An examination of typographic practice on the web (MA project)

inkwell design's picture

Hi all. I'm a noob on this site - I posted on the typography section on Reddit and one of the commenters suggested I would get more useful feedback here.

I'm writing a Masters thesis on web typography and am creating a website as part of the project.
It's a work in progress, some sections need to be expanded, others edited down. I would appreciate any comments, criticisms or advice you might have.

Thanks in advance.

[edit] I've corrected most, if not all of apocryphal apostrophes.

[edit 2] I should probably point out that this is a component of a taught Masters rather than a Research Masters. The website and paper only comprise 25% of the overall MA.
I've altered the opening paragraph to credit the Chinese and Koreans respectively. Thanks for all the comments so far.

Don McCahill's picture

Some points: I didn't get far into the site. I read the first paragraph, and discovered one factual error (Gutenberg didn't invent moveable type ... the Chinese did ... he reinvented it, or invented it for Latin languages) one sentence missing a verb, and a complete lack of apostrophes to indicate possessives.

Having the option to switch between serif and sans serif was nice, but the font size is bad, and in the sans the tracking is way too tight for the font. You could offer options for larger size, which is probably more important.

Do proof-read your work. I find it unusual that a Master's project should be so lacking in basic English grammar.

inkwell design's picture

Guilty re: apostrophes.
Can I ask what platform/browser you are using and if possible which sans it is displaying in?
I accept that the chinese had wooden blocks but in western culture Gutenberg is generally credited with the invention of the printing press so I'm inclined to let that stand. The point was to establish a timeline in the development of (latin) typography.

Don McCahill's picture

Not sure of the font. It is too small for me to identify clearly, and I'm not willing to spend the time to figure out which it is exactly. I am on Firefox 10.

> While Gutenbergs black letter bibles look archaic by todays standards, typefaces we recognise and would be comfortable today appeared surprisingly soon after.

There is a word missing in that sentence, isn't there?

And yeah, the _fact_ was a bit nit-picky.

inkwell design's picture

Well spotted. Fancy reading (read proofing) the rest? :P

As a point of interest, What Font is a useful Firefox tool for identifying fonts (also works with Chrome, Safari and IE9).

The sans is set at 14px (same as this page, but admittedly with a smaller x-height if your system is displaying Calibri).

hrant's picture

{To Follow}

aaronbell's picture

Hmm. I'm going to have to argue with your point on Gutenburg.

What you said:

I accept that the chinese had wooden blocks but in western culture Gutenberg is generally credited with the invention of the printing press so I'm inclined to let that stand. The point was to establish a timeline in the development of (latin) typography.

The printing press, sure. Gutenburg really helped standardise the process of printing press, ink, etc. but to say that he "invented the first moveable type" is overly simplistic.

You're working on an MA, so providing more information is a good thing! If I was writing a dissertation on the subject, I would probably say that he standardised the practice in the west, then include a footnote along the lines of "technically moveable printing was first invented in China and there is some controversy over if Gutenburg was influenced by Chinese designs, but that is beyond the scope of this paper." Even if you don't plan to go into it, do explore it and give more context.

Another thing you might want to consider. For a website dedicated to "web typography", and thus screen typography, your design speaks more to book design and feels old fashioned. I notice under "Best Practices" you talk extensively about Bringhurst and wonder if you're taking your design cues or direction from him.

"The book is aimed squarely at print typographers, devoting only two pages to the screen, nevertheless the fundamentals of typographic design are as valid for the web as for the printed page."

The fundamentals yes, but I wouldn't go so far as to say that one should design a webpage experience to replicate that of a book (Of course, I'm also one who believe's Bringhurst's book as more of guidelines than actual rules). Anyway, food for thought.

hrant's picture

Actually it was Korea, not China.


aaronbell's picture

Well, the first metal moveable type was in Korea, but China was using wood long before IIRC. The only reasons the Koreans used metal instead were the lack of wood and the plethora of skilled bronze-workers.

Anthony C's picture

Hi, inkwell design

Just wanted to say that I have started my masters this year as well (in a related area). I really admire your efforts and will keep an eye on your site. Well done. Also, I haven't been on this site very long either - and I just have to say there are some wonderful people here who are so generous with their expertise and help.


inkwell design's picture

@ aaronbell

Thats a fair point re: Gutenberg, I might have to alter my *cough* entrenched position.

As far as Bringhurst goes, the initial argument is that typography (in print) has had 550 years to evolve, culminating in (for many) Bringhurst's guidelines (I also treat them as such). I accept that the web is a different medium than the printed page, but my primary interest is in functional typography rather than aesthetic, expressive or deconstructed type.

William Berkson's picture

Guttenberg did far more than standardize the process. He *invented* a process that was superior to anything before. Each element of the process, except for his invention of the the adjustable type mold, existed before. But he put them together: the wine press, oil-based ink, punch cutting and casting. He invented mass production printing, and changed the world. And they used his methods of the press and oil based ink in the far east as well, which shows its superiority.

