The Gospel of Type

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was in type. Caroline Archer dictates the 12 laws traditionally used to rein in wayward letterforms.

Rule 1
Accurate texts

The real work of the typographer is to give words shape, but it is important to make sure the words are literally accurate before they are given typographic structure. If the text is not right then the typography will be tainted, and if the type is tainted then life will become dark and difficult for the reader. Devoted typographers show an unwavering determination to present works in an unambiguous manner that is helpful to the reader, and makes the communication of the author's ideas clear and direct.

Rule 2

Ensure consistency of style in composition so that the words make both visual and literal sense. Inconsistent composition only serves to disillusion the reader. Base textual treatments on sound typographic principles and stick to those decisions throughout: spellings, headings, captions and numbered lists all need to be treated with uniformity. An elementary example: (a) and (b) must be followed by (c) not (C). A badly organised and inconsistent design can obscure - or even change - the sacred meaning of the text; a well laid out design will make sense of it. Consistency, then, is the key to typographic liberation.

Rule 3
Dropped initials

Don't leave your dropped initials in the wilderness; allow them to sit snugly with the ensuing text. Letters with a projecting left-hand stem (T, V, W, Y) should overhang into the margin, and where an uppercase J has a large bowl, also allow this to project into the margin. Where the initial is the first letter of a word, avoid a gap between the initial and following letters to produce a neat fit. The beginnings of the second and third lines should range clear of the initial. If a quotation mark is required before a drop initial, it too should be set in the margin. If used correctly, 'dropped' and 'stand-up' initials add visual interest to a text; if badly positioned they become typographic abominations!

Rule 4

Always be disciplined in your use of effects such as tints, blends, drop shadows or other magic. Don't be led into the typographic temptation of too many graphical gimmicks in a single document. Don't sacrifice your work at the altar of PostScript effects, or your design will simply become more difficult to read and will be judged as the work of an amateur. Virtuous typography will speak for itself, but if you do feel the urge to use special effects, be restrained in your application and make sure they are fit for purpose. Remember that moderation is the key to a wholesome typographic life.

Rule 5

Mixing old-style and modern figures in the same text is a cardinal sin, and the wages of sin is design death. Reserve modern figs for what they were designed to present - tabular matter - and cast them out from continuous text, where they overpower the narrative and destroy the 'colour' of the page. Old-style figures are numerals that resemble a typeface's lowercase characters in that they have an x-height, ascenders and descenders, as opposed to lining figures, which all match the height of the caps. Old-style figures harmonise, and sit far more comfortably with upper and lower case text.

Rule 6

Ligatures are not merely typographic novelties; they are articles of faith. Don't forget to use these special characters, because ligatures look better than setting the same character combinations individually. They help achieve an even colour on the page, and solve the problem of character combinations jostling each other for space. However, ligatures should be avoided if you are going to adjust the overall letter-spacing of the text. This is because a ligature is a single character, and if you adjust the overall letter spacing the internal spacing of the ligature will remain unchanged. If the ligatures don't match the overall spacing of the text, don't use them.

Rule 7

When it comes to punctuation, we have all sinned: hyphens and dashes in particular are the innocent victims of typographic abuse. The hyphen (-) is used in compounds to clarify the unification of sense ('a well-known statesman') or where a noun and adjective are used attributively ('a poverty-stricken family'). Dashes have a wholly different function: the en-dash (-) is used to donate a span ('pp 10-52') or connect two terminal dates ('the 1939-45 war'). Em-dashes - an example of which is given here - show that the words they enclose are to be read parenthetically.

Rule 8
Small capitals

Always use proper small caps rather than the willful deceit of simulated small capital letters. True small caps were specifically created to tone with the weight, colour and proportion of the upper case letters and to sit comfortably with the lower case letters. On the other hand, computer generated capitals of a smaller size are invariably too light and too narrow, and lack essential design features such as adjustments to proportions, stroke weights, length of serifs and other details that contribute to the legibility and aesthetics of small caps.

Rule 9

Using inappropriate sizes of type for the measure is a common typographic transgression. Uneven and widely spaced words are the result of too large a type size on too short a measure; too small a type size on too long a measure makes it difficult for the eye to follow. In all circumstances, words must be evenly spaced and close setting is to be preferred. Words should only be as far apart as the width of the letter 'I' and there should be more space between the lines than the words. Double spacing after a full-point is heresy and has no place in typography, and so only the space of the line should appear after the full-point.

Rule 10
Typeface selection

Tame the desires of clients for unruly or quirky typefaces. Steer them instead towards the restrained and legible. Unholy mixes of typefaces should be avoided, with greater reliance placed on design families. Choosing typefaces with an extended family is both logical and helpful, as it is an easy way to simplify the typeface selection process. It is also a safe and effective way of mixing typefaces while keeping a client's project looking pure, clean and uncluttered. Persuade clients that using an individual type's full armoury (upper and lowercase, caps, upper and lowercase italic, italic caps, upper and lowercase bold, bold caps and true small caps) is a better alternative to introducing yet another font into the text.

Rule 11

Underlining words to indicate emphasis is condemned! This is an archaic habit practised by typists in the dark days when manual typewriters offered no other facility for emphasis. It is a naive and unclean habit, which also looks ugly as it severs the descending characters. There are so many other tools available in the typographic box that can be used instead to emphasise the words: consider using bold, caps, small caps or italics to draw attention to a word depending on the circumstances. It should also be noted that varying the type size, as well as making good use of white space and colour, are approved ways of evoking prominence in letterforms.

Rule 12
Widows and orphans

Have mercy on widows and orphans. A widow is a very short line - usually one word, or the end of a hyphenated word - at the end of a paragraph or column. A widow is considered poor typography because it leaves too much white space between paragraphs or at the bottom of a page. This interrupts the reader's eye, diminishes readability and destroys the colour of the page. But widows can be once again reunited with the text either by some judicious editing or subtly adjusting the word space. Like a widow, an orphan is a single word, part of a word or very short line, except that it appears at the beginning of a column or a page. This results in poor horizontal alignment at the top of the column or page. Orphans should be brought back into the fold by the same means as widows.