Times, take III?

Subject: Times, take III?
From: geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA
Date: Thu, 5 Feb 1998 08:30:08 -0600

Bruce Byfield continued our discussion of fonts by noting
<<I would argue that Time is readable only because of its
familiarity. By any of the usual standards of readability,
such as large x-heights, dozens of fonts are better

And you have a problem with familiarity? As I noted
earlier, sans serif is very popular in (say) France and
Scandinavia, and the natives I've spoken to find this style
perfectly readable. Would you propose that they're wrong
and should change to Palatino because it's demonstrably
more legible? Sorry, that won't wash. Besides, now you've
changed the terms of the debate. I never said Times was the
_most_ readable... just that it is eminently readable.
Times was originally designed to cram as much text as
possible in a small amount of space, but how can you do
that if it's not an inherently legible typeface?

Michael Lewis echoed my point that Times wasn't designed
specifically for user manuals or resumes, then noted that
<<It's great within those [newspaper] parameters, but loses
something in other uses.>>

That's a matter of opinion, not demonstrated fact. Let's
not forget that except for obviously illegible extremes,
there is no ideal font and typographic preferences are
personal, subjective, and highly variable. Trying to pick a
face based on your personal esthetic judgment ignores this
fact; I'd agree with you that you'd be ill-advised to use
Times if you're writing for Bruce, but I doubt Bruce is the
typical reader, particularly for resumes. Can you find 5
human resources people who could tell you the difference
between Times and Baskerville? I doubt it. Actually, I like
the look of Times, particularly at larger sizes (11 and 12
point). You and Bruce obviously don't.

<<There's an old rule of thumb that says the ideal measure
(margin to margin) should not exceed two-and-a-half
alphabets (65 characters). In most applications, Times
blows out to 90 or more characters per line, which gives
the reader some difficulty in tracking from line to line.>>

Ah, but that's not a font issue... it's a design issue;
it's obvious that once you've chosen a typeface, you need
to pick a compatible size and line length (and leading).
Poor choices of any of these factors (among a long list of
others) can easily sabotage the most legible font. You can
design a page two ways: pick a line length and then
arbitrarily rule out faces that don't fit 2.5 alphabets
into that length, or pick a face and juggle leading, line
width and type size until you get readable lines. Both
approaches are equally valid.

<<Then, of course, familiarity breeds contempt. A boring
appearance generates an expectation that the text will be
boring. That makes it a little harder to capture the
reader's interest, so the communication process is already
compromised -- before the reader has actually read a
single word.>>

I take your point. I've got enormous contempt for meat,
cereals, and vegetables... I eat at least one of the three
every day, and by gosh, I'd love to find something new and
more titillating to eat... something I can really respect,
even if it isn't as nutritious. Hmmm.... chocolate bars?
No, they're rather contemptibly familiar too. <gdrlh>

Seriously, though, I'd wager that about 1% of your audience
will ever notice any typeface change that doesn't
dramatically affect legibility. (One of our local tabloid
editors reported precisely that experience in the redesign
of his paper: nobody noticed.) I think another thing we're
missing out on here is that never once in this discussion
have we defined our audience. I don't design a publication
expressly for graphistes or techwhirlers, so my font
choices aren't based on people who have serious esthetic
concerns over typography. "Functional" and "familiar" are
my first two priorities. Esthetics doesn't come up for
quite a distance down the list of criteria.

<<Making ill-informed -- or, worse, casual -- choices is a
little like saying "I don't really care about the
affectiveness of the finished product".>>

"_A_ffectiveness"? Given the context, there's a truly
inspired pun in there involving "affect", but I'll leave it
lie. <grin> (Sorry... I'm not criticizing your typing, but
I've never been able to resist the pun.) My choice of Times
is neither ill-informed nor casual: it's informed, because
I understand the face's history, know my audiences are all
familiar with the face and have learned to read it well;
it's considered, because I've thought of all you've said
and made the choice anyway. (I'm talking personal choices,
now. Don't get me started on the highly advanced "pressed
into wet clay with a pointed stick" approach at work. I'm
working on it, but sometimes you just have to wait for the
DTPer to die or retire. <sigh>) FWIW, there are several
fonts I prefer, both for legibility and esthetic reasons,
but I have no problem whatsoever with well-designed,
well-set Times, and neither, I suspect, do most readers.

--Geoff Hart @8^{)} geoff-h -at- mtl -dot- feric -dot- ca
Disclaimer: Speaking for myself, not FERIC.

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