typography in childrens books

lolabiscuit's picture

do you think children benefit from a particular type of font when they are learning to read?

hrant's picture

Yes, but the age makes a big difference.

hhp

riccard0's picture

the age makes a big difference

Of children or of typeface? ;-)

hrant's picture

:-)
I guess both!

hhp

Indra Kupferschmid's picture

Unfortunately only available in german but Gerrit Noordzij’s »Child and Letters« still is the best on that topic.

hrant's picture

I don't agree. I think it's high time that kids get over the skeleton
model of lettermaking; or at the very least be taught its deficiencies.

hhp

_Palatine_'s picture

Schoolbook? New Century Schoolbook, Century Schoolbook, etc.

I believe these are usually recommended for children. Large x-height, open, rounded, heavy. Apparently, we learned to read with these typefaces. I don't seem to recall but if I can find my Shel Silverstein books, then just maybe . . .

Panda's picture

Comic Sans seems like a good option...

Just kidding, don't kick me...

I always wanted to work with a book for children. I always had the idea that if I have to design a story book for children of the age of 6, with short sentences and lots of drawings, I would ask a 6 year old kid to write it.

But of course, if we are talking about a book with considerable text lenght, I would agree with Christian.

Florian Hardwig's picture

Have a look at the website of the Typographic Design for Children Project at the University of Reading.
F

Chris Harvey's picture

I think the best typefaces for children would be what they're already used to – sounds circular but it's not really. Any faces with unusual treatments of letters, like Ambroise's g I'd stay away from. Children's brains are built to understand that different instances of the same thing are the same thing. If the child's parents speak with different dialects, they don't have problems understanding both equally well. But if someone speaking a radically different dialect tries communicating, the kid might get confused because they haven't set up the sound-equivalences in their brains yet. Similarly with type (I would think), they learn very quickly that single-storey a and two-storey a are the same thing, but might not recognise Galliard Italic's g. Sans vs serif? My guess would be any comprehension differences would be minimal and could be without significance difference.

I'd say pick something that looks nice with your book and make it fun.

typerror's picture

@ Hrant

I think it's high time that kids get over the skeleton model of lettermaking; or at the very least be taught its deficiencies.

Can you elaborate on this?

Michael

hrant's picture

We don't read skeletons; and we read much much more than we write. So I think we need to at the very least instill a fruitful doubt into children concerning the [un]suitability of skeleton-based lettermaking in current, and most certainly future, society.

This is not to say people shouldn't make things by hand - not at all. I think that's wonderful, and a central part of being human. But only if there's a good reason to, and letters no longer qualify, at least not letters that are meant to be read.

hhp

typerror's picture

I am unsure as to your use of the word skeleton.

Michael

Jongseong's picture

Hrant, I am to this day confused about your position against skeleton-based lettermaking. As a guideline for type design, it makes ample sense. It's perfectly clear that type designers should be designing the inner and outer outlines, not some imaginary skeleton. But this should be all behind the scenes stuff, in service of the reader. When you talk about the need to instil doubt into children about skeleton-based lettermaking, you lose me. Nor is it clear to me that children are going to develop different opinions about letter-making just because they are brought up reading Legato instead of Helvetica.

Skeleton-based thinking may be detrimental to good type design, but skeletons play a crucial part in how we perceive forms such as letters. We are able to recognize glyphs in vastly different styles to be representing the same character thanks to their shared structure. So lay people are perfectly justified in thinking of letters in terms of skeletons. They do not have to understand what makes the type they read successful, any more than they have to understand the theory of jet propulsion and lift to enjoy air travel.

Also, I am not ready to give up writing by hand. I've come to realize that many people hardly ever write with their own hand for anyone else to read, and only ever read type. But I am not convinced that we should forcibly be removing the connection between the forms we make by hand and the forms that we read. And I am certainly not convinced that we should not be writing letters by hand that are meant to be read.

