout (magazine) or formated the text (book), I scan the columns and textblocks for gappy lines and problem paragraphs. I am good at spotting problem lines, and if I miss some, my copy-editor will point them out. I usually don't open the spacing to fix the problems, I usually tighten within very constrained parameters. If problems remain I do my adjustments line by line. If problems still remain I ask the editor if anything can be done about it.

So when I am tweaking type in a justified context, most of my attention is on spacing. Within the typographical parameters I have set I believe I can acheive spacing within tolerence 99 percent of the time, or better. If not, my specs or the choosen type is at fault.

When I am setting unjustified text, I do not have to worry about the spacing. I need to worry about line endings and the rag. The amount of work is about equal, and about 5 percent of the time I have to be satisfied with rags I don't like, even in wide columns.

In both cases my perceptual processing read-ware picks up the slack without to much complaint.

dezcom's picture

"Chris, if you want a good book on empirical typographic testing, the high water mark is Tinker’s “The Legibility of Print”."

I read that in 1963 when I was in design school. We had to do readability research as part of our typography class at Carnegie Mellon. We also had several lectures by Martin Krampen from the HfG Ulm. He was a crossover perceptual psychologist/ linguist/designer who taught our class for one semester as a visiting professor. The second semester we had Gui Bonnsieppe fro Ulm as well. They were both very research based to the point of aethetics being completley ignored in teaching design. You may have liked them except for the fact that they would fall under the dreaded "Modernist" label:-)

Most of Tinker's research was old then. Do you mean that we have gone nowhere since?


enne_son's picture

post deleted

dezcom's picture

"The amount of work is about equal..."

I think you are right. A good typographer wants the job to be well set and takes the time to do it right. A well set rag is not a given by default any more than justified text.


hrant's picture

Peter, I don't think you're typical. And that's a compliment.

> Do you mean that we have gone nowhere since?

In terms of typographic research, I haven't seen anything as methodologically sound as the Patterson and Tinker stuff. Mary Dyson has done solid work in the onscreen realm, but most everything else has been misguided in proportion to how close it is to answers typographers need. See for example Ole Lund's damning review of sans-versus-serif studies.


John Hudson's picture

Hrant: And you think this is [only] because it’s a bad idea?
Everybody is lazy to some extent all of the time.

I don't think it is lazy to avoid a labour intensive and time consuming exercise if the payback from all that time and labour is insignificant. That isn't laziness, it is just good sense.

hrant's picture

It depends on how you define lazy. Like when Franklin says "Necessity is the mother of invention", I like to add: "And laziness is its father." But I agree it's also good sense.


William Berkson's picture

>the data will be forthcoming because too many of the variables not relevant to the issue—but factors in speed—can’t be controlled.

This is not a sound objection. Innovative theorizing and experimental design can cut through complication. For example I read that Kevin McCarthy reported at ATYPI that he was able to distinquish good design by the ability of the readers to apply knowledge in the text.

Chris, I don't say my argument is conclusive or anything, but I do think that the prevalence of justified text in books is telling. Because people are so used to reading sans in other contexts, I don't think it's plausible that if there were an economic advantage, or even economic indifference, conservatism would be so overwhelming.

dezcom's picture

"if there were an economic advantage, or even economic indifference"

There would have to be a clear economic advantage for publishers to think about switching. It just makes good business sense.


enne_son's picture

William, did you mean this Kevin McCarthy?

William Berkson's picture

Yes, the one who spells his name Larson. Annoying, that. :)

Sorry for messing up the name.

Nick Shinn's picture

> the real you, not the one that pretends
to give a hoot about empiricism or readability.

Hrant, you really are a piece of **** (that's "work", BTW) the way you constantly slander people. FYI, I am not a hypocrite.

Now about you, Mr "expert" on readability.
Where is your research? (Reading other people's doesn't cut it.)
What has been your experience as a typographer?
Which typefaces have you published that have been used for extended text in books, magazines, or newspapers?

You're a phoney.

Dan Weaver's picture

Nick and Hrant I suggest sharpened Z's at fourty paces. Pistols and swords are so passe

rs_donsata's picture

I think you have been innecesarily rude to others in this trhead Hrant.


William Berkson's picture

>There would have to be a clear economic advantage for publishers to think about switching. It just makes good business sense.

