Times, take III?

Subject: Times, take III?
From: Bruce Byfield <bbyfield -at- AXIONET -dot- COM>
Date: Thu, 5 Feb 1998 23:33:16 -0500

geoff-h -at- MTL -dot- FERIC -dot- CA wrote

>And you have a problem with familiarity?

Actually, no, After all, Palatino, which I suggested was a better
all-round choice, is one of the most commonly used fonts.

>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.

If it really is demonstrably more legible, why not? Although the
differences in fonts can greatly affect how people read, most fonts that
are serious candidates for extensive use are not so outre to the
untrained eye that they will be automatically rejected.

Also, I should point out that, while Europeans tend to make greater use
of sans serifs, they do seem to use serifs about 30-40% of the time, So
the switch wouldn't be a very difficult one.

Anyway, the serif/sans serif debate is virtually menaingless unless the
fonts and the contexts involved are included in the discussion.

>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?

If it's not the most readable, then surely there's room for improvement?

I suspect, too, that space considerations have more to do with the
design of Times than legibility.

>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.

With all respect,I have to disagree. Typography has an entire set of
traditions and conventions. You may choose to argue that these
traditions are arbitrary. However, the typographers I have met are very
pragmatic people, and I doubt they would stick to a convention unless it
had the desired effect. I wouldn't take the convention as complete
gospel, but I wouldn't ignore it, either.

>Can you find 5 human resources people who could tell you the >difference between Times and Baskerville? I doubt it.

That's beside the point. Good typography isn't suppposed to be noticed.

>but that's not a font issue... it's a design issue;

A judgement call. To me, this seems a point where the two are closely

>"Functional" and "familiar" are my first two priorities. >Esthetics doesn't come up for quite a distance down the list >of criteria.

I think your definition of aesthetics is very different from mine. For
me, aesthetics in tech-writing spring from the functional, so we're in
that much agreement, anyway.

The difference seems to be that I don't see much value in the familiar.
I may be wrong, but your comments seem to suggest that you value the
familiar over the functional.On the other hand, I prefer the functional
over the familiar. And here, I suspect, we really are in the realm of
personal preference.

(And thanks, by the way, for a very interesting discussion. Trying to
answer you is certainly clarifying my own ideas and assumptions for me -
as well as allowing me to see another viewpoint).

Bruce Byfield, Outlaw Communications
(bbyfield -at- axionet -dot- com) (604) 421-7189 or 687-2133 X. 269
www.outlawcommunications.com (updated 02 Feb 1998)

"Good or bad, give me credit for what I have done. I would rather go
honestly to Hell, admitting that I leaped knowingly into error and
folly, than enter into the sweetest Heaven men can dream fo by whining
that I had been pushed."
--Steven Brust and Emma Bull, "Freedom and Necessity"

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