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.

ebensorkin's picture

> “Unconscious” can’t work because it sort of implies dumb.

This is a mistake. There is of course Unconscious as in knocked out or asleep but also there is the historical meaning - the part of the mind that is not consciously accessible. And thats probably what you mean. And what do you mean by 'dumb' anyway? Thats a term that can mean many things. What Unconscious doesn't mean is 'no mind at all'. That would be Nonconscious.

> accept

I am not saying that anybody should accept any theory in it's entirety. What I am saying is that there are differences in the theoretical models and the models persist ouside of the details of the theories. Jung's model probably isn't the one you probably are working off of when you say 'subconscious'. You are probably working of of Freud's. Working off a model doesn't imply wholesale acceptance of a theory. In fact, nobody is swallowing Freud's theory in toto today. Not even the most ardent Freudians. And they do exist. But on the other hand we are all still using his model of the mind. The only people still trafficing in Jung's model - by design or not - are Humanities professors.

All I am really saying is that there are models out there & when you write 'subconscious' I don't know for sure what model you mean to use. I can guess given popular use but it's a vague way of communicating. When you write unconscious it's clear.

Now that I think about it, Hrant does like to regard type as masculine & feminine which is Jungian & not at all analytical or scientific.

hrant's picture

> I don’t know for sure what model you mean to use.

I guess I'm not using a formal model. I tend to base my terminological choices on what I think the "audience" reads into the terms. I do this by observing and thinking. For example, I believe that "unconscious" conveys an element of ignorance, while immersive reading has none of that; "subconscious" does not convey any ignorance - it does convey "hidden" which is in fact great; as for "non-conscious", that's not as bad as "unconscious", but negativisms generally make for bad terminology (think of how disliked the term "non-Latin" rightly is). Also, psychologists -at least ones who don't have the sense to realize I'm not addressing them in particular- are not a big part of the audience here, so I don't have to worry about Freud versus Jung versus Santa Claus.

> Hrant does like to regard type as masculine & feminine
> which is Jungian & not at all analytical or scientific.

I like to regard a bunch of other things that way too! And a big chunk of life is "unscientific", so... Don't discount intuition, "common sense" and the unquantifiable. Those are, after all, what make us most human.

hhp

Palatine's picture

This is fantastic!

We've gone from the nuances of setting justified vs. ragged type, to breasts, to an interesting little feud, to Jungian theory.

ebensorkin's picture

It's wonderful to hear Hrant defend the unquantifiable & intuition. Cool.

> I’m not using a formal model

Perhaps not deliberately, but you are assuming a commonly accepted ( freudian ) model of some sort. If you realize it or not is another question. Maybe you are not conscious of doing it. ;-) I don't think it makes you repressed though. ( double wink ) The point is that there is an intellectual history.

If I talk about the middle class that doesn't make me a Marxist. But the idea of class is Marx's. You don't have to subscribe to all of Marx's ideas to think that he made interesting points or to think some of his ideas are intellectually useful.

> “subconscious” does not convey any ignorance - it does convey “hidden” which is in fact great.

Hrant, I will be content to disagree. I think both terms conveigh the idea of hidden - one does it better & more precisely than the other.

Anyway I will drop now it since as Christian R. Szabo gently reminds me - it's off topic. Or start a new thread if Hrant want me to. And I do admit that english changes as a result of use. Jazz means new things every 20 years.

John Hudson's picture

Eben, thanks for bringing this up. Several times over the past couple of years when Hrant has spoken of the 'subconscious' I've been tempted to challenge him to prove the existence of this, um, thing. But I think Hrant is tired of my challenging him to do things. :)

I don't think I believe in the subconscious.

William Berkson's picture

>I don’t think I believe in the subconscious.

Looking on the internet, 'subconscious' does not seem to be a technical term in psychology, except for psychoanalysis. However, it is used commonly for any mental process we are unaware of that affects us, as the Oxford Concise definition indicates. So while there may be a better term for those features of a typeface that affect the reader unawares--such as Eben's suggestion 'subliminal'--the term 'subconscious' is not a misuse of words.

