Language is not an invention. As best we can tell it is an evolved feature of the human brain. There have been almost countless languages humans have spoken. But they all follow certain rules that grow out of the wiring of the human brain and human cognition. Critically, it is something that is hardwired into us. Writing is an altogether different and artificial thing.
Friday, June 7th, 2019
Saturday, February 9th, 2019
After musing on newsletters, Craig shares how he’s feeling about Instagram and its ilk:
Instagram will only get more complex, less knowable, more algorithmic, more engagement-hungry in 2019.
I’ve found this cycle has fomented another emotion beyond distrust, one I’ve felt most acutely in 2018: Disdain? (Feels too loaded.) Disappointment? (Too moralistic.) Wariness? (Yes!) Yes — wariness over the way social networks and the publishing platforms they provide shift and shimmy beneath our feet, how the algorithms now show posts of X quality first, or then Y quality first, or how, for example, Instagram seems to randomly show you the first image of a multi-image sequence or, no wait, the second.8
I try to be deliberate, and social networks seem more and more to say: You don’t know what you want, but we do. Which, to someone who, you know, gives a shit, is pretty dang insulting.
Wariness is insidious because it breeds weariness. A person can get tired just opening an app these days. Unpredictable is the last thing a publishing platform should be but is exactly what these social networks become. Which can make them great marketing tools, but perhaps less-than-ideal for publishing.
Saturday, October 6th, 2018
An nth-letter selector in CSS
Variable fonts are a very exciting and powerful new addition to the toolbox of web design. They was very much at the centre of discussion at this year’s Ampersand conference.
A lot of the demonstrations of the power of variable fonts are showing how it can be used to make letter-by-letter adjustments. The Ampersand website itself does this with the logo. See also: the brilliant demos by Mandy. It’s getting to the point where logotypes can be sculpted and adjusted just-so using CSS and raw text—no images required.
I find this to be thrilling, but there’s a fly in the ointment. In order to style something in CSS, you need a selector to target it. If you’re going to style individual letters, you need to wrap each one in an HTML element so that you can then select it in CSS.
For the Ampersand logo, we had to wrap each letter in a
But if the whole point of using HTML is that the content is accessible, copyable, and pastable, isn’t a bit of a shame that we then compromise the markup—and the accessibility—by wrapping individual letters in presentational tags?
What if there were an
::nth-letter selector in CSS?
There’s some prior art here. We’ve already got
::first-letter (and now the
initial-letter property or whatever it ends up being called). If we can target the first letter in a piece of text, why not the second, or third, or nth?
It raises some questions. What constitutes a letter? Would it be better if we talked about
::nth-character, and so on?
Even then, there are some tricksy things to figure out. What’s the third character in this piece of markup?
Is it “C”, becuase that’s the third character regardless of nesting? Or is it “E”, becuase techically that’s the third character token that’s a direct child of the parent element?
I imagine that implementing
::nth-character) would be quite complex so there would probably be very little appetite for it from browser makers. But it doesn’t seem as problematic as some selectors we’ve already got.
Think about it. The browser has to first calculate how many characters are in the first line of an element (like, say, a paragraph). Having figured that out, the browser can then apply the styles declared in the
::first-line selector. But those styles may involve font sizing updates that changes the number of characters in the first line. Paradox!
(Technically, only a subset of CSS of properties can be applied to
::first-line, but that subset includes
font-size so the paradox remains.)
I checked to see if
::first-line was included in one of my favourite documents: Incomplete List of Mistakes in the Design of CSS. It isn’t.
So compared to the logic-bending paradoxes of
::nth-letter selector would be relatively straightforward. But that in itself isn’t a good enough reason for it to exist. As the CSS Working Group FAQs say:
The fact that we’ve made one mistake isn’t an argument for repeating the mistake.
Now, I know that browser makers would like us to figure out how proposed CSS features should work by polyfilling a solution with Houdini. But would that work for a selector? I don’t know much about Houdini so I asked Una. She pointed me to a proposal by Greg and Tab for a full-on parser in Houdini. But that’s a loooong way off. Until then, we must petition our case to the browser gods.
This is not a new suggestion.
While I’m talking about CSS, I would also like to have
::nth-word(n), any thoughts?
Of all of these “new” selectors,
::nth-letteris likely the most useful.
In 2012, Bram linked to a blog post (now unavailable) from Adobe indicating that they were working on
::nth-letter for Webkit. That was the last anyone’s seen of this elusive pseudo-element.
In 2013, Chris (again) included
::nth-letter in his wishlist for CSS. So say we all.
Monday, June 11th, 2018
Mandy’s experiments with text effects in CSS are kinda mindblowing—I can’t wait to see her at Ampersand at the end of the month!
Saturday, May 12th, 2018
Marcin built this lovely little in-browser tool to demonstrate how segmented type displays work at different sizes.
Wednesday, March 21st, 2018
Tal Leming’s thoroughly delightful (and obsessive) account of designing the 90 Minutes typeface for U.S. Soccer.
FIFA has strict regulations that govern the size and stroke weight of numbers and letters used on official match uniforms. This made me unbelievably paranoid. I had a nightmare that one of the national teams would be set for kickoff of an important match and the referee would suddenly blow the whistle and say, “Hey, hey, hey! The bottom stroke of that 2 is 1 mm too light. The United States must forfeit this match!”
Thursday, July 27th, 2017
A blog dedicated to documenting the letterforms on display in Berlin.
Wednesday, December 28th, 2016
Thursday, June 23rd, 2016
Tuesday, July 28th, 2015
This is simply wondrous! A microcosm of Borges’s story made real on the world wide web.
We do not simply generate and store books as they are requested — in fact, the storage demands would make that impossible. Every possible permutation of letters is accessible at this very moment in one of the library’s books, only awaiting its discovery.
Tuesday, March 31st, 2015
By far the creepiest type experiment I have ever seen.
Sunday, March 2nd, 2014
The alphabet illustrated with CSS.
Thursday, December 22nd, 2011
Most of these are pretty over the top but they’re good proofs of concept.
Monday, September 26th, 2011
Take all the fonts on your operating system, superimpose them, and whaddya get? This.
Wednesday, May 25th, 2011
A celebration of horrendous kerning all over the internet.
Saturday, January 29th, 2011
Visualising the Republic of Letters.
Saturday, August 14th, 2010
A wonderful history of our alphabet. Set aside some time to read this.
Wednesday, August 4th, 2010
A fantastic blog of letterheads. Some of the typographic choices are perfect.
Wednesday, November 11th, 2009
An interesting experiment in making Katakana self-describing.
Wednesday, April 15th, 2009
An editorially managed collection of type-related goodies: "Think of it as FFFFound for all things type, typography, lettering, & signage."