Musicophilia - book design

tezzutezzu's picture

Hello typhophiles!

This is my first post in this forum so I'll go ahead with a quick presentation.
I'm a graphic design graduate. I'm cultivating my obsession with typography and I guess I've found here the best place to worsen my compulsion.

I've been lurking for a while and I found this site an indispensable (and beautiful) resource.

Asking mercy for my bad English and type terminology I'll go ahead with my first rant:

I have been reading "Musicophilia" by Oliver Sacks for 5 weeks, I think it's interesting and easy to follow book but I still stop reading when my eyes meet ligatures in the text particularly the "fi" glyph. Also footnotes are often spreading into multiple pages breaking my flow of thoughts.

Here are some photos explaining what I'm talking about.

cover designed by Chip Kidd

example of the "fi" glyphs


What do you think?

pattyfab's picture

Funny, my eyes stop reading when typesetters DON'T use the fi ligature. I agree on the footnotes though, and in general it bugs me when they take up half the page.

Stephen Coles's picture

The ligature problem may be related to your age. Ligatures were much more common when type was metal. Younger readers are probably less accustomed to them due to digital type and typesetters. As the quality of digital type increases, I'm hoping we can bring back ligatures so they aren't a distraction, but part of the natural text flow.

blank's picture

That’s not a distracting ligature to me, although I’ve certainly read books with a distracting letter here or there that drove me crazy. As for the footnotes, are they especially important or enlightening? When the notes can really matter I like not having to flip to the back of the book to find them; I actually own multiple copies of some books so I can read it with or without the notes along the bottoms of the pages.

tezzutezzu's picture

Hello Stephen.
I see what you're saying. The other ligatures don't bother me though, I just think that the f is a little too high with a thin terminal (is it the right term?) and a large stem. but maybe you're right: there aren't many ligatures around these days (above all on the web)!

edit: here's an enlarged imaged to show the difference

kentlew's picture

It looks to me like this book is set in Trump Mediaeval. I actually agree that the f-ligatures in Trump Mediaeval are in fact a bit overbearing and can appear out of keeping with the rest of the face. Their presence in the font is curious to me, since it sets just fine without the ligatures; and in fact, this is one of those faces I prefer to use without them. (Aldus is another that gets along fine without ligatures.) Since f-ligatures are primarily a solution to prevent crashing forms, the use of them in situations where there is no crashing to begin with is debatable.

Regarding extensive footnotes: One question would be whether the kind of thing shown occurs regularly or not. If, in general, the notes are modest, then treating them as footnotes is a reasonable proposition; and then if there are occasional situations where several stack up in close proximity or there are a few that are overly long, sometimes this sort of thing is unavoidable. It's certainly difficult to solve in design if editorial insists that they need to be as they are.

If this situation is more representative of the norm, then one could argue that they might have served better as endnotes.

The subject of how to handle scholarly notes -- whether they should be footnotes or endnotes, whether the noted material is germane or not, whether content belongs in-line or in a note -- all of this is quite a bit of fodder for the editorial folks, too, and not just a consternation for designers. This is one of those overlap areas between typography and editorial. In the end, the design must do the best it can to serve the material.

-- K.

tezzutezzu's picture

thanks for the info kentlew.

It is possible to see the glyph more clearly in its charmap here

the notes occur every 10 pages average. And to me it feels like an editorial more than a design choice.

edit: and finally, just for the sake of it, here's a difference between the glyphs "f" and "fi" taken from the charmap. In the end I think it's just a taste matter. :)

kentlew's picture

Here, for those who are not as familiar with Trump Mediaeval, these examples should give a clearer idea:

-- Kent.

kentlew's picture

With notes, where they fall will always be a function of their editorial purpose and generally driven by the author. The challenge with several notes clumped together, or a long note, is to decide how to array them with the text. You have to try to balance the amount of note on the page with the amount of text. You want to avoid running a string of notes over a spread (or across a turn!) if that takes subsequent notes too far from their reference. But you also don't want to end up with a single page that has three lines of text and the rest notes, for example.

Sometimes you can even find yourself in the impossible situation where a note reference falls at such a point that keeping the whole note on the page actually pushes the reference to the next spread; but then pulling the reference back to the page means you have no room for the note. Things like that. In such a case, you go back to try to find a spread or two earlier in the chapter to run short in order to push the note reference, or run short to pull back enough room. But that can lead to other problems.

I'm sure Charles E. has encountered his share of tricky or cumbersome footnote situations. Maybe he'll stop by and offer his insights.

-- K.

tezzutezzu's picture

Thanks for your insights Kent!

will powers's picture

Ah, footnotes. They are one of the special joys of book design & composition. I mean that; I really enjoy the challenges they pose.

There’s a chain of responsibility with footnotes that starts with the writer and ends with the compositor. The further you get from the writer, the less chance you have of being able to influence how footnotes are used and how they affect a reader’s use of a book.

The first line of defense against poor notation systems should be at the editorial level. It’d be interesting to find why the acquiring editor and the ms editor let Oliver Sacks get away with this multitude of footnotes. Maybe Sacks has enough clout that he can get away with it. Maybe he is messing around with his readers.

After an editor has had his or her way with a manuscript, next in line is the designer. An in-house designer may be able to influence the nature of notes used in a book. I can do this, for I work in a small house and I follow a book from early discussions through composition.* Designers at large houses may not have that chance. A freelance designer has even less chance to influence how notes are to be used, unless the designer has very close relations with an editor or production manager.

By the time a book gets to the compositor there’s not much else to be done except to make the thing look as good as possible, with a few roadblocks to a reader’s trip through the text. Here it would indeed be good have charles_e’s comments, and to hear if he is able to intervene when he spies noting schemes that look bad. Again, few compositors other than those with very close ties at the publisher will be able to have any influence.


* We recently took in a manuscript with an enormous amount of notes, at 4 levels. There were citation notes, which would ordinarily go at the back of the book (endnotes). There were two levels of expository notes, one level with greater immediate importance to the author’s method of writing history, and one lesser level. I suggested that we use a 7” x 10” page instead of the 6” x 9” that would be more usual for this sort of book. The extra inch was used to place as shoulder notes those comments the author deemed most immediate for readers. These are called with the usual sorts: * † ‡ §, and are set in Franklin Gothic Book Condensed (the text face is Clifford). Citation notes and “second string” expository notes are called with superior figs and placed as endnotes. There is another level of shoulder notes, short biographies; these had no calls, but the persons’ names were set in Franklin Gothic Condensed Bold. My decision to use shoulder notes made more work for me, but it makes for a visually dense and interesting page (I think). The extra inch was also helpful in a chapter that consisted almost entirely of photos; it let me run them that much bigger.

Nick Shinn's picture

Those ligatures are pure affectation, given the shape of the normal f in the font.

Do you find the cover derivative?--

Steve Tiano's picture

May be simply a matter of taste, this biz with the fi liature, but—honest to God—I'd vote for not using ligatures to escape the f in the liggie. Which makes me wonder that, since ligatures are kind of expected, how likely are you to avoid them when you find they're ugly? Do you tend to ignore your distaste and go with them because they're the convention now?

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