The Visual Display of Temporal Information

I’m not very good with calendars. I used to get an engagement calendar each year but would write what had happened rather than what was supposed to happen. Now I use MacJournal for that. Then for a while the Palm Pilot calendar worked for me, beeping me to my appointments as long as I remembered to keep live batteries in it. I fell out of the habit of carrying a PDA, though, and at present I’m kept in line by Entourage at work, since I have to use it for e-mail anyway, and Google Calendar for personal dates. The only paper calendar in my life comes free from my college each year. I dutifully post it on the fridge and try to remember to turn the page every four weeks, give or take. I never write on it, as doing so would be a sure way of making me miss the event in question.

So the calendar whose corner is shown below, which the friendly and obviously brilliant W. Bradford Paley was giving away yesterday at a soiree I was lucky enough to attend, will be no more useless to me than most. I hope to find a wall for it in my new office.

W. Bradford Paley's calendar

I may even write something on it occasionally (very small, very neatly) and upload a photo of it, thus defaced, to the calendar’s discussion forum. Continue reading “The Visual Display of Temporal Information”

Checking Proofs

How much of a designer’s work consists of actual designing as opposed to meeting, doing paperwork, fiddling with FTP software, watching YouTube, organizing bloated font libraries, etc.? It depends on what kind of design you do, and what kind of place you work, but for most designers I’d guess that designing proper accounts for less than half of their time at work. Maybe less than a third. Of course, designers also tend to be constantly thinking about design, so you could say they’re designing around the clock; but while their heads are doing one thing, their hands are quite likely having to do another much less interesting thing.

For me, the bulk of my job consists of checking proofs. Not proofreading, which we hire someone to do, nor comparing old and new passes of a manuscript to make sure editorial corrections have been made correctly, which the production editor does, but checking for layout errors. There’s plenty of instruction on regular proofreading to be had (I recommend Mark My Words, if you want to go the book route; I’ve never taken a class in it myself, but I know many who’ve done so at NYU and the New School in NYC), but nobody’s ever told me how to check page layouts.

Well, not nobody. On my first or second day at this job, my teammate gave me a stack of manuscript and said to look for “weirdness.” That’s a bit vague for me, so in the past six months, I’ve come up with my own system:

Proofing notes

Hello, my name is India, and I am a geek. Continue reading “Checking Proofs”

Memo to Editorial

Just sent, re a book that I redesigned twice, and whose trim size changed midstream:

Dear [X]/[Y],

I’m not sure whose query this is on the design approval memo, but in answer to the question of whether the castoff (352) is “shorter now because of [larger]-size,” uh, yesish.

I managed to make the [smaller]-size design come in at 384 (castoff was a tight 400) by using Stone Print, a condensed typeface intended for use in magazines with narrow columns. The final design uses Plantin, an average-width typeface more suited to extended reading in book format. So we lost some pages to the trim change and gained a few for readability.

The result is that overall the book is shorter, but not so much shorter as it would be had I merely widened the original design to fit the new margins. Had I widened the original design, it would have become repellent—it’s difficult to continuously read text that is more than about 70 characters wide. Your eyes can’t easily jump from the end of one line to the beginning of the next; your brain can’t hold the sentences together as well. Besides that, it looks cheap and unprofessional. And it makes babies cry.

Bad typography is, in fact, the reason why most babies cry. Now you know.

I hope that answers your question.

Yr hmbl srvnt,

India Amos

I only didn’t cite sources because, well, my dog ate them.

And then a cockroach ate my dog.

A letterpress talkie

If you liked the Heidelberg porn from a while back, you may also enjoy this charming short film by Chuck Kraemer about Firefly Press in Somerville, MA. It has moving people and voices in it!

It’s hosted at the Web site of portrait photographer Elsa Dorfman. There’s also a higher-resolution version (17 MB; but don’t wantonly hog her bandwidth—consider making a donation), as well as some background information.

(Via Coudal Partners.)

May I take your order?

As promised, here’s a sample of how I annotate a design for the compositor. These are actual specs for an actual book that was just typeset. I haven’t seen the proofs yet, but I know that it hit castoff on the first try, which is miraculous given that the book in question is an anthology and the manuscript was all tear sheet. I did not have an electronic manuscript for this book, so my samples are typeset from a disturbing amalgam of Flatland and actual snippets of text from the book, as typed (with four fingers!) by me.