Indeed, for the moment, access to type technology is limited for certain cultures, and the standards of typography aren't advanced enough for certain writing systems for type to supplant handwriting. I understand Hrant's desire for progress, but be careful with pushing type too fast; limitations of technology have often forced simplifications on writing systems in the past (elimination of ligatures, conjuncts, contextual variations), whether desirable or not. For many writing systems, type is still playing catch-up to handwriting when it comes to beauty and readability.

hrant's picture

Michael, by "skeleton" I mean the paths* that a person making a letter follows* with a marking tool* to make positive shapes on a negative background. The essential problem being that this goes against reading. And the problem still exists -if diluted- even if a designer only thinks of this as a starting point and modifies the results (which is certainly common practice).

* This could be real or virtual.

Brian*, simply put, it seems to me that making letters -and thinking about letters- as augmented skeletons is a convenience that is now at the limits of paying for itself. The more time passes, the more harm we'll be doing by engaging in this ideological lethargy. Concerning type design, I really can't see how it's beneficial anymore, and I can see how it's harmful.

* BTW, do you prefer Jongseong?

hhp

nina's picture

"We are able to recognize glyphs in vastly different styles to be representing the same character thanks to their shared structure."

But «shared structure» doesn't have to imply they're all just different coverings on the same basic scaffolding, or skeleton.
Although I can't claim I understand how we recognize letters when reading, it does seem plausible to doubt the idea that when we read, we somehow, internally, «extract» (or abstract) monolinear «skeletons» from whatever glyphs we're presented with, discarding serifs and contrast, and all that at breakneck speed. Maybe it's more helpful (more flexible) to think not of a shared linear structure, but as a shared distribution/pattern of black and white areas that is necessary to recognize a character?

Jongseong's picture

I might be thinking of skeleton in a broader sense than you (Nina, Hrant) understand.

As Nina implies, reading happens at such a basic level that it's beyond our ability to understand simply by reflection. Object recognition—character recognition included—mostly does not involve higher cognitive processes, but it's certainly a complex process that we have trouble replicating with machines (hence the existence of captchas). It's not clear which features are extracted from the visual inputs, and it seems that several modes may be in operation (a primary mode picks up simple, familiar inputs and a secondary mode distinguishes the details not picked up by the first one). But for me, intuitively, the idea is that the brain reduces the words (or any object to be recognized) into simple components whose spatial arrangement is the key to its recognition. There are multiple levels at work here, of course, and things like serifs and areas of contrast present visual cues that enhance recognition. These cues are of course really important. But I think they work in service to the primary mode of recognition, which is based on the spatial arrangement of the basic shapes (like the idea that the letter "D" consists of a straight vertical line segment and a curved segment attached to its right), which is what I'm really thinking of as the skeleton.

A skeleton of a "D", absent all other cues, would still be recognizable as a "D". You can have all the components (the serifs, the contrast, etc.) that make a typographically successful "D" but if they are not put together according to the skeleton (the particular configuration of shapes) of a "D", no one will recognize it as one. So the skeleton is an essential part of a letter's identity, and as I think of it, is more abstract than merely the path traced by someone with a marking utensil to produce a letter.

I have to admit that it's really difficult to verbalize and explain what I'm thinking, and it's hard to see where it is that we actually disagree!

Hrant, until most of humanity is ready to give up writing by hand forever, I would be hesitant to sever that link. Type design is accessible only to a tiny minority, and the technology is more likely to have a dumbing-down effect and stifle innovation. In cultures where people still produce by hand texts that are meant to be read, I think there is a bit more room for innovation and individual expression. But here, I'm thinking more of scripts like Arabic than Latin.

(Either Brian and Jongseong is fine. They both are my given names; I just chose Jongseong as my ID because it would be less likely to be a duplicate ID. Perhaps Jongseong will be less confusing for casual readers who don't check the profile pages.)

hrant's picture

> the idea is that the brain reduces the words (or any object to be
> recognized) into simple components whose spatial arrangement
> is the key to its recognition.

