Looking at typesetting

Looking at a few mags, focussing on how the type is arranged, what looks interesting and what’s legible…

National Geographic magazine > like most people, I normally only ever look at the pictures.  And actually there’s nothing about the text to drag your attention away from the photos.  Basically does all the right things – classic style, serifed text and headers, neutral greys and browns, boxed text, plenty of white space – but generally lacks impact.  Boring.

Palestine News > cheaper production so bigger body text, no serifs.  A4, 3-column, high contrast, matte paper, a lot of black and white pages.  Colours work to an earthy palette.  Chunky header text and a coherance through only using a few complementary header fonts.  Techniques used like coloured or bigger text for intro paragraphs, boxing blocks of text, tinted boxes, also tonal headers, first letters  and bullets.  Lines and reversed out headers for breaking up text in columns, and also for reinforcing the shape of the columns.  Etc.  These techniques also used for travel catalogues in the pile, with better quality and more luxurious production – Himalayan Kingdoms; or stylish, nice colours and boxy arrangement – High Places.

Looking at Red Pepper mags (again) too, and a copy of TGO.  Notice that generally 3 columns are easier on the eye than 2 columns, and density of text is an issue.  Tinted, patterned and photographic background to text can make it a nightmare to read.  Also if you don’t like the colour you don’t read the article, so it’s a bit risky.  I prefer high contrast and lots of white space, also the feel of the paper, and that affects the options for text size etc.  Also noticing how a lot of greys are used, rather than black, and how important it is not to fragment columns and blocks of text – short paragraphs broken up with blank lines between them is as bad as long unbroken dense columns.  And using justification as well as letter and word spacing to create shapes with headers etc etc.  So…

  • 3 columns are better than 2
  • white background is good
  • high contrast is good (but not too high)
  • use blank lines sparingly
  • boxing text is good
  • chunky header fonts  and reversed out headers are good
  • interesting colour palettes
  • no hyphenating line breaks
  • pay attention to density of text
  • cheaper paper and pdf for download – means text needs to be at higher point size.

Exercise… Do you remember Olive Morris?  I chose this 2-page article to investigate, because it’s quite simple and clear despite the fact it’s text on coloured background (black and purples on white glossy paper) wrapped around a photo. The title text uses the same photo.

Do you remember Olive Morris?

Decided to try and copy it, using the text from the web version of the article – using Photoshop and Indesign. Was a learning tool for Indesign – especially using paragraph and character styles. Copying the actual text and trying to get it proportionally into the right spaces was a good challenge here.  Copied the photo and created a rough mockup of the background and title.

I used the closest fonts I’ve got: Myriad as a base for the title, Century Gothic for the headers, and Minion Pro for the body text.  The latter had to be at 9 point to fit into the space available.  Experimented with bigger body text to make it more legible but of course needed more space.  Noticed that the slightly serifed font does help legibility at this size, as would printing to glossy paper.  Printing as pdf to normal home printer you wouldn’t get away with anything less than 10 point, however much you decrease the density.  This is relevent.  The visual shape of the text matters – noticed that paragraphs are run together, with indented text to separate them – this looks better at this column size – and decreasing the density by increasing the line-spacing helped to make it more legible.  This is the tension between how it looks on the layout, and legibility.

Strategy > basically twiddle around with a sample of text until it looks ok, then create the styles, and apply them… then look at what I’ve done analytically.  I used a series of boxes to wrap text around the shape of the background image – would need to slick this up I think and find out a better way to do it.

This is my very rough mockup:  Do you remember Olive Morris? – rough mockup (pdf)


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