Monday, June 2, 2008

Type Thats, Great!

When Tanya and Robb brought me on board as producer for LFTI, they probably did not realize they were gaining a lunatic. Not just any lunatic, of course, but a font, typography, and typesetting lunatic.

I've always been fascinated by text. I spent lots of time as a small child trying to draw perfect block letters. I'd take the plastic, all-caps letters (yellow Futura medium) from both our copies of The Alphabet Game and tape them onto construction paper to make signs. I cut out matching letters and numbers from the newspaper to make my own Iran Hostage Crisis count-up sign. I hand-lettered every single one of my campaign posters for Vice President in 8th grade and President in 11th. One of the best things about the Mac when it came out was, for me, that its handling of text was much better than Print Shop on the IIe.

My love for type has never diminished. It served me well post-college, when I worked as a book designer at Birkhäuser Boston, right through to the present day, when I get to contribute to the "online conversation" regarding the fonts candidates use for their campaign materials.

Unfortunately for Robb and Tanya, it currently serves me well on Life from the Inside.

I am of the opinion that text, fonts, typography, and typesetting, while flying under the radar of the general public's awareness, are some of the single most important elements in adding a sheen of professionalism and style to any project. Most of the quality we strive for in LFTI is applied to the usual concerns: camerawork, writing, editing, music... Very few people might notice if a font is improperly stretched, or if a wayward apostrophe has made its way into an pluralized acronym, or if the hyphens in a block of text are disconcerting to the eye though they may be properly placed.

Robb does 99% of the graphic work for the show, including all the titles, credits, graphic elements, DVD menus (yes, DVD MENUS!), blahdee blahdee blah. And I have to say that 99% of everything he does, text-wise, is fantastically great. Unfortunately, now that I have wedged myself into the picture, I'm here to catch the remaining 1%. If I see some kerning I don't like, I'll say so. If the leading between two lines is too tight, I'll point it out. If there's a space between a word and an asterisk, I'll call for its death. If four fonts are being used where two will suffice, I shall champion the cause.

Sometimes, where text is involved, there's a trade-off between correctness and aesthetics. To me, correctness should win out most of the time, because there is usually an aesthetically pleasing way to correctly render an awkward block of text.

If I'm going to prattle on about this topic, I really should give an example.

Robb had designed a bit of text on an upcoming DVD menu (yes, UPCOMING DVD MENU!) to fit nicely into a rectangular space. The work "jukebox" (yes, JUKEBOX!) had to be split, so he designed it as "JUKE" on the fist line and "-BOX" on the second. Now, the text fit beautifully, four characters on both top and bottom, but I could not stand the hyphen being tied to the second half of the word. That is simply not done. It gave me a case of the frownies every time I saw it. Since I am now tweaking and redesigning that particular DVD menu, I changed the layout to "JUKE-" and "BOX." It made the text top-heavy, but it was correct. However, knowing that I was changing a very particular design choice that Robb had made, I thought I could compromise. I was willing to—GASP!—have the word split, but not hyphenated! "JUKE" and "BOX" would fit more nicely into that rectangle without a hyphen. Perhaps to some, this would have been the worst choice out of the three, splitting a single word into two sans hyphen. To me, I'd rather have the hyphen gone than have it on the bottom. And jukebox was probably two words at one time, anyway. It's not like we were splitting "grottos" into "GROT" and "TOS." Blech!

I have not finished the menu redesign, but I think we agreed to keep the hyphen on the top, probably because I whined enough about it.

So what does all this pain-in-the-assery get us? From my point of view, it gets us closer to looking great. When no detail goes unnoticed, when we can concentrate on the small things that most people simply don't understand or don't even notice, we can give everyone a better show. Then, if people do know and do pay attention, they will hopefully appreciate the care that was taken to make LFTI a top-notch piece of time-wasting entertainment!

1 comment:

lac582 said...

I have inherited a bit of grammar facism from my mom, so I can see how aggravating that hyphen would be. But a DVD you say? Excellent. I'm already drooling.