Alfred Adler's objection to Freud's notion of the unconscious was that it is too much like a "demon from the deep" which comes up and acts on its own. Adler believed strongly in the importance of the unconscious in emotional psychology, but expressed its role in his phrase "we know more than we understand." By this, he meant that our feelings and actions are organized around purposes that we may not understand ourselves--such as proving we are better than the other fellow by defeating him in argument! In this sense, I do believe in 'subconscious' purposes.

Also for seriously disturbed persons, such as those suffering from delusions, Freud's "demon from the deep" may not be so far off base. But for people in the more normal range, I think Adler has it more right.

ebensorkin's picture

I am going back on my promise - sorry.

>I don’t think I believe in the subconscious.

John, Do you not think the mind is busy doing things it is not conscious of? Or is it that the idea of the subconscious isn't substantial. Or something else altogether?

Just in case it's the 1st case let me ask you this: Doesn't visual research show us that the mind busily fills in gaps in our vision ( litterally ) so our universe seems more coherent? If you want I can dig up an article of some kind & email it to you. Reading is similarly is a skill that is so ingrained that it allows us to loose focus on what we are doing in a litteral sense so that we can concentrate on the meaning of what we read. And then there is driving. Sometimes that activity can dip below conscious thought without stopping or killing you. That is just immersive activity.

But it suggest to me that yes, there could be a part of the mind that we don't recognize conscously that nevertheless does important work. I don't pretend to be able to charcterize that part of the mind but I think the idea seems sound as a working idea. And again, it's an idea descended from Freud. An idea ( according to me ) best refered to as 'the unconscious' as you already know.

>demon from the deep

Thats a quibble with a charctacterization not with the basic model.

> we know more than we understand

A recharacterization of Freud's model - but not a new model.

> psychoanalysis

Psychoanalysis is a form of psychiatry not psychology - but it obviously influenced both professions. And almost nobody outside of some folks in NYC and it's enviorons practice it anymore. It isn't the professional term of art I am interested in but the intellectual model in use by the public - or the lack of one.

And none of this need be about belief. I am not interested in scoring points or promoting a dogma. I am advocating intellectual clarity & precision. That clarity can coexist perfectly with an open or even a skeptical point of view.

Moreover when I quip about Hrant defending intuition it's because I am curious. On the one hand he decrys an arty approach to type design by 'aaartists' I think he said (or something similar). But then he promotes 'intuition' - a very fruity arty sort of idea. I don't fault him for it. Holding two seemingly contradictory ideas firmly in firmly in mind doesn't make you a hypocrite - it is a necesary state. For instance, the world looks flat & the sun seems to go around the earth. I know that's not the case but I also know it does look that way. So I am still interested in how he resolves what looks to me (superficially) like a contradiction.

Also, I don't really buy the Jungian opposition of the intuitive female arty & the male scientific & rational. It strikes me as a model that obscures more than it reveals.

William Berkson's picture

"A quibble" "not a new model"

Adler acknowledged that he was developing ideas original with Freud, but his views seem to me significantly different from Freud. Adler's differences with Freud on the nature of the unconscious are reflected in a different way of understanding psychology of the emotions, and their impact on action. The differences are not important for the psychology of reading--nor are Freud's views for that matter.

dezcom's picture

Are we not talking about unconscious as just meaning things we see or do that we are either not aware of or not controlling by deliberate decision? As readers, we may be conscious of our deciphering of words on the page but we are unconscious of the saccadic eye movements or any of the connective processes that transform image of glyphs on a page to meaning in the mind. I don't see any value in philosophical differences in Psychotherapists in the reading equation.

ChrisL

enne_son's picture

"used commonly for any mental process we are unaware of that affects us"

Unless we have been made aware of them through disciplined probing we are unaware of the neurophysical, motor, attentional and anticipatory mechanisms underlying perceptual processing in reading. They remain hidden.

My complaint with calling all of this 'subconscious' is that that might obsure the identity and specificity of these mechanisms, keep veiled in mystery their actual functioning, or deflect attention away from their proper scrutiny. Yet an important factor in all these mechanisms is that they proceed without overt deliberation.

Where I agree with Hrant is that it a mark of responsible action in the type-design domain to be mindful of these underlying processes that proceed without deliberative effort, because they are more determinative of, or foundational to, readability than questions of aesthetics might be.