Sure. But that's not how chirography works - it uses the idea of a "moving front", and the movement goes along a path. THAT is where the problems start, and that's what I want to limit.

> until most of humanity is ready to give up writing by
> hand forever, I would be hesitant to sever that link.

Actually it's not about completely shunning it. It's about limiting it, but far more than what we've seen in type design so far. Most people don't even see there's a problem, so they can't be part of the solution (that being not some utopia, but merely improvement).

We cannot improve any more along this path - we're stuck in a rut.

> In cultures where people still produce by hand texts that
> are meant to be read, I think there is a bit more room for
> innovation and individual expression.

When it comes to innovation: I think the opposite. When it comes to expression: I think that's selfish artistry; typefaces can express things in a subtle, controlled way that benefits others. Writing by hand is self-centered.

hhp

typerror's picture

"Michael, by "skeleton" I mean the paths* that a person making a letter follows* with a marking tool* to make positive shapes on a negative background. The essential problem being that this goes against reading. "

O.k. how would you change the paths?

Michael

hrant's picture

The point is I wouldn't use paths. It's hard to think in other terms (not least because we've been indoctrinated on skeletons since birth - see below) but we really need to think in terms of the border between the black and white, the interaction between not only the blacks in a setting but the whites too. This is what Legato does, and/but -so far- it's the only one.

Since this topic is [supposed to be] about children, let me give an example of how we're brainwashed into thinking of letters in terms of skeletons from the very beginning. Look at this thing done by my 3-year-old in pre-school:

It's the third letter of the Armenian alphabet. Now, a kid that age isn't good enough to draw a nice letter fluidly (at least not good enough for his parent to want to show it off :-) so look what they've done: they drew a circle and a couple of lines and told the kids to stamp along the skeleton. This isn't really [necessarily] a "moving front" thing, but the very least I can claim is it's reducing the chances that these kids are going to make the kinds of fonts I think we need. :-)

hhp

typerror's picture

"but we really need to think in terms of the border between the black and white, the interaction between not only the blacks in a setting but the whites too. This is what Legato does, and/but -so far- it's the only one."

But Hrant I think about this in every font I design. Can you break it down a little more.

The relationship between the "black and white" is paramount to what I do as a calligrapher. I cannot figure out how this can be altered.

Michael

typerror's picture

There is a sparkle in Legato ... to me it exists in the lighter weights as opposed to the further excursions into the bolder weights. As a lettering artist my eyes perceive a clunkiness in the bolder weights. (Hrant, I am not being antagonistic, o.k.?).

In calligraphy we call it dressing the bones, fleshing out the skeleton. To me there is a bit of awkwardness in the bolder weights as there is too much dressing. It is almost Koch-esque... Neuland.

Does that make sense?

William Berkson's picture

Michael, I'm not sure what Hrant means, but I would agree this much: the idea of a center line that you expand around for different weights of a design doesn't work very well. This is what was done by Donald Knuth in "Metafonts," and the verdict seems to be that it didn't work. If I remember rightly, Frutiger makes that case, with illustrations, also in the new big book of his work.

We do recognize characters by something like topology. Whether a counter is closed or open makes a difference. Whether a line is round or has a corner is sometimes important also, like D vs O. But similar topology (I know I'm not using it in quite the right way mathematically) isn't the same as having a skeleton template in our heads.

By the way, I think all the stuff about a single story a being easier for kids, or they will be very confused by both a double and single story g is mostly rubbish. This is all what some adults think ought to be true, but probably isn't.

typerror's picture

William... to me the "centerline" is an abstract... merely a guide that I employ subconsciously when I letter... and then develop type. I do not believe in "expanding/extrapolating (etc.)" on a centerline for weights. Ugly, or rather lesser results.

