As discussed in a previous article, typography has played a role as discreet as it is essential for several centuries in delivering written messages and has therefore also been affected by this phenomenon. This advent of digital technology has indeed offered a whole new world of expression to typographers, leading them to invent new techniques and integrate technology into their artistic practice.
Definition and History
An electronic book, also known as ebook, e-book or eBook, is “a book publication made available in digital form, consisting of text, images, or both, readable on the flat-panel display of computers or other electronic devices.” (Source: Wikipedia)
In the early 2000s, when some businesses were offering the first reading software to the public (Mobipocket, Adobe) and the first ranges of consumer e-readers were launched (Bookeen with Cybook, Sony with LIBRIe, and later Amazon with Kindle), many people announced the imminent end of the physical book in favour of this new technology. The reality has since shown that the reading experience for many readers is intimately linked to the contact with paper, and that the screen will not replace this unique connection. The ebook market represents about 10–15% of the paper book market today, and this proportion has remained constant for several years now. (Source: TonerBuzz)
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Font choice is an essential parameter when it comes to the layout of a book. Some fonts are better suited to digital media than others and some have been created specifically for ebooks:
– Serif fonts are traditionally intended for paper books because, historically speaking, they are the oldest and used to be the closest to cursive writing.
– On the contrary, with sans serif fonts, the characters are clearly delimited and separated from each other, which makes them easier to identify on a medium made of pixels. This type of font is therefore often preferred by graphic designers when creating ebooks.
e.g. Arial, Georgia, Helvetica, Lucida, Tahoma, Verdana
Do We Learn Better With a Legible Font?
Whatever the medium, the main mission of typography is to make reading easier and to simplify the delivery of messages. Intuitively, one might think that this helps the reader retain the message better. But is this really the case?
(Source : The New York Times)
Font optimization, also known as font hinting, is used to adjust the rendering of vector font outlines at the time of rasterization, i.e. when a vector image* is converted into a raster image**. Letters with a hinting font will have a clearer outline definition and will allow better on-screen readability.
Another characteristic to consider is the x-height of a font. Also known as the “corpus size,” the x-height is one of the most important dimensions of a font. It defines the height of lowercase letters without ascenders in relation to the height of upper case letters.
It is typically the height of the letter x in the font (hence the name), as well as the letters v, w and z. Curved letters such as a, c, e, m, n, o, r, s and u tend to protrude slightly beyond the x-height (see below), due to an excess without which our eye would perceive these letters as being smaller than the x. The point of the i also extends beyond the x-height.
Books are not the only graphic objects that have required typographers to stay up to date in recent decades, the advent of digital technology has also marked the arrival of a new written medium and support: websites.
The Three Challenges of Typography on the Internet
Unlike ebooks, websites offer users a relatively limited choice of customizable options. Apart from the zoom level applied on the browser or the “dark mode” that some sites offer, the other parameters (margins, line spacing, proportions, colours, etc.) generally cannot be easily modified by the reader.
Screen size: While ebooks are generally read on e-readers whose dimensions can vary from one brand to another, websites can be consulted on dozens (or even hundreds) of different screen sizes, ranging from smartphones to computer screens to tablets. This requires the layout to be responsive, meaning that it can instantly adapt to the displayed screen size.
Screen definition: The number of points (called pixels) that a screen can display. The higher the density of these pixels, the more accurately the screen can display elements (images, text) and allow for subtle nuances. Typographers must therefore ensure that their work is as comfortable to read on the latest screen as on an older monitor.
Screen calibration: One of the major differences between websites and ebooks is the use of colour. While the vast majority of ebooks around the world are in black and white, almost all websites follow graphic charts with various colours and style effects. However, over time, not all screens display colours in the exact same way. If your profession (photographer, designer, artist) or your preference makes you sensitive to this aspect, it is strongly recommended that you regularly calibrate your screen.
In our article “Typography and its Importance in Book Publishing”, renowned typographer Dwight Smith tells us about an example of typographic composition he contributed to in the 1990s, when OpenType technology had not yet been invented.
Some Useful Tips
Typography is an extremely broad discipline, with hundreds of rules that cannot be summarized in a single blog post, but here are some basic typographic tips that will help improve the user experience of your website:
*Font vs. Typeface: What Is the Difference?
History of the @ Symbol
Now widely used and closely related to the Internet, the @ symbol would have appeared well before the end of the 20th century. Over time, it has served various purposes in different languages, proving that typography is a discipline that has always been able to keep up with the times:
- Between the sixth and twelfth centuries, in some Latin manuscripts, it appeared as an abbreviation of the word ad (meaning at/to) where the d was wrapped around the a.
- It was later preserved in Chancery Latin and was used in the seventeenth century on diplomatic letters sent across Europe to indicate, for example, in which city was located the person to whom a letter was addressed.
- In the nineteenth century, in the United States, it was used by merchants to indicate the unit prices of products on the shelves. This usage still persists today in the English-speaking world.
- The symbol is also present in Spanish. It was used until 1859 as a unit of measurement of weight equivalent to about 11.5 kg. Its form is close to both a (Spanish female names) and o (Spanish male names), so nowadays it is sometimes used by those wishing to apply the principle of inclusive writing.
- The Portuguese also still use it today to designate volumes of wine, the @ is equivalent to the content of an amphora, of which it is the abbreviation.
- In 1971, the American engineer Ray Tomlinson chose the @ on the keyboard to separate the name of the recipient from that of the machine hosting his address, as the symbol cannot appear in any proper or common name. That day, he sent the first email in history.
As it has done for centuries for print media, typography has been called upon in recent decades to fulfill its essential mission in the “new world” of digital media, which is to make messages easier to read, to convey a certain sense of aesthetics and to offer to content creators the same graphic coherence that can be found throughout a collection of titles from a publishing house.
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