William Berkson's picture

>are more determinative of, or foundational to, readability than questions of aesthetics

Peter, I think you may be separating readability and aesthetics a bit too much. I suspect in some cases they may have common foundations. For example, the eye seems more sensitive to verticals being out of true than horizontals. This is probably because a beam or tree that is leaning can fall on our heads, so seeing 'leaning' is a survival trait. But then 'vertical' gets the emotional overlay of being strong, "upright," honest, and has an aesthetic dimension. But at the same time, because of the survival aspect, our brains are I think wired to quickly see verticals, so they may be slightly more efficient--eg roman vs italic.

All of this is speculation, of course, but it has enough plausibility to me that I don't think one should assume that aesthetics and quick recognition are completely separate matters.

enne_son's picture

"I think you may be separating readability and aesthetics a bit too much. I suspect in some cases they may have common foundations."

Thanks for pointing this out William. I think you are right.

Nick Shinn's picture

>they may have common foundations

Le style, c'est l'homme.

hrant's picture

> but you are assuming a commonly accepted ( freudian ) model

Common accepted by whom? The people I'm addressing? I have to doubt it.

> Maybe you are not conscious of doing it.

Good one. :-)

> But the idea of class is Marx’s.

Not if a person had the idea independently.
Being born earlier is just dumb luck.

> I think Hrant is tired of my challenging him to do things. :)

Conveniently, I disagree. :-)

> I don’t think I believe in the subconscious.

Wow. I can understand arguing about what to call it, and certainly what it is, but saying it doesn't exist is just... scary. Perhaps there's a religious impediment? The good news is that you seem to be leaving room to change your mind. I hope you do.

> ‘intuition’ - a very fruity arty sort of idea.

Hey, I like certain fruits. But I'm no vegetarian. Kbbeh nayeh is just too good. As I've said before, Art is an integral part of mankind - without it we would go crazy, or at least become Discovery Channel fodder. My problem is when self-expression becomes an explicit purpose in the act of Design, where instead serving others is the more honorable goal.

> I don’t really buy the Jungian opposition of the
> intuitive female arty & the male scientific & rational.

I myself am unlcear on exactly what makes for masculinity or feminity (and I don't expect to ever really figure it out). But the important thing to admit and work with is that the two are different*. The trick is to use that understanding to help people, not to strike them down. Leverage the difference, celebrate the variety.

* In fact the brain structures are known to be different.

Le style? C'est infentile.
Hey, I'm a poet! Should I start wearing pink? ;-)

hhp

hrant's picture

One thing that I find most fascinating about the conscious versus subconscious realms is that there is a migration from the former to the latter. When we do something often enough, it becomes (at least in part) a subconscious thing. Think of how some people report physically trying to hit Command-Z after breaking a cup; I myself have tried to see behind me by looking to the left... at the mirror of my motorcycle, that isn't there. And once I tried to slide the pointer off the monitor to something on the table (I was trying to point something out to a coworker) and for a fraction of a second -long enough to utter a profanity- actually got frustrated why the damn thing wouldn't go beyond the bottom-left corner of the screen!

But something changes, or at least can change, when the migration happens. For example in reading we got from compiling individual letters to leveraging the parafovea and taking in (greater-than-letter) boumas.

How does this migration work?
It seems Extremely Relevant.
And goddam fascinating.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

>When we do something often enough, it becomes (at least in part) a subconscious thing

My old teacher Popper wrote about this phenomenon. His view was that everything that can become routine, does, and goes unconscious. Consciousness is to deal with what is not routine, what is changing in the moment. In fact, that is the main function of consciousness, and if I remember rightly he conjectures that consciousness evolved because of this need.

I agree with you this question of the interaction of conscious and unconscious, and the switchbetween the two is really fascinating. How about that, we agree on something!

gabrielhl's picture

>Not if a person had the idea independently.
>Being born earlier is just dumb luck.

Even if someone never read Marx, or even knows who he was, the idea he/she will have of 'class' will most likely have been influenced by Marx's, because his concepts are widespread, even if in diluted or distorted versions. Same applies for Jung and Freud. One can't ignore that their ideas are everywhere, at least in western society, and we "learn" them from outside sources, even if in a quite "un-conscious" manner.