There are books published in sans serif only--just none with extended text that are best sellers. My feeling is that there has been a kind of market test, which is a test of readers. Many readers feel, evidently, that sans look 'modern' and fashionable, as they now have widespread use in advertising. If there were no liability in reading, I think we would see sans used in best selling novels and non-fiction books. Also I think this is true across languages, which argues even more strongly that it is a matter of readability.

Nick Shinn's picture

>there has been a kind of market test, which is a test of readers.

That's particularly true for those with reading difficulties. I've had a look at the selection of large-print books in my local library, with regards to typeface, and they're all traditional serifed faces. I don't recall if any were rag right, but I think I would have noticed if they had been.

dezcom's picture

Funny, all the large print stuff I have seen is in Arial of all things.


timd's picture

I remember a series of large print books in a local library set in Clarendon, justified with indents and line breaks.

hrant's picture

> you really are a piece of **** (that’s “work”, BTW)

Oh yes, Typophile must have censored "work"... and using a custom syntax... and not the second one? This is just like those phoney smileys you place on occasion. Such a clever boy, calling somebody a piece of ess-h-i-t but denying it to avoid certain (one-sided) people calling him "rude". And then he says he doesn't like being called British.

> Where is your research? (Reading other people’s doesn’t cut it.)

Please say that to Peter too.
You know, the guy whose Typo 13 contribution you simply adored.

> What has been your experience as a typographer?

What is Carter's experience as a typographer?
What do you think of Carter and his work?

> Which typefaces have you published that have been used
> for extended text in books, magazines, or newspapers?

Maral, Ardahan, Kar, Arasan, Nour, Patria.

> You’re a phoney.

That table won't flip.

> I think you have been innecesarily rude

On the contrary, I've been very gentle. And I haven't been blind, making assumptions contrary to everything I've seen and read over the years, giving the benefit of the doubt to somebody who isn't friend or family, setting myself up to be duped.

Don't get me wrong, I certainly don't think Nick is a bad person, not at all. But making good display fonts implies nothing about a person's other faculties. I learned that the hard way almost exactly 5 years ago, when I trusted the judgement of another display-font designer who thinks too highly of himself, and suffered -and continue to suffer- persecution* not unlike now (although admittedly much worse). BTW, this just hit me: is it possible that text font designers are more humble, or at least more ambivalent and pensive? If so, maybe it's because they have seen the frightening darkness deep down, as opposed to merely dancing merrily on the ice, admiring their own reflection underneath... on the surface.

* For example, in another thread Paul said he preferred not to use Mrs Eaves - but the Shinnistan troopers stood down.

> there has been a kind of market test

You really think publishers have been testing
to see if readers accept sans for long texts?


dezcom's picture

"You really think publishers have been testing to see if readers accept sans for long texts?"

I think publishers do market testing, not legibility testing. Sans end up being used where the publisher feels it fits the market better (more high-tech, modern. etc.).


hrant's picture

> Sans end up being used where the publisher feels it fits the market better

Sure - but is that "testing"?


Nick Shinn's picture

> Please say that to Peter too.

Peter is a working typographer.
You haven't gained any knowledge of readability through working as a typographer, typesetter or graphic designer, you haven't done any research on readability, and have not published any latin-script typefaces to test the typographic community's response to your theories-in-practice.

And yet you denigrate my text faces (many commissioned, many published, many licensed, and read by millions) by calling me a "display type designer". Well sure, I've done a few of those too, which you claim to admire -- damning with faint praise.

>everything I’ve seen and read over the years

Exactly. No practical experience.

If you are going to call me a hypocrite because you (wrongly) believe that my interest in readability is not borne out by my typographic output, I suggest you look in the mirror and ask yourself what practical efforts your theories have led to.

When are you going to stop riding second-hand on other people's efforts, stop your interminable hammering away at the same old agenda, and engage the real world?


Hrant, your pride is constantly on display, as you pat yourself on the back for being a fighter, and insult people left right and centre without apologizing. So Hector says you've been rude in this thread, and your typical macho response is Huh, that was me being gentle!

hrant's picture

> Peter is a working typographer.

You were talking about a certain definition of "research", which you implied was required to claim expertise in readability. Peter and I are no different in that respect. And you know it. And Carter has very little experience in typography, but do you think he doesn't know what he's talking about? You dodged that question once, but type designers -text type designers- are nothing if not persistent...

> Exactly. No practical experience.

I was talking about you. Practical experience?
Do I need to marry you to have opinions about you?
What "practical experience" do you have with me
that you can state I'm a "clueless idiot"?

> that was me being gentle!

Relative to my standards, not yours. And relative
to your standards you probably think you're being
totally honest, fair and honorable.

Such a clever boy, distracting from the real issues.
Well, I have to admit, it does work with some people.
But I'm not Nick enough to leverage that.


Palatine's picture

This may be off-topic now, but with respect to ragged text, some contriubtors to this thread (and others) have said that indentation doesn't look quite right with ragged-right paragraphs. A bit of leading will do instead.

Is this advisable? I recall that Tschichold (or was it Gill?) commented that only the slightest marker need be made to indicate a new paragraph.

So, when dealing with long tracts of text, should one indent, or employ a bit of leading to indicate a new paragraph?


William Berkson's picture

>Relative to my standards, not yours.

Hrant, rudeness is not determined by a private standard set by you or me. It is what a society evolves as proper courtesy. Frankly, I think your comments are rude by the standards of any society I've ever spent time in. If you want to be rude, that is your decision. But don't be too surprised if your complaints about getting the same back don't meet with a lot of sympathy.

John Hudson's picture

So, when dealing with long tracts of text, should one indent, or employ a bit of leading to indicate a new paragraph?

Be a real man: use a pilcrow :)

hrant's picture

> rudeness ... is what a society evolves as proper courtesy.

Indeed. But you misgauge this society. It is not any of our
little villages. I thought you had finally figured that out.

For example, in my village, calling somebody a piece of ess-h-i-t but covering it up is really bad, in fact worse than calling him that and not covering it up. BUT, I don't complain about that; I only complain when somebody is one-sided. And most of all, I don't raise complaining to an artform. That also happens to be a Bad Thing in my village.

To me, Fairness is much more important than Tact. But I don't expect that of anybody else, even if frankly I do try to get others to be more like me. I don't throw primadonna hissy-fits, complain to the managers in the background, threaten to leave, leave and come back, keep whining and posturing, etc. I find those things... rude.

> don’t be too surprised if your complaints about getting
> the same back don’t meet with a lot of sympathy.

I'm not surprised. I've been surrounded by provincial
thinking in many parts of the world since childhood.

This is a predominantly western environment here (mostly for reasons of relative affluence), so I totally expect the pretend-to-be-nice angle to show up more than the brutally-honest one. Fortunately for me, and for type, it's not so much a western environment that you can generally get your way. Ergo: don't complain in vain, it distracts from the content.

> use a pilcrow

I second that.


Nick Shinn's picture

>You dodged that question once,

OK, let me try again.
The topic is readability.
Now, most people can read, and one can also read about readability.
That's a start.
But knowledge without experience doesn't count for much, especially in a practical discipline like typography.
There are many ways to get experience of readability, ie to advance ideas by testing them in practice, get feedback, and hence acquire wisdom.
For instance, Kevin Larson tests his ideas in scientific experiments.
Peter Enneson is a typographer who has set a ton of type in umpteen faces, every which way to Christmas. He knows how to make publications readable.
Matthew Carter's fonts are everywhere, so he has had ample opportunity to see which ones are successful, both commercially, and by his own standards.

You've had some experience with Armenian fonts, and the odd thing has been set in Patria, which will presumably be your first latin type design, although the type has not been published. I'm not discounting the relevance of your Armenian work, but the type market and type community here on Typophile is mainly using the Latin alphabet, and few of us are qualified to assess its merits (Armenian, that is).

I'm sure I speak for more than myself when I say, when are you going to stop theorizing about readability, and put your theories into practice?!

For myself, I would also like you to do that, because I believe that part of the reason you are so bitter is because you feel you are an outsider. This has nothing to do with your ethnicity, which you hide behind. When you have published one or two typefaces, you will feel less animosity to the rest of us who have the usual practical experience (see above), and hopefully will not be continually dissing your favorite whipping boy.

Nick Shinn's picture

>calling somebody a piece of ess-h-i-t

Actually, the word that first came to mind was "scum", but I thought I'd make it a little joke, y'know, like your thing about the busty blonde.

BTW, I never start the dissing, I'm always countering your venom.

hrant's picture

> The topic is readability.

No it isn't. And you know it isn't. One of the topics -the one you've dodged twice now- is: do you need to be a proficient typographer to design good fonts? You previously implied that's the case. But when I brought up Carter, you started dodging. You're so obsessed with striking me down that you say stupid things*. What's funny is, saying stupid things is how you got yourself into this mess.

* And there's a pattern here. Don't ask Gerry about Greek type?!

> when are you going to stop theorizing about readability,
> and put your theories into practice?!

But I'm already doing it! The thing is, you're not
capable of seeing it - your reflection is in the way.

> part of the reason you are so bitter is because you feel you are an outsider.

I certainly am an outsider, and I always will be. Indeed, it has nothing to do with my ethnicity, it has everything to do with my nature. A nature that, among other things, precludes your faults. But I'm not bitter, I just have allergic reactions to posers and bad craft. And I'm on really good terms with a lot of other people here* to the point of considering them Friends - but of course your coping mechanism will prevent you from accepting that. BTW, joining your perceived little club (which I would never do) would be nothing less than an insult.

* Including people YOU are also on great terms with. How do you explain that?

> I’m always countering your venom.

1) False.
2) Get over it.


Nick Shinn's picture

>> I’m always countering your venom.
>1) False.

Well, not always, that would be a full-time job

>2) Get over it.
Sorry, you don't have carte blanche to insult me.
Check this thread, and you will see that you started it, as usual, by calling me a hypocrite:
"the real you, not the one that pretends to give a hoot about empiricism or readability."
When will you learn that such insensitivity is hurtful and socially unacceptable, not, as you seem to believe, a virtue?

>But I’m already doing it!

Then let's see some pdfs on your web site, demonstrating how you put the principals into practice. And yeah, join the club of real type foundries that actually publish fonts.

enne_son's picture

Hrant is right. My efforts at providing the typographical community with a model of perceptual processing in reading relevant to their efforts and compatable with their attunements should be subjected to the same scrutiny as his.

timd's picture

some contriubtors to this thread (and others) have said that indentation doesn’t look quite right with ragged-right paragraphs. A bit of leading will do instead.

As one of the posters who said that, I suppose I should stand by it. With justified text a slight marker, whether a pilcrow or a small indent (and combined with the short measure that ends the line above), is enough to indicate the step from one paragraph to another. On the other hand with right ragged there is such interference from the rag that an indent is not as obvious. I think that a quick scan through this thread reveals the efficacy of a line space. Ultimately though the answer is whatever serves the reader best.

Palatine's picture

Even with a fairly well-controlled rag, the indent seems to get a bit lost.

Some leading (as opposed to a full line space) looks quite nice. Although for an actual book with facing pages, leading would throw off the register. No?

enne_son's picture

Also, think of the effect a full or half line space whould have in a newspaper page or magazine spread setting.

I generally only use full or half-line spacing with unjustified texts when the material is point form, never in continuous expository text. The breaks between the paragraphs make them seem to self-enclosed and don't reflect sufficiently their lexical dependencies on the paragaph before and after.

hrant's picture

> the indent seems to get a bit lost.

Thinking about how an indent actually works, I wonder if this is merely a macro phenomenon, and inconsequential during actual use: when the reader does a line-return at the end of a paragraph, and naturally ends up smack on top of the indent, won't he simply know what happened even if the indent is small? On the other hand, I can see how potential macro confusion could be relevant during a scan/search task (as opposed to reading). But how common is that, and how much does the user actually suffer?


Maxim Zhukov's picture

When it comes to ranged-left/ragged-right alignment, I find the commonly used one-em indentation of the first paragraph line insufficient. In order to work, it better be significantly deeper. To me, the practice of Typographische Monatsblätter of 1970s is a good model. And, of course, they never set the first paragraph after a heading without indentation when they used r-l/r-r alignment.

In my own work I often use half-line paragraph spacing in r-l/r-r setting. In justified setting my preference is for paragraph indentation equal to line spacing (no indentation after headings, though).

enne_son's picture

"merely a macro phenomenon"
"inconsequential during actual use"

While awareness of paragraph structure might play little or no role in discrete foveal visual word form resolutional events, I suspect visual paragraph-boundary cueing in the peripheral field plays a significant role in sense-following during immersive reading.

Nothing mere about macro.

William Berkson's picture

>Nothing mere about macro.

I certainly agree; I gave some guesses above on how the macro might influence the micro. These may be right or not, but I am pretty confident that the marcro plays an important role, for this reason: we always scan the macro page first--except maybe if there's a carry over hyphenated word. Then after catching the word or first line, we look at the whole page. I don't think the brain consistently makes moves that are functionally useless. Since this is so consistent, I think it must be an important factor.

And that is basically why justified type holds sway in longer texts, I think, in spite of the damage it does to word spacing.

ebensorkin's picture

At several points in the thread the term 'subconscious' has been bandied about. Here's the thing: When you write subconscious you seem to be suggesting that your model of the human mind hails from a Jungian form ( muddy at best ) or a new-age offshoot of a Jungian model ( usually even muddier still ).

Prior to Jung, Freud used to the term unconscious. To Jung the unconscious was a term applied to 'the collective'. The Subconcsious was a term appling to an individual.

"1912 FREUD in Proc. Soc. Psychical Res. XXVI. LVI. 315 The term unconscious, which was used in the purely descriptive sense before, now comes to imply something more. It designates not only latent ideas in general, but especially ideas with a certain dynamic character, ideas keeping apart from consciousness in spite of their intensity and activity. 1925 C. E. M. JOAD Mind & Matter iv. 111 This greater part is known as the unconscious mind, or simply as ‘the unconscious’. The theory of the unconscious is based mainly on the work of..Freud." -OED

"The personal unconscious, of which I also speak as the ‘subconscious’, in contrast to the absolute or collective unconscious, contains forgotten memories, suppressed..painful ideas..apperceptions sometimes described as below the threshold (subliminal). - Jung" - OED

When you write 'subconscious' I can guess that you probably mean to refer to some process occuring in the mind without the mind being consciously aware of it - but then thats what 'unconscious' means. I am not saying that we all have to be Freudian. But the Freudian model of the mind is the one I think you are working with ( Conscious & Unconscious mind) rather than the Jungian one ( Anima and Animus, The shadow, Synchronicity etc.)

Of course there is also the popular conflation of the terms but ultimately I think the intent of the writers use in each case was to urge or suggest a more scientific or analytical perspective or tendency; in which case I suggest 'unconscious' is the term of choice because it means something more precise. 'Subconscious' is all about the waving of hands and pop psychology.

Of course you might mean something that is almost but not quite conscious. In which case 'Subliminal' might be the word...

William Berkson's picture

About Macro--now that I think of it, didn't Kevin Larson actually test the influence of good marcro design on readability--can someone report about his paper at ATYPI? Did it include justified text?

ps. I don't think use of the term 'subconscious' implies any acceptance of Freud's or Jung's controversial theories. The Oxford concise defines 'subconscious' as "concerning that part of the mind which is not fully conscious but influences actions etc." Hrant is using the term correctly!

dezcom's picture

"Hrant is using the term correctly!"

LOL :-)


hrant's picture

"Unconscious" can't work because it sort of implies dumb.

> we always scan the macro page first

Yes, one sees many beautiful women in the street. But it's when you start spending time with one that the reality, the relevance, comes out. And then there's marriage, for which thankfully I can't think of a parallel in typography. :-)


dezcom's picture

"And then there’s marriage, for which thankfully I can’t think of a parallel in typography. :-)"

A description would be unjustified. :-)


hrant's picture

Good one! Ragged it sometimes is.


enne_son's picture

"Yes, one sees many beautiful women in the street."

Formatting issues on a macro level are not first and foremost about aesthetics, they are as much about navigability, orientation, and cueing the immersive reader while he or she is immersed to breaks in the unfolding of an argument or plot. And the cueing is sub-attentive.

(I am concerned to counter the impression that macro issues are about asthetics, inconsequentialities, and in the conscious domain, and microtypographical issues are about functionality / readability and in the subattentive domian.)

I'm wondering if you acknowledge this Hrant. I take it many on this thread do. Isn't the beautiful blond(e) a red herring?

hrant's picture

Of course macro matters. Everything matters.
But she certainly is distracting.


Syndicate content Syndicate content