I believe the Koreans and Chinese used water-based inks, without a press.

I'm no expert on this, but I believe those who are have no doubt of Guttenberg's importance.

Té Rowan's picture

@Don McCahill – If you have never changed Firefox's font settings, chances are you have Times New Roman or equivalent as the default serif.

inkwell design's picture

I'd like to pursue this a little further. My base font size is 14px (yes, I know, not ems) which is the same as the comments on this page.

The san-serif stack is Calibri,"Gill Sans","Gill Sans MT","Trebuchet MS",Verdana,Ubuntu, sans-serif. Do any other users find the sans too small or difficult to read? The toggle is on the top right of the page.

It's difficult for me to act on Don's comments above with out knowing whether this an isolated case or the norm.

(As an aside, I might remove Trebuchet MS from that stack - I've never found it the most legible of fonts and it's bold is almost indistinguishable from the regular, at least in Firefox on OS X).

hrant's picture

Aaron, I thought the Chinese movable wood
type came after the Korean effort. But I have
never been strong with historical chronology...

William, assuming he didn't get the idea
from the East, Gutenberg did in fact invent
a process. He simply wasn't the first to do so,
and Western consciousness has yet to come
to terms with that.


aaronbell's picture

@inkwell Exactly, functional typography. I get that many feel Bringhurst's book is the pinnacle of all things, but functional typography on screen is actually different (in some ways) from functional typography in print. But there's room for differing opinions :)

@Bill I'm not arguing that Gutenburg isn't important or that his work was eclipsed by the printers in the Far East, just that saying he "invented the first moveable type" is overly simplistic. As you said, the Korean and Chinese printers used water-based inks without a press, but it was still a technique capable of mass production. Disregarding their approach because Gutenburg's was superior is just as bad as saying Gutenburg's work wasn't that important!

Additionally, as you said, folk were experimenting (in Europe) beforehand with all the different elements that Gutenburg brought together (except for the one). So yes, he did create something superior to all European methods, but part of inventing is also standardising, aka "this press" with "this ink" with "this paper" with "these metal types". Semantics, I know.

Finally, yes Gutenburg's work was used in the Far East, but really only once the missionaries brought it over and said, "this is what we use". Ultimately it was superior to the existing systems, thus leading to the strength of the missionary presses in Japan and Korea, but that doesn't take away from the fact that the native process was still pretty dang impressive and was invented as early (I think) as 600AD for wood block and 1200AD for metal (according to some sources. Oldest extant metal type is 14th century).

In any case, this is a very roundabout way to say, yes, Gutenburg was important and his printing process changed the world, but that he didn't invent metal moveable type printing (since the first inventors of that were in Korea) as invent a particular process for metal moveable type printing, which then went on to change the world. For a MA, one should acknowledge that fact and not gloss over it.

William Berkson's picture

Aaron, I'm certainly not "disregarding their approach," meaning previous printing in the far east. I'm just saying that Guttenberg was a huge world-changing advance. It is tricky to characterize what he did correctly, because it's not moveable type, but the new system of mass production printing, with all its pieces put together that was the key advance, and not any one piece of the process.

>Western consciousness has yet to come
to terms with that.
Not. There is a multi-volume work on technology in China, including a volume on paper and printing.

aaronbell's picture

Ok, perhaps we can agree that one process was world changing, but the other was first (and may have influenced the world changing one according to some scholars)? :)

@ink Just so you know, I did a taught MA as well (though I suppose Reading's MA is kinda a mix) and I think someone would have given me a rather hard time of it if I made such a statement without qualification :P

hrant's picture

William, I don't think the West is in denial about it. But just ask
non-type-historians "Who invented printing?" and see what you get.


riccard0's picture

Just nitpicking: it’s Gutenberg, not Gutenburg nor Guttenberg.

tmac's picture

In the sans view you have a paragraph space, an indent and a pilcrow. It looks like the pilcrows are actually meant to be section marks? And then sometimes you have no paragraph space and no indent. Choose one, but not all. Perhaps a section mark followed by indented paragraphs would be nice. And of course setting your type to a pixel size isn't the best web practice, is it?

inkwell design's picture

The pilcrow may not have been the best choice. It's meant as a section break. I chose pixels over ems to set the baseline grid and solve an issue with child elements - I originally had a submenu system system.

@Aaron - I've now credited the Chinese and Koreans. Just haven't had a chance to upload the changes yet.

tmac's picture

I understand.

It's curious that this website states the "section sign" is a paragraph sign in Europe, while the pilcrow is a section mark. Just the opposite of North America.

Is this true?

inkwell design's picture

No. I have seen the section sign in use, but the pilcrow signifies a paragraph, at least in the UK and Ireland. It may be related to some of the continental languages.

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