I did P22 Peanut for children. It was skeletal with built up "edges." My kids love it and they barely know what I do so I can say they are unaffected by admiration :-) I will post a word.

Michael

William Berkson's picture

What do you mean by skeletal, if not the centerline thing?

I'm interested in how you were able to balance Peanut with the baseline jumping around playfully. Did you have some guiding idea, or just play with it until it looked right--or both?

typerror's picture

Here it is...

Now this sets at fairly small sizes well. I have seen a number of books already. But this is, or was conceived by doing a skeleton, or bones, and then dressing them.

Hrant, what did I do wrong? Simplistically, it sets well and is readable. How could I make it better according to your standards/qualifications? I really am interested in a different perspective.

Michael

typerror's picture

The bounce happened as a result of decades of play. It becomes second nature... much like lettering on black paper without lines :-)

As to the skeleton... everything was built outwards with the point of a ruling pen on an interior shape (not a center line) made with the same tool.

P.s. It is mathematics on the bounce... letter occurrence, what happens to the next most often etc,. Tens of thousands of hand made letters sinks in after a while.

Michael

William Berkson's picture

Are you saying you drew a fine line letter shape, and then filled it our by drawing ink lines at right angles to it, but varying how far stuff when left and right?

typerror's picture

No pencils. Shapes drawn with a ruling pen and then, point by point, additional weight was added to flesh out the letters.

See if this helps.

Michael

typerror's picture

How about that for some manipulation William :-)

William Berkson's picture

Interesting. So you have to keep adjusting the pen for the different sized dots?

--and is that printed passage from something of yours?

typerror's picture

My fourth book.

Michael

hrant's picture

Michael, first of all: the balanced tone is noted, appreciated and useful.
And most of all, it helps me stay cool on my end!

It's highly commendable and fruitful for somebody chirographically inclined to note the importance of the White and take steps to account for it; this is something many people who disagree with my conclusions have cited, and I believe them. I also have to nonetheless believe that the qualitative limitation remains - that as long as you're "painting" the black you cannot really treat the White equally. No matter how you twist and turn while marking the Black, it can't be as ideal as marking their border.

A fitting parallel I like to draw is the relationship of Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, his slave. No matter how much he loved her, the fact that she remained his slave limited the relationship greatly.

> As a lettering artist my eyes perceive a clunkiness in the bolder weights.

I propose that this is an aesthetic preference, formed by many years of attentive chirography. I might go further and say that even a "regular" person who hasn't paid much attention to how he makes his letters will feel that awkwardness. The important thing to remember however is that Legato is a text face (to me at least) which means conscious evaluation of large settings is beside the point, and its breaking of the Black is what gives it a presumed (and I feel probable) superiority in text.

> This is what was done by Donald Knuth in "Metafonts,"

Inspired, quite tellingly, by the work of Zapf, a prominent chirographic designer. But no matter how much they tried, they couldn't get "stroke" fonts to look good.

What I put forth is that the thing that makes Knuth's fonts fail is present to at least some extent in any chirographic typeface.

hhp

Randy's picture

The book I enjoy (from a type perspective) most in my kid's collection is set in Prater. Font is pure genius. Of course my daughter doesn't care for the book. But that is a story issue. My kids will tolerate just about any font when properly motivated.

Rather than find a significantly "better" style of font, I marvel at my daughter's ability to readily identify letters in an amazing variety of typefaces. Sans, Serif, and even Script. She is 2 1/2.

BTW typerror, never seen that technique -- thanks for sharing -- it looks fun! (perhaps a bit tedious for ultra black :-)

William Berkson's picture

Where can we find your books, Michael?

hrant's picture

> what did I do wrong?

First of all, I wouldn't say "wrong", but something like "non-optimal for text". But that's not a text face anyway, so it barely matters - it might in fact be better this way.

> The bounce happened as a result of decades of play.

Basically the anecdotal sister of how Excoffon did his bounce in Mistral: via statistical analysis of letter adjacency (at least in part).

