The death of typography

I originally wrote this for a LinkedIn post but since I have my own blog now, well, fun! wow!

When did typography die, and more importantly does anyone care?

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that the initial blow was struck probably in 1984 when a women threw a sledge hammer at a television screen, but blaming technology, and the introduction of a new tool because that’s all a computer really is, for this demise, is a lot like me blaming my golf game on my clubs. Not that that doesn’t happen, it’s just not right.

So, what do I mean by the death of typography and our professions apathetic response?

As I enjoyed a cup of coffee and read my paper this morning I noticed two full-page national ads from companies who advertise internationally, one an automotive manufacturer and the other a packaged foods company. Both had typographic/art direction errors.  Are art directors and production artists, the new typographer, being taught the basics of typography or do they all just think it’s unimportant? The computer program will fix it, I just need to input it. (Not unlike my slice and my new driving iron, but that’s another story.)

What types of errors? Three examples I see every day: One, a complete misunderstanding of the difference between a hyphen, an en-dash and an em-dash. In the one national ad this morning they flipped between a hyphen and an en-dash, so they can’t even take comfort in being consistently wrong.

Two, any interest in kerning a headline. Yes, the computer will accurately space characters and words at small sizes, usually, but at larger font sizes the hand and eye of the art director or again the typographer is required. Otherwise  you  get  headlines  that  look  like  this.

Third, are errors that creep in as a result of type being input as if by a typewriter. The most common being two spaces after a period and the more obvious, using a double return as a paragraph space. While you don’t see the former as much anymore, the later seems to be coming the norm.

As I typed in this document I’ve had to use double returns for paragraph spacing, because inputting type into the web works a lot like a typewriter in many ways, but this is not the case when setting type in a professional page layout program where you have a myriad of ways to control the look and feel of your typography. While double returns as paragraph spacing, one could argue, is not really a typographic error, to me as an art director, it is both a typographical and visual one. Robin Williams, in her 2003 book “The Mac is not a typewriter, a style manual for creating professional-level type on your Macintosh,” a pretty basic typesetting style guide says, “Never hit two returns between paragraphs…this turns out to be an excessive amount, giving a clunky look to your paragraphs…so much they don’t even seem to belong together…” I agree, as I think do most good art directors, but when I once broached this paragraph spacing issue with a young art director who worked for me I was met with the “deer in the headlights look.” He didn’t understand the issue, had a limited knowledge of typography beyond picking “cool” font designs, and had no idea how to correct the problem. I realized that while he had probably never used a typewriter in his life, he used his computer just like one. And had never been taught differently.

These are just three particular errors I see every day that make me cringe. There are others. My wife says, “I’m alone. No one else cares if a hyphen has been used for an em-dash or not. Get over it—move on.”  I’m having trouble moving on, and will try to “do good type” and appreciate it when I see it.

[author] [author_image timthumb=’off’][/author_image] [author_info]Ernest Burden. Ernie’s role in the advertising industry has evolved over many years from Production Manager to Art Director to Creative Director. He has held management positions with ad agencies as a Creative Director, Co-Creative Director, or Associate Creative Director since 1996. His work have earned recognition and awards at local, regional, national and international shows.[/author_info] [/author]

2 thoughts on “The death of typography

    • Thanks for the comment. Just trying to fix my own corner of the universe, one em dash at a time.

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