William Berkson's picture

Hmmm. Now that I think of it, that is probably what is going on with the 'macro' look at the page before reading. We have a conscious glance at the page, and it immediately goes unconscious and is incorporated into our subconscious mechanism for scanning the page. Hence the advantage of justified text :-)

Nick Shinn's picture

I came across some research (done at MIT, I think) a decade at least ago, which I have always remembered -- sort of, because I've forgotten who did it, and can't find it.

Anyway, the researcher did a dozen or so experiments to determine the duration of consciousness, ie the shortest and longest time-spans that one can be aware of consciously.

The shortest was determined by playing two notes close together in time, shortening the distance, until it wasn't possible to determine whether it was one or two notes.

I forget what the "longest' experiments were, but the result was 4 seconds. After that, it's all memory.

That 4-second duration must have some bearing on reading. Presumably typography helps by increasing the amount that can be perceived in that "macro-look' time frame.

Anyone know of that research? or follow-ups?

hrant's picture

> consciousness evolved because of this need.

I like that.

> the idea he/she will have of ‘class’ will
> most likely have been influenced by Marx’s

That's a good point.

> We have a conscious glance at the page, and it immediately goes
> unconscious and is incorporated into our subconscious mechanism
> for scanning the page.

But maybe much of it gets discarded, basically because it's useless?
The subconscious is nothing if not brutally efficient.

> I have always remembered — sort of, because I’ve forgotten who did it

Huh, reminds me of Cohen: "I can't forget that I can't remember why."
Great line, that.

> I forget what the “longest’ experiments were, but the result was 4 seconds.

Interesting.
I too would be interesting in finding that research.

> Presumably typography helps by increasing the amount
> that can be perceived in that “macro-look’ time frame.

Or maybe good typography takes into account how
little relative relevance that period can have.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

> Presumably typography helps by increasing the amount
> that can be perceived in that “macro-look’ time frame.

In comparison to writing.

An interesting experiment would be to see if someone could read their own writing as fast/well as a text typeface. That would require making a good script font of the writing, or finding a good calligraphic impersonator, to make fresh text the writer hadn't written.

enne_son's picture

ns: "Presumably typography helps by increasing the amount that can be perceived in that “macro-look’ time frame."

hpp: "Or maybe good typography takes into account how little relative relevance that period can have."

Four seconds eh? About the time it takes to saccade our way through a sixteen word[13] sentence[14]--no[15] regressions[16]. Each sentence a complete thought. (And then there's the average length of my compound sentences.)

Hrant, don't let your subconscious reaction to Nick's contributions blind you.

Kristina Drake's picture

I wouldn't be able to read some of my own handwriting, even if it were rendered into a script font -- Arial narrow would win out (in readability) every time. ;)

K.

William Berkson's picture

>But maybe much of it gets discarded, basically because it’s useless?
The subconscious is nothing if not brutally efficient.

Hrant, I think you're forgetting that reading is not just getting the meaning of individual words quickly, but interaction with the information and ideas of the author. I believe this is where Kevin Larson found the difference. The people who read the same material with good typography were able to better use what they read--a proof of better comprehension. And this makes sense as good typographic lay out is a lot about matching the visual structure to the information and ideas in the text.

The ragged vs justified isn't about structure, but the 'macro' look is a lot about structure, as well as maybe where the text is in the visual field.

On identifying where the text block is, and begins and ends. There is good evidence that we are amazingly good at using this information. Images bounce all around the back of the eye, but the brain sees a fixed scene out there in the world, where an amateur movie of the same scene will have the picture jumping all over the place, with our eyes unable to correct. So discard this useless information? No way.

hrant's picture

> In comparison to writing.

Oh, OK. But also good/bad typography - why not?

> to see if someone could read their own writing as fast/well as a text typeface.

That would indeed be interesting. And ironically it would depend on how fast/well the person wrote the stuff! :-) I know I have trouble reading my own handwriting (more than a few hours after I've written something) in a way that I never do with typographic material.

The effects of Familiarity are really greatly limited.
Probably because we're so good at adapting.

> Hrant, don’t let your subconscious reaction to Nick’s contributions

Maybe we should ASSUME that I don't care...

hhp

enne_son's picture

I think we should ASSUME that I don’t care…

The point of my post was: that 4 second time frame might have a great deal of relevance after all.

hrant's picture

Compared to the many minutes and even hours we spend immersed?

hhp

enne_son's picture

Nick's post suggested a 4 second window before information moves from the foreground into the background (memory). This 'window' is about the space of time it takes, under conditions of efficient perceptual processing, to read a sentence of average length. If sentences are the basal units of propositional meaning, it seems to me this temporal window should not be dismissed.

richyrocker's picture

I want to add something to the topic. I would never use justified text with a a monospaced font like a typewriter-font. And I prefer justified text in books, set in a humanist serif font. I dont know if that's because I am used to that or because I just like it when it looks clean and tidy. Everything else in a book annoys and distracts me.
And I guess it was Hans Peter Willberg saying that you can't scientificly compare the legibility of typefaces because it depends on so many different factors. You will always find a way to ruin a good typeface.
I use my eyes to judge and choose what looks best.

John Hudson's picture

John, Do you not think the mind is busy doing things it is not conscious of? Or is it that the idea of the subconscious isn’t substantial. Or something else altogether?

There seems to me something worryingly Platonist about 'the subconscious'. We have come to speak about this theoretical construct as if it were substantial, and many non-specialists simply presume its existence as a result of the popular use of the term.

I do think the mind is busy doing things that it is not conscious of, and these things are unconscious. The fact that they may have effects of which the mind is conscious does not make them any less unconscious that those things that are ineffective. We are conscious of the results without being conscious of the causes. We don't need this additional construct of the subconscious as a kind of vague no-mans-land between conscious and unconscious activity.

John Hudson's picture

Nick’s post suggested a 4 second window before information moves from the foreground into the background (memory).

Memory is complicated and not necessarily background. Studies of brain activity show that the parts of the brain associated with memory -- i.e. the parts that show increased activity when subjects are asked to remember something -- are active in the perception of motion. This suggests that awareness of motion is at least partly from memory of the previous state of a moving object. This is sort of alarming when I think about how forgetful I can be :)

Of course, this is background activity in terms of our being unconscious of the activity itself, but we are very much aware of the effect.

hrant's picture

> it looks clean and tidy

I don't see how a humanist serif is like that at all.
If you want clean and tidy, you use something like Futura.

> you can’t scientificly compare the legibility of typefaces

I agree that it might be impossible to get a "font-X is Better than font-y" result. But it's certainly not impossible to get insights into readability via scientific testing (including the comparison of specific fonts). And not only is it possible, but it's useful.

> many non-specialists simply presume its existence as a result of the popular use of the term.

I instead think they do so because it's clear there is something there.
When a person doesn't see it, it's because his consciousness is blocking it.

> We don’t need this additional construct of the subconscious as a
> kind of vague no-mans-land between conscious and unconscious activity.

I agree. Feel free to equate subconscious and unconscious. :-)
Just as long as you don't think it's a "no brainer" area,
so to speak. As for vague: Yeeeees.

{You removed that last big paragraph...}

Two is everything is two.

hhp

ebensorkin's picture

> One can’t ignore that their ideas are everywhere, at least in western society, and we “learn” them from outside sources, even if in a quite “un-conscious” manner.

Exactly. We are exposed to them and without ever thinking 'do I think this model of x holds water?' we accept them as a given & go on basing new ideas on the shared cultural assumptions.

> There seems to me something worryingly Platonist about ‘the subconscious’.

I agree actually. But my main point is that to you it is possibly platonist, To Hrant it is equivalent to unconscious, so somebody else yet another definition & so on. It's a murky muddy sort of term. Until it gains better definition it will fail to be all that useful.

> this temporal window should not be dismissed

Agreed.

As far as we know has anybody done tests that compare rag vs justified texts? If so it would be important to look at the texts too to see if the justification was a hash job or well done.

> An interesting experiment would be to see if someone could read their own writing as fast/well as a text typeface.

