Monday, November 2, 2015

Hidden in Plain Sight: Sound Mixing and Setting Type

Okay the mixer above is for sound and we are speaking of controlling text when typesetting. What could these possibly have in common. For me not sure if this idea hit me when doing sound for groups at our church or from when considering the goal for me when setting type. In both ways the idea of being hidden and not seen seems to apply, and in some ways, asking that your efforts be a "thankless" job, and to be not noticed, may seem a bit odd.
     Years ago I visited a church and heard a group in an outdoor setting in a courtyard. I could not get over how incredible they sounded and this was not for their singing or for the instruments. The quality that I was hearing was as if I were listening to them from a studio recorded CD rather than from a live event which comes with all kinds of equipment and acoustical changes. Afterwards I complemented those doing the sound; they were surprised that someone would think to acknowledge their efforts. It seems when things go well when doing sound (for them evidently, and for me) you generally are not noticed, though on the other hand if something is not quite right it becomes clear the problem is with the mix, or setup, or some other aspect of what is needed to have it sound good. This is not a complaint on my part as much as it is just an observation. I am very comfortable with this way of looking at it, and with having the goal of being hidden.
     For typesetting, this same point can be made. For me the main goal is to clearly provide the words, support the text, complement and enhance when you can for how it looks, while also trying to have your efforts be not noticed - to not distract, and to not interfere with the reading of the words. When something is wrong, or distracting, this will be noticed. When it goes well, my wish is that it goes unnoticed. After all, if someone enjoys the reading of an article, a book, an essay, etc. it is not like they are going to reach the end and say - hey, that was easy and pleasant to read because if its typesetting, or its layout, design, etc. To me, when these work well, then it seems good to be not noticed.
     While wrapping up my thoughts on this it crossed my mind that it may not be so simple. Maybe I've missed something, such as: what of personal preferences and the notion that you can’t please everyone! Yes there are conflicting opinions. Some may say the volume's not right, or too much bass, or a vocal was loss, etc. And some may disagree with a font selection, or setting justified, or hyphenation level, etc. Even so, even though the means of accomplishing this may not be so simple, the premise for the goal seems legit: to try and be not noticed and to make as few waves and distractions as possible.
     With humility, I’m just offering a few of my quick two-cent thoughts here…. Yes feedback (both kinds) can be a growing pain, and may be needed from time to time for making improvements…. And to borrow from (and maybe abuse) yet another phrase, yes content (the music, the author’s words) can be treated as king.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

What’s So Funny About Typography?

For an “on the lighter side” topic, my idea was to share a few whimsical thoughts on typography, fonts and such. To get the ball rolling I was going to suggest you do a web search for the word “humor” with some different font names, such as Comic Sans, Arial, and Helvetica - and then peruse the results. And then after doing this myself (as a reminder of what could be found) it dawned on me - where’s the humor in this?
     Judging on some opinions on picking a font, you would think this was a topic of grave importance. Say or do the wrong thing, then out comes the trolls and nasty comments. On one hand the popularity of Comic Sans, by virtue of its availability and its casual look, is looked on with ridicule and disdain. And at the same time, the use (and I could argue overuse) of Helvetica is treated as an ideal. It is almost as if the ground that Helvetica walks on is to be treated as being hallowed. Then you get into the preferences for, and subtle differences between, the fonts Arial and Helvetica - and oh my - another controversy! (And on this issue too, I may find myself out of sync with what other designers and typesetters may offer as an opinion on the matter.)
     Where does this leave us? I think the main point is that - yes - there are wrong times and there are right times for using a given font. The distinction though is that this is a statement that could apply to all fonts. Some fonts are better for titles - where it may be helpful to have the font’s style and its personality match and complement the topic of what is being written about. Get too illustrative and whimsical though, and the risk increases that it may become distracting to the reader, and maybe too, that the first obligation of a font may be lost - and that is for it to be readable.
     And some fonts are better for setting larger amounts of text (the main text, paragraphs, etc.). When there are many words to be read, then it seems fair to say that the goal becomes more than just for it to be readable, and that it should be also as easily to read as reasonably possible (function over form). It is recognized that serif fonts are easier to read than letters without serifs. Those little shapes at the ends of the letters makes them more easily recognized and more unique looking. There are exceptions though and this is not a hard and fast rule. There are times where sans-serif fonts would be preferred over those with serifs. For web publishing for example, screen resolutions can limit how well these fine details (serifs) will appear. This may too depend on the font's size and how the text fits within the rest of the layout. (Aside from font selection, and size, there are also many other considerations - such as line spacing, margins, column widths, set justified or rag, etc. - for allowing the text be as easy to read as possible.)
     So, in an attempt to be brief about something that I thought would be maybe humorous, I guess I may have failed. For ending thoughts then, I would say that though there are some cautions to consider when making decisions on what font to use or how best to set the type, that there is also plenty of room for having personal opinions and preferences for what you think works well and looks good.... Let’s not let the trolls take away from what can be fun and enjoyable!