> Rather than find a significantly "better" style of font, I marvel
> at my daughter's ability to readily identify letters in an amazing
> variety of typefaces.

I think it's entirely possible to marvel in this way at the amazing human brain/mind but still look for ways to help people read better, subconsciously, without even realizing it.

hhp

typerror's picture

"an aesthetic preference"

Absolutely Hrant. But we are what we eat :-)

"that as long as you're "painting" the black you cannot really treat the White equally"

But see this is where I disagree. I strive to balance the two, how could I have done it better in Peanut? I was totally obsessed with the white, almost to the exclusion of the black... but I reigned myself back in. I believe, although it is not a text face, I balanced the need between the two.

Michael

typerror's picture

I did not know that Excoffon incorporated statistics into Mistral. My analysis is practical, with a prod from my statistics background. In the end it was really intuition based on the two.

He was a MAGNIFICENT painter wasn't he?

Anyway, I cannot create forms, in black, without great scrutiny to the impact it is having on the white. Certainly I pay attention to the small affectations in black but my concentration is always on balance between the two. Always an exercise in "volume" if you will.

Michael

hrant's picture

Mistral: it's interesting how people report that it produces better-looking French text than English text; presumably this is because the linguistic statistics used were for French!

hhp

typerror's picture

Hrant

I just read over my post and the word volume hit me between the eyes. A calligrapher like myself spaces his forms based on volume. Much like the white/black relationship (volume) of the forms. I need to think about this. Can we pick this up in the a.m.?

Michael

hrant's picture

We can pick it up in 2011 if you like! :-)
This stuff takes time.

hhp

Jongseong's picture

I will try to explain why handwriting is not something to be so easily discarded. Despite its obvious limitations, it has probably done more for readability than most purposely non-chirographic thinking, especially the tendency to "rational", geometric shapes.

Take Legato. When I see Legato, I don't see clunkiness. As Hrant posits, if you are conditioned to expect only strokes that look like they could plausibly formed with certain writing implements, it may look awkward. But if you don't have that baggage, the letters look perfectly natural.

Even more, I get a calligraphic feel from Legato (Hrant is going to furiously raise his eyebrows at this). It's certainly not calligraphic in the way the strokes are formed; the strokes emerge from the simultaneous design of the black and the white, not from expansion along a path. Rather, it's because Legato has a gentle but noticeable contrast in the strokes that depends on the angle. You can see that Legato's "O" is thinnest around 5 o' clock and 11 o' clock.

This sort of stroke modulation owes much to calligraphy, especially with the broad nib. At the risk of broad simplification, I think this enhances readability by adding more visual cues that distinguish differently-angled strokes than just the angles themselves.

Legato's "O" warrants another look, as it is not the vertically symmetric shape found in many sans designs but is gently inclined, much like a handwritten "O". The curves in Legato generally stay away from the simple and symmetric shapes favoured by rationalists. This is good for readability because it means more cues for distinguishing different letters. If "humanist sans serif" is a term that is set in opposition to the constructed shapes of geometrics and grotesques, then Legato out-humanists the humanist sans designs that are more explicitly based on calligraphy, being constrained by neither simple geometry nor the devotion to shapes that can be produced by hand.

So Legato's strengths, I would say, are in taking from the good from handwriting without actually being constrained to make something looking like handwriting.

Of course, these aspects of handwriting that aid in readability developed mostly accidentally and subconsciously. A handwritten "O" is inclined because it is easier to write, due to handedness or whatever, not primarily because it is easier to read. Also, people must have liked the shapes produced by writing utensils that give stroke contrast for reasons of style, not readability (at least not consciously). Indeed, I think extreme contrast may hurt readability, but it is often pursued for stylistic reasons.

But handwriting is much faster than designing type, and it gives room for great variety and experimentation. Through repeated practice, people can learn how to correct for optical illusions and give even texture while still making easily distinguishable shapes. Also, because they are not constrained to a limited glyph set, they can automatically adjust shapes to prevent clashes.