That would be interesting if ( and I think this is increasingly not true ) the person had spent a decent amount of time reading his or her own handwritting. Just because you make something doesn't mean you are familiar with it as a product - or as a user. Ultimately I bet that more objective factors would trump the effect familiarity in handwriting.

>Or maybe good typography takes into account how
little relative relevance that period can have.

I am inclined to agree. But we won't know until studies are done.

What strikes me about the debate about indentation or rag vs justified is the extent to which any of these methods if it is well done is pretty marvelously effective. And they make me eager to read a text. The reverse is fully true as well. Given me a sweet justified text over a botched rag anytime.

Which means that for me the important things have to do with appropriate font choice line spacing paper & the like. That said, if all other things are equal, rag is what I like to set & read the best. I must like my words neat & tidy more than I like my paragraphs to be flat on both sides.

DmZ's picture

The problem is far from boiling down to pure esthetics or paper-saving.

A review article titled 'Typographics' appeared in the Scientific American magazine in the early 1980's, which mentioned, among other interesting things, tests demonstrating the human-engineering significance of typesetting a text in way that supports a uniform reading pace. It was found out that a reading process, which was not smothly rythmic like a lullaby melody, led to stresses and might eventually become harmful to the reader's nervous and/or ophtalmological state. A pronounced ragged-margin layout generates similar consequences.

Hence, the more uniformly the word spaces and line endings are distributed the better for the reader.

My personal years-long practice as an engineer and a researcher having to work a lot with the technical literature just confirms the above observations.

Much of the discussion at this forum tacitly implies English (except for a few references to Armenian). However, there are languages like my native Russian or, say, German, which abound with long words so that you will get either word spaces or line end positions jumping drastically from line to line unless words are hyphenated. Thus what may appear acceptable if not preferrable in English can be unfit for other languages.

For me this is a rather sensitive issue since for more than a decade I've been involved in a project in the course of which a great number of bilingual (English-Russian) documents are issued and many of them are finally formatted by the Americans. Setting the English version unhyphenated flash left, they insist on us applying the same typesetting rules to the Russian. So far all my attempts to convince my opposite numbers that this is inconvenient and is not good for my colleagues' mental/eye health have failed.

hrant's picture

> they insist on us applying the same typesetting rules to the Russian.

Sounds like most non-Latin type design. :-/

hhp

dezcom's picture

My guess is they are afraid to make a mistake with hyphenation in a language they don't know and are taking the easy way out. I worked on a joint Russian-American publication for quite some time. It took years to get everyone happy. That was before opentype and built in foreign language hyphenation in software so I assume it would be much better now.

ChrisL

Ch's picture

nothing profound from me, folks, just my two cents.

this is why i love typophile. i'm getting the education i never had. full disclosure: i'm a newbie here and most of my work is in motion graphics & animation. typography has only played a minor role in my overall time spent (though of course major if and when required).

i never formally studied design; i was a painting and animation major. i tend to approach design "as a consumer", which brings me to my response to this thread: as a reader i prefer justified, and analyzing the reasons why has been fascinating.

my first gut feeling is that justified is usually more pleasing to the eye, which is closely related to - but not exactly the same as - "easier to read". on further consideration i wonder if, as a consumer, i "expect" justified type as an indication of professionalism, based on expectations conditioned over time. arbitrary in a sense, but well conditioned.

i like the occasional surprise of seeing clever combinations on a page, and i have both combined and sought editorial revision in various assignments.

on screen and on page also present very different experiences. i find on screen reading very taxing no matter what the layout, as i am required to gaze into a light source.
and so many html defaults end up as bizarre and fragmented, complete with ads and boxes and spacing anomolies, until the eyes is led on a labyrinthine journey just to read two paragraphs. amazingly, i've seen a few magazines begin to emulate this chaos.
to my eyes the symmmetry and formality of well justified print is a real pleasure by comparison.

ultimately, as many here have noted, column width, page width, font, leading, etc. all play a part. so context is everything ? including history, familiarity, language...

marian bantjes's picture

This thread is too long. But for the purposes of the survey, when setting long bodies of text I prefer justified. It's neater. Must be my book-typesetting background.

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