Tuesday, April 9th, 2019
Stylish! Retro! Sciency!
Sunday, March 31st, 2019
Font metrics help the computer determine things like the default spacing between lines, how high or low sub and super scripts should go, and how to align two differently sized pieces of text next to each other.
Friday, March 22nd, 2019
Everything you need to know about hyphenation on the web today, from Rich’s galaxy brain.
Hyphenation is a perfect example of progressive enhancement, so you can start applying the above now if you think your readers will benefit from it – support among browsers will only increase.
Monday, March 4th, 2019
Slow Design for an Anxious World by Jeffrey Zeldman
I’m at An Event Apart in Seattle, ready for three days of excellence. Setting the scene with the first talk of the event is the one and only Jeffrey Zeldman. His talk is called Slow Design for an Anxious World:
Most web pages are too fast or too slow. Last year, Zeldman showed us how to create design that works faster for customers in a hurry to get things done. This year he’ll show how to create designs that deliberately slow your visitors down, helping them understand more and make better decisions.
Learn to make layouts that coax the visitor to sit back, relax, and actually absorb the content your team works so hard to create. Improve UX significantly without spending a lot or chasing the tail lights of the latest whiz-bang tech. Whether you build interactive experiences or craft editorial pages, you’ll learn how to ease your customers into the experience and build the kind of engagement you thought the web had lost forever.
I’m going to attempt to jot down the gist of it as it happens…
Jeffrey begins by saying that he’s going to slooooowly ease us into the day. Slow isn’t something that our industry prizes. Things change fast on the internet. “You’re using last year’s framework!?” Ours is a newly-emerging set of practices.
Slow is negative in our culture too. We don’t like slow movies, or slow books. But somethings are better slow. Wine that takes time to make is better than wine that you produce in a prison toilet in five days. Slow-brewed coffee is well-brewed coffee. Slow dancing is nice. A slow courtship is nice. And reading slowly is something enjoyable. Sometimes you need to scan information quickly, but when we really immerse ourselves in a favourite book, we really comprehend better. Hold that thought. We’re going to come to books.
Fast is generally what we’re designing for. It’s the best kind of design for customer service designs—for people who want to accomplish something and then get on with their lives. Fast is good for customer service designs. Last year Jeffrey gave a talk last year called Beyond Engagement where he said that service-oriented content must be designed for speed of relevancy. Speed of loading is important, and so is speed of relevancy—how quickly can you give people the right content.
But slow is best for comprehension. Like Mr. Rogers. When things are a little bit slower, it’s kind of easier to understand. When you’re designing for readers, s l o w i t d o w n.
How do we slow down readers? That’s what this talk is about (he told us it would be slow—he only just got to what the point of this talk is).
Let’s start with a form factor. The book. A book is a hack where the author’s brain is transmitting a signal to the reader’s brain, and the designer of the book is making that possible. Readability is more than legibility. Readability transcends legibility, enticing people to slow down and read.
This is about absorption, not conversion. We have the luxury of doing something different here. It’s a challenge.
Remember Readability? It was designed by Arc90. They mostly made software applications for arcane enterprise systems, and that stuff tends not to be public. It’s hard for an agency to get new clients when it can’t show what it does. So they decided to make some stuff that’s just for the public. Arc90 Labs was spun up to make free software for everyone.
Readability was like Instapaper. Instapaper was made by Marco Arment so that he could articles when he was commuting on the subway. Readability aimed to do that, but to also make the content like beautiful. It’s kind of like how reader mode in Safari strips away superfluous content and formats what’s left into something more readable. Safari’s reader mode was not invented by Apple. It was based on the code from Readability. The mercury reader plug-in for Chrome also uses Readability’s code. Jeffrey went around pointing out to companies that the very existence of things like Readability was a warning—we’re making experiences so bad that people are using software to work around them. What we can do so that people don’t have to use these tools?
Craig Mod wrote an article for A List Apart called A Simpler Page back in 2011. With tablets and phones, there isn’t one canonical presentation of content online any more. Our content is sort of amorphous. Craig talked about books and newspapers on tablets. He talked about bed, knee, and breakfast distances from the body to the content.
- Bed (close to face): reading a novel on your stomach, lying in bed with the iPad propped up on a pillow.
- Knee (medium distance from face): sitting on the couch, iPad on your knee, catching up on Instapaper.
- Breakfast (far from face): propped up at a comfortable angle, behind your breakfast coffee and bagel, allowing hands-free news reading.
There’s some correlation between distance and relaxation. That knee position is crucial. That’s when the reader contemplates with pleasure and concentration. They’re giving themselves the luxury of contemplation. It’s a very different feeling to getting up and going over to a computer.
So Jeffrey redesigned his own site with big, big type, and just one central column of text. He stripped away the kind of stuff that Readability and Instapaper would strip away. He gave people a reader layout. You would have to sit back to read the content. He knew he succeeded because people started complaining: “Your type is huge!” “I have to lean back just to read it!” Then he redesigned A List Apart with Mike Pick. This was subtler.
Medium came along with the same focus: big type in a single column. Then the New York Times did it, when they changed their business model to a subscription paywall. They could remove quite a bit of the superfluous content. Then the Washington Post did it, more on their tablet design than their website. The New Yorker—a very old-school magazine—also went down this route, and they’re slow to change. Big type. White space. Bold art direction. Pro Publica is a wonderful non-profit newspaper that also went this route. They stepped it up by adding one more element: art direction on big pieces.
How do these sites achieve their effect of slowing you down and calming you?
Big type. We spend a lot of our time hunched forward. Big type forces you to sit back. It’s like that first moment in a yoga workshop where you’ve got to just relax before doing anything. With big type, you can sit back, take a breathe, and relax.
Hierarchy. This is classic graphic design. Clear relationships.
Minimalism. Not like Talking Heads minimalism, but the kind of minimalism where you remove every extraneous detail. Like what Mies van der Rohe did for architecture, where just the proportions—the minimalism—is the beauty. Or like what Hemingway did with writing—scratch out everything but the nouns and verbs. Kill your darlings.
Art direction. When you have a fancy story, give it some fancy art direction. Pro Publica understand that people won’t get confused about what site they’re on—they’ll understand that this particular story is special.
Whitespace. Mark Boulton wrote an article about whitespace in A List Apart. He talked about two kinds of whitespace: macro and micro. Macro is what we usually think about when we talk about whitespace. Whitespace conveys feelings of extreme luxury, and luxury brands know this. Whitespace makes us feels special. Macro whitespace can be snotty. But there’s also micro whitespace. That’s the space between lines of type, and the space inside letterforms. There’s more openness and air, even if the macro whitespace hasn’t changed.
Jeffrey has put a bunch of these things together into an example.
To recap, there are five points:
- Big type
- Art direction
There are two more things that Jeffrey wants to mention before his done. If you want people to pay attention to your design, it must be branded and it must be authoritative.
Branded. When all sites look the same, all content appears equal. Jeffrey calls this the Facebook effect. Whether it’s a noble-prize-winning author, or your uncle ranting, everthing gets the same treatment on Facebook. If you’re taking the time to post content to the web, take the time to let people know who’s talking.
Authoritative. When something looks authoritative, it cues the reader to your authenticity and integrity. Notice how every Oscar-worthy movie uses Trajan on its poster. That’s a typeface based on a Roman column. Strong, indelible letter forms carved in stone. We have absorbed those letterforms into our collective unconcious. Hollywood tap into this by using Trajan for movie titles.
Jeffrey wrote an article called To Save Real News about some of these ideas.
And with that, Jeffrey thanks us and finishes up.
Wednesday, January 30th, 2019
An open source version of Bodoni:
Bodoni* is the first ever no-compromises Bodoni family, built for the digital age. Years in the making, this font family includes a whopping 56 font files, ensuring you will have the perfect Bodoni for every situation.
Saturday, December 29th, 2018
I reckon it’s time for distressed type to make a comeback—CSS is ready for it.
Thursday, December 6th, 2018
A deep dive into Pixar’s sci-fi masterpiece, featuring entertaining detours to communist propaganda and Disney theme parks.
Monday, October 8th, 2018
The only thing I would add is that, in my experience, it’s vital that the prototype does not morph into the final product …no matter how tempting it sometimes seems.
Prototypes are made to be discarded (having validated or invalidated an idea). Making a prototype and making something for production require very different mindsets: with prototyping it’s all about speed of creation; with production work, it’s all about quality of execution.
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.
Friday, September 28th, 2018
Tuesday, September 11th, 2018
A font made of corporate logos.
Wednesday, September 5th, 2018
This checklist came in very handy during a performance-related workshop I was running today (I may have said the sentence “Always ask yourself What Would Zach Do?”).
- Start Important Font Downloads Earlier (Start a Web Font load)
- Prioritize Readable Text (Behavior while a Web Font is loading)
- Make Fonts Smaller (Reduce Web Font load time)
- Reduce Movement during Page Load (Behavior after a Web Font has loaded)
The first two are really straightforward to implement (with
font-display). The second two take more work (with subsetting and the font loading API).
Thursday, August 30th, 2018
font-feature-settings value demonstrated in one single page.
Tuesday, August 21st, 2018
The history and restoratin of a neglected typeface, complete with this great explanation of optical sizing:
Nix illustrated the point with an analogy: “Imagine if we all decided that 10-year-old boys would be the optimal human form,” he says. “Rather than having babies, we just shrunk 10-year-old boys to baby size, and enlarge them to the size of a full grown man. That’s kind of what we’re combatting.”
Friday, August 10th, 2018
Over on A List Apart, you can read the first chapter from Tim’s new book, Flexible Typesetting.
I was lucky enough to get an advance preview copy and this book is ticking all my boxes. I mean, I knew I would love all the type nerdery in the book, but there’s a bigger picture too. In chapter two, Tim makes this provacative statement:
Typography is now optional. That means it’s okay for people to opt out.
That’s an uncomfortable truth for designers and developers, but it gets to the heart of what makes the web so great:
Of course typography is valuable. Typography may now be optional, but that doesn’t mean it’s worthless. Typographic choices contribute to a text’s meaning. But on the web, text itself (including its structural markup) matters most, and presentational instructions like typography take a back seat. Text loads first; typography comes later. Readers are free to ignore typographic suggestions, and often prefer to. Services like Instapaper, Pocket, and Safari’s Reader View are popular partly because readers like their text the way they like it.
What Tim describes there isn’t a cause for frustration or despair—it’s a cause for celebration. When we try to treat the web as a fixed medium where we can dictate the terms that people must abide by, we’re doing them (and the web) a disservice. Instead of treating web design as a pre-made contract drawn up by the designer and presented to the user as a fait accompli, it is more materially honest to treat web design as a conversation between designer and user. Both parties should have a say.
Or as Tim so perfectly puts it in Flexible Typesetting:
Readers are typographers, too.
Oh, this is such a good analogy from Mandy! Choosing the right HTML element is like choosing the right data type in a strongly typed programming language.
Get to know the HTML elements available to you, and use the appropriate one for your content. Make the most it, like you would any language you choose to code with.
Friday, July 20th, 2018
This is a great interview with Rich on all things related to web typography—including, of course, variable fonts.
I’m so lucky that I literally get to work side by side with Rich; I get to geek out with him about font stuff all the time.
Tuesday, July 17th, 2018
A fun way to play around with the options in variable fonts.