I’m not presenting this as an example of fabulous design; I go back and forth between thinking it’s handsome and finding it vile. Rather, it’s a fair example of a pain-in-the-ass document structure: many of the pieces in the anthology have odd one-off design elements. One has its own dedication, one has its own credit line, one is a series of poems, one has two kinds of space break, . . . And it’s volume one of I don’t know how many, so the next in the series will probably require even more styles that get used for only one or two pieces.
Continue reading “May I take your order?”

Alternate Facts about book design, topography typography, and printing

While searching for something completely different (isn’t that always the best way to find things?), I just stumbled across this hilarious three-year-old post by Teresa Nielsen Hayden at Making Light: Interesting misinformation.

They call themselves Back Yard Publisher, but I prefer the page’s title tag: Publishing Your Manuescript. Their motto is good, too: Remember! There’s A Publisher in You’re Own Back Yard.

But wait—it gets better:

BYP’s biggest contribution to our understanding of movable lead type is the Alternate Fact that lead was wholly inadequate to the task:

Letter press printing is the original method of transferring ink to paper which was the predominant method of printing until the last thirty to fifty years. In this method ink is rolled on the face of the type, then a piece of paper is pressed into the wet ink and transferred to the paper. Obviously the method worked very well, although the pressure necessary to transfer the ink to the paper created many problems by smashing the soft lead type and making it useless. Letter press is seldom used today.

And no wonder. This unfortunate property of lead type also affected typography:

Johannes Gutenberg invented movable type in 1440 and every since that time there has been a struggle between topographers, the people who design the type and the printers or use it.

Typographers have been concerned with how the type appeared on the page and how easily it could be read. …

Printers, on the other hand, have had to deal with a different set of problems, one of the biggest was the smashing and destruction of their precious type. This was especially true when one line of type extended beyond the normal ends of the rows of type. To prevent this destruction of the type the printer simply put some of the spacing he would normally have at the end of the lines between the words (called word spacing) or between the letters (called letter spacing) thus, solving his problem. When this happened we then had a justified page.

This is the only reason there ever was a justified page; …

Which makes the carefully justified lettering in some medieval manuscripts a complete mystery.

It’s a howl. How did I miss this when it was first posted?

From the Onion

Résumé Font Offends Employer

More typography reportage from the Onion:

And you can bet this book’s design uses drop folios: 14-Word Diet Stretched To 200 Pages (January 21, 2004).


Looking back over the TypeCon program, it’s amazing to me how many sessions I missed. But, you know, the weather was beautiful, and I’m not much of a morning person. Or an evening person—I also blew off all the parties and field trips. (But I’m a regular ace at “Break for lunch on your own.”)

Of the talks I did attend, only one was so boring that I really fell asleep. But that one—woo! It was a doozy. I’ll just say that it cured me of any desire, however slight, ever to attend RISD. Then there were a couple of borderline presentations that were mostly interesting but a bit of a challenge to sit through in a dark, too-cool room. In most of these, it was a matter of quantity: twenty-five minutes would have been perfect; forty minutes was about thirty minutes too much. For example, I didn’t know jack about “The Wonderful World of William Addison Dwiggins” and enjoyed the first two presentations thereon pretty thoroughly. But approximately 237 pieces of fascinating ephemera into the third segment, I just had to stagger out. Couldn’t. Stay. Awake. Fortunately, when I got to the hang-out area, there were cookies! And tea!

Suggestion to organizers for next year: Have the tea trolleys roll up and down the aisles during the talks, for less attrition.
Continue reading “TypeConclusions”

Making Castoff

Last week I attended a reunion of people who used to work at a certain nonprofit literary organization. Some are in publishing now, many are writers, and all are bookish people who buy and read books—past page 18—regularly. Yet I was asked several times, while catching up with folks, what it is that a book interior designer does. “So, like, you pick the fonts?”

I am used to being asked this question by normal people, civilians, but I expect more from those who read and promote literature. One friend who asked if I pick the fonts is now the executive director of a literary organization whose mission is to promote reading, an organization that publishes its own series of books. I attacked him—“You, of all people! Haven’t you ever looked at a book from Knopf and noticed that it looks nicer than one from [earnest but tasteless poetry publisher]? Haven’t you ever noticed that some books are more inviting or more readable than others?”

Apparently not.

I’m feeling my way around at the new job and having to actually think about what I’m doing from time to time, so now seems like a good moment to try to put into words what I do. I learned to do what I do from reading books (crazy!) and Just Fucking Doing It, so my methods may not be the most scientific and I may not be able to explain them very succinctly, but I’ll try to touch on the basics.
Continue reading “Making Castoff”