This whole weekend was spent dwelling in and on the minutiae of typography. The image above shows a piece of that—the pink highlighted dots are character combinations that needed kerning. (Translation: the space between the letters looked wrong, often too wide, and it needed to be adjusted manually.) I will spare you the details of this process (at least for now) and let’s just say that I am trying to be thorough, careful, and thoughtful, on a micro level, about the typography of this new book. But the important question is: why?
And I have been asking myself that same question between each 1/1000 of an inch adjustment. Why? I certainly enjoy the work (most of the time) but that may not be enough to justify this activity, which 99.5% of the readers of the book will never notice, as the time for printing and binding shrinks. & time is our primary joy, our primary tragedy.
It’s partly about “doing a good job” or “doing it the right way.” It’s also important to remember that typographic decisions are aesthetic decisions, and so the “right” way is always culturally determined and needs to be interrogated in order for the discipline to grow. The discipline. But of course a part of that interrogation entails a thorough understanding of the rules to be questioned. Part of doing this is about educational self-discipline. And no art disciplines the producer like typography.
Why is the spacing important, just in terms of aesthetics & functionality? The space between and around the letters, words, lines and paragraphs, the negative space, is the glue that holds the text together visually. It’s a matter of balance, of the shapes of the letