TypeThursday: Juliette, thank you for this call. I appreciate it.
Juliette Cezzar: Thank you.
Type’s Role in Editorial Design Today
TT: In your book, Designing the Editorial Experience you talked about how much typography mattered in editorial design. I’d love to hear your thoughts about that more.
…type is sometimes the only differentiating factor between things, both the design of the type and also the usage of that type; typography.
JC: In doing the book, one of the things my coauthor Sue Apfelbaum and I wanted to highlight was talking about editorial across mobile, web, and print. We were always caught up in all of these discussions of “Oh, magazines are dying,” all this death talk that goes around whenever you talk about anything editorial. Both she and I are really big readers, so it became clear that in order to really be a good editorial designer thinking across all of these things, you couldn’t just say, “Oh it’s all about print,” or “Oh, it’s all about mobile,” or “let’s just forget about everything.”
It’s also not about saying it’s all the same. On something like a mobile platform, you have such a small amount of space perceptually. Once you’re dealing with a very, very small space, there are very few things that you have to work with. You don’t have a whole lot of contrast; you can’t have many different elements playing with each other at the same time. And so a lot of what is happening on mobile looks very much the same from publication to publication. In that environment, type is sometimes the only differentiating factor between things, both the design of the type and also the usage of that type; typography. The thread that the identity of the publication is hanging on when it’s in this business-card size space is type. It becomes the most important thing, well above and beyond any kind of layout or even, for that matter, a photographic or a creative direction scheme that is easily scrolled past once somebody starts reading.
The thread that the identity of the publication is hanging on when it’s in this business-card size space is type.
TT: It’s very fascinating you point out typography and type as the biggest anchor point that designers have to leverage their branding in these confined spaces and across different mediums. So, you also teach this, correct?
…nothing to me is more irritating in a school context than people treating type as something they’re shopping for. They think that once they figure out how to have good taste in type that they’re done.
Teaching Typography At The College Level
JC: Yes, I teach a variety of classes here. Usually I teach the capstone thesis course here at Parsons, but I’ve also taught a junior Editorial Experience class where we spend half the semester going through all of the different elements that go into designing for editorial across platforms, type being one of them. And then students spend the second half of the semester make their own projects in editorial.
So I’ve been teaching a long time, and for me, there’s nothing to me that’s more irritating in a school context than people treating type as something they’re shopping for. They think that once they figure out how to have good taste in type that they’re done.
A lot of the teaching that I do tries to undo this by getting students to understand how type is made and how it’s used.
A lot of the teaching that I do tries to undo this by getting students to understand how type is made and how it’s used. I also try to get them past this sort of rules-based typesetting that persists “Oh, it has to be this many picas,” or “these type sizes mean this many words on a line.” Type tends to get explained to students in that way and then when they fail to memorize it,they never get a sense for it, and it’s all apologies. Also there’s this misconception that knowing type history is a prerequisite for knowing how to use type.
Whereas once you actually get into a topic like editorial, that’s where you can really start to say, “Okay, well does this go with this or this? What’s the relationship of this piece of text to this other piece of text? And how much control are you having over those things? What are all the relationships in all this information that you have here? And what about all the different pieces?”
…the designer’s responsibility is really to create this frame that’s flexible across everything and where the content, even if the content is 100% different, it’s still being understood as being the same thing.
We just keep zooming out; Here’s the headline, the body copy, but then here’s the article, here’s the section, here’s the publication, here’s the publication in another platform, here’s the publication in all its platforms in the whole universe of publications. So you keep zooming out until you understand that the designer’s responsibility is really to create this frame that’s flexible across everything and where the content, even if the content is 100% different, it’s still being understood as being the same thing. If I pick up a copy of The New Yorker, I say “aha! It’s The New Yorker!” even though I have never seen any of that content before, not the words, not the images, not the illustration on the cover.
TT: Can you clarify what’s irksome about the idea of shopping for type? From my perspective, it seems like you’re saying you feel like you lose a lot of sensitivity and being more robotic as opposed to being more sensitive to what your considerations are as a designer.
It’s between choosing type and using type. If you think your job as a designer is to choose type, you become obsessed with how people view you based on how you choose your type.
The Difference Between Choosing Type and Using Type
JC: It’s between choosing type and using type. If you think your job as a designer is to choose type, you become obsessed with how people view you based on how you choose your type. It’s about picking, it’s about pairing, it’s about matching. And using type as a designer is never about that, never matching an idea to form and then calling it done. You really need to have an intent for what it is that you’re making, and then understand type as a tool to use towards that intent. Your intent might be “make this different from this group of things” or “make it the same as this group of things.” Your intent doesn’t have to be something emotional or spiritual, but if you’re not using your type to help your reader figure out what something is, I’m not really sure what it is that you’re doing.
Using type as a designer is never about that, you really need to have an intent for what it is that you’re making, and then understand type as a tool to use towards that intent.
TT: You feel like it’s a lack of consideration? Is that what you mean? A lack of intent?
JC: Yeah, in some ways I guess you could say a lack of intent is a lack of consideration. If what you want to do is communicate something clearly or make it possible for somebody to distinguish one thing from another thing or to understand that these two things go together, that’s a use.
The linguistic confusion around the field doesn’t help either. When you say “typography,” for different people it means different things.
Linguistic Confusion in the Term “Typography”
But the linguistic confusion around the field doesn’t help either.I realized when I was writing the typography chapter of the book that when you say “typography,” for different people it means different things. For some people typography means type design, for some people it means typesetting. For some people typography means lettering, which I think is also very funny, because I consider lettering to be a completely different activity altogether. So I can see where a designer would slot “typography” under self-expression rather than purpose. For me, when I say “typography,” I mean the use of type. And the use of type is control over the relationships between different type elements. Those relationships can be controlled by changing their form, their scale, their placement, their value, or their color.
I can see where a designer would slot “typography” under self-expression rather than purpose.
Using Typography to Counter Sameness in Web Design
Understanding what we have control over matters more as it becomes more and more difficult for people to not just keep doing the same designs over and over again. People setting up exactly the same layout or same scheme of here’s the title, here’s the centered type line in white, here’s a big, rich image behind that thing, here’s three columns of text and icons. When you have these templated ways of working, you often have to rely heavily on the typeforms themselves to help the user understand that they’re looking at something else than the previous site that they had just been to.
TT: Do you feel like this is an issue with the web itself? Do you feel like this is an issue of pre-described forms, a set formulas that have been figured out and just replicated over and over again?
When much of that design is actually determined by the constraints of responsive design, he form of type tends to be the thing that is the easier to change…
JC: When you’re designing for the web, you’re mostly responding to very real constraints, especially if you’re going to design a responsive website that’s going to look professional on both mobile and desktop screens really does limit what you can do. But this can bring me back in some ways to my original point: On the one hand, I can be critical about that use of type; on the other hand, it does prioritize the form of the type, and I’m excited that it has brought with it a new focus on type design.
When much of that design is actually determined by the constraints of responsive design,it’s just a really difficult box to get out of, and so the form of type tends to be the thing that is the easier to change than the relationships between elements in a specific scheme that’s moving across a page.
TT: Juliette, I think it’s been a great conversation with you. Thank you so much for your time.
JC: Thank you.
Interested in Juliette’s book? Purchase Designing the Editorial Experience on Amazon.
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