So I still think a thorough familiarity with handwriting and making letters by hand is beneficial to type design. As long as you don't think of type as something to reproduce the shapes made by hand but as a medium to free you from those constraints (admittedly quite tricky), your experience and ideas shaped by making letters by hand should be helpful.

typerror's picture

@ Brian

Maybe clunky was a bad choice of words... the forms (in the bolder weights) look almost contrived... that may not be any better. It is not a negative, just a perception. I do not think Hrant is suggesting the outlawing of the written form.

I am still thinking about the volume aspect as this is where I think I might just understand what he is trying to say. I just have to reread all of Hrant's post so that we are talking apples and apples. We come from such different worlds.

Still digesting and trying to formulate.

Edit: Don't go away Hrant, just give me a bit more time to formulate my questions. O.K.?

Michael

eliason's picture

Jongseong: Also, people must have liked the shapes produced by writing utensils that give stroke contrast for reasons of style, not readability (at least not consciously).

Where does that conclusion come from?

William Berkson's picture

Michael, to me also some of Legato's characters look clunky, for example the heavy top of the s. To me the whole reverse-contrast thing just doesn't work in roman lower case. Heavy horizontal and light vertical works in Hebrew, but the glyphs are designed quite differently.

Legato is not in principle reverse-contrast, as it has the principle of twisting the outer forward and inner back. But the result in the case of the s is reverse contrast anyway.

The other shapes I don't find particularly attractive either, but the 'clunky' I think is where the reversed-contrast pokes its head up.

Jongseong's picture

Craig, that was perhaps a bit presumptuous on my part to make such conclusions on the intentions of whoever introduced stroke contrast. It's just that I think style is more visible than good readability ("Hmm, that looks more stylish" seems more likely than "Hmm, that is easier to read"). But maybe I'm denying our forebearers credit unjustly here. We're certainly not the first generation to question how to serve the reader more.

William, the reverse contrast (which you also see to some degree in letters like "a" and "e") doesn't bother me as much, maybe because I'm used to the stroke contrast model of the Korean alphabet and Chinese characters. These certainly don't have reverse contrast, but they can have lots of parallel horizontal strokes, and a common solution is to make the outer strokes slightly heavier; it's easier to see that applying this principle to the Latin lower case letters having some crowded horizontal strokes will yield heavy top and bottom strokes.

William Berkson's picture

Brian, I think the a in Legato is actually pretty nice. The e I don't mind the thinner crossbar--Gill sans does have thinning in e and a somewhat similar, and it doesn't bother me, though some don't like it. So I don't object to the principle you mentioned of thinning inner strokes.

But the left side of the e looks lumpy to me. It may be the thinness at the the northwest corner, I'm not sure. I just think the theory he operated on ends up with somewhat awkward, lumpy looking glyphs.

russellm's picture

Why do kids get a different typeface than adults. How 'bout just a good one that fits the material. Reading is reading.

But, for some amaizing type treatments for kids, checkout some books by Virginia Lee Burton.

gagnerargent's picture

Some children do like Comic Sans.

nina's picture

"Why do kids get a different typeface than adults"

Well if they're still in the age/stage where they don't read fluidly, they might benefit from less «typographically complex» fonts no?* I'm assuming that their «reading» is really closer to slow «deciphering» than to the fast reading that experienced readers do when they read long text.
(* I remember reading books beyond my age group at a fairly early stage, and getting seriously confused by ligatures, which I couldn't read.)

russellm's picture

There is nothing wrong with children being challenged. If the subject matter is fun and interesting, the challenge can even be part of the fun. I think there is something wrong with playing down to kids. If there is something about a font that takes an experienced reader to decipher, then it probably isn't a good font to use for extended reading. When was little was challenged by 'b's and 'd's.

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