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The changing vocabulary of type

By Daniel Will-Harris

If a ligature falls in a paragraph and no one notices, does it make a sound? Or an impression? When people are no longer aware of old "standard" typographic conventions and they've lost their meaning, does it make them archaic?

Language changes-we no longer say "thee" and "thou." Spelling changes, too. Typography changes, too-not just in the use of new typefaces and layouts (some of which are unreadable), but in more subtle ways that have also been made possible by technology.

And yet there are some orthodox "letterati" who would have you believe that typesetting does not change and that the same conventions which were necessary for letterpress and hot metal are still necessary today.

Many people continue these conventions out of blind adherence, or fear of criticism. But it's time to look at type again-digital type on paper and on the screen-and decide which conventions are still useful and which have become useless.

For those Letterati out there who find the idea of eliminating archaic conventions to be a sure sign that digital type has killed true typography, I say you're just reading the letters, not putting the emphasis in the proper place-the words, their meaning, and the ease with which others can read them.

It's the simple truth that the quality of even the most "automatic" (meaning just using the software's own settings) of today's digital type is far superior in quality to all but the very finest typesetting of the past. And our choice of high quality typefaces has never been larger. It's not a bad thing to change with the times, especially when the changes are for the better.

So follow these links to read a very logical argument as to why the vocabulary of type has changed, and it's in your best interest, and the best interest of your readers to adopt these changes.

What's wrong with ligatures?

What gets noticed?

Copyright © 1996 Daniel Will-Harris,