Archive for March 5th, 2012

Just My Type: A mini-review

Monday, March 5th, 2012

This book–Just My Type by Simon Garfield–had been recommended to me by a hiking acquaintance and at least one other person. So, for the first time, I actually placed a hold at my public library, and a couple weeks later, received the email and picked up the book. Which I finished reading yesterday…

Briefly: It’s fun, interesting, well-written, and if you care about typefaces you’ll probably enjoy it.

Now the caveats…

  • Garfield’s thoroughly indoctrinated in the “creative community” tradition that Microsoft is Evil. Thus, for example, even though he admits–and even demonstrates–that Arial is not in fact a clone of Helvetica, he still treats it as simple fact that Microsoft was wrong in adopting Arial rather than paying the license fee for Helvetica. (There are other examples–even when Garfield admits that Microsoft’s commissioned some of the most legible on-screen typefaces, it’s grudging.)
  • Garfield loves loves loves sans in general and exciting typefaces like Helvet…zzz…sorry, snoozed off there for a bit–in particular (also Univers and Futura). The book is, to be sure, actually set in Sabon, which is (ahem) a serif typeface.
  • The book admirably uses named typefaces within text when it names typefaces–but it’s not uncommon for the different-typeface insertion to be out of step with the surrounding type, usually somewhat higher (the baselines are higher than the surrounding text). I’m not sure whether that’s a weakness of the layout software used for the book or whether some of those insertions are actually graphics rather than digital type, and pasted in badly. It’s surprising, in any case.
  • The subtitle of the book is “a book about fonts” but it’s primarily a book about typefaces. He knows the difference but basically decides that it doesn’t matter. (For the record: Sabon is a typeface; Sabon 11 pt. Lt Std is a font.)
  • With very few exceptions, Garfield shows the typefaces he’s discussing. He chickens out (or the publisher wouldn’t pay the $24.75) in one case, unfortunately: Old Dreadful No. 7, the most distinctive typeface on the Bitstream 500 Typeface CD that came with Ventura Publisher back in the day. Here’s a sample of Old Dreadful No. 7 (thanks to a screencapture from this page at FontShop):

Those are mostly nits (well, that and that the American edition still has British punctuation around quotes). It’s an enjoyable book.

Results of second C&I survey

Monday, March 5th, 2012

I’ve closed the second C&I survey, aimed at those who read Cites & Insights in PDF form but online (or on an e-device) rather than in print. (The first link here is to the post about the survey, not to the survey itself, since that’s closed.)

According to Urchin stats, 98 people viewed the post (or at least it was viewed 98 times). The first attempt at an online-oriented PDF was downloaded 17 times and viewed 23 times (which, as far as I can interpret Urchin’s handling of PDF stats, means it was used 17 times).

Five people responded to the survey.

The Results

The first question was “How do you feel about the Online PDF as compared to the regular C&I PDF?”

  • Comparative readability online or on your preferred device: One response was “less readable,” one was “about the same,” two were “more readable” and one was “much more readable.” I take that as a mild endorsement for the single-column 6×9 version, and would suggest that one respondent stick with the canonical C&I (assuming I do an online-oriented variant).
  • Likelihood that you’d read issues; Likelihood that you’d read all of an issue; Likelihood that you’d publicize the issue to others: I’m clustering all three together because the results were identical: Four said “about the same” and one said “more.” I’ll admit that I was hoping for slightly better responses, especially for the last one–as awareness of C&I outside of the core readership (somewhere between 8 and 800 people?) depends on people publicizing issues and essays.

The second question was “Would you pay for (or contribute toward) the Online PDF version?” Given that this was an anonymous survey and that nobody was actually making a commitment, the results are especially interesting in terms of the value people place on C&I:

  • Four people said “Possibly: No more than $1/issue or $10-$12/year.”
  • One person said “Possibly: Up to $2.50/issue or $25/year.”
  • Nobody said “No.” Nobody said “Possibly: More than $25/year.”

I conclude that providing an online version might yield contributions totaling as much as $73/year, total, if I was really lucky. Last year, total contributions were just over $100; so far, there have been no contributions in 2012.

The third question was “Do you think it’s worthwhile to generate this version (in addition to the existing PDF, not in place of it)?”

  • Not at all: One person
  • Yes, if it takes less than 30 minutes per issue to create: Four people.
  • Yes, if it takes up to an hour per issue to create and Yes, no matter how much time it takes: Nobody.

Finally, I asked an essay question: “What changes would make an Online PDF version more desirable?” I received three responses. Here they are, in full:

I like it fine. However, I’m used to the other PDF version which appears smaller on my computer screen. I also like the two column layout. However, I could get used to the new version very easily.

What you’ve done with this is great. The biggest issue I have with the current online PDF version is the columns and the constant scrolling.

I would really prefer to have the TOC back. That is pretty much the first thing I look at once I have downloaded an issue.

Conclusions and next steps

Last things first: If I do an online version, it will include “Inside this Issue”–changing the page numbers only takes about 2 minutes–but it will not include any attempts at copyfitting (cleaning up bad breaks, etc., which probably takes me 4-6 hours for a typical issue), so it will be typographically crude compared to the canonical version. It will be single-column, 28 picas wide, which is still within the range considered to be a readable line width. (Each column of the two-column version is 20 picas wide; many/most trade paperbacks have 26 pica body text width.) A 28-pica width should fit very nicely on iPads, netbooks and other e-devices with at least 9″ screens, and shouldn’t be too bad on 6″-7″ devices.

And I suppose I should change the wording on the C&I invitation to contribute to suggest as little as $10/year. Using Paypal, $1/issue contributions seem almost pointless.

Based on responses to the first survey, it might make sense to do the online PDF and scrap the HTML essays. In any case, the “real” C&I will continue to be the two-column, carefully copyfitted, print-oriented PDF. Beyond that–well, we’ll see, probably later this week.

Oh, and thanks to the five people who responded and, for that matter, to the dozen who apparently checked out the online-oriented version but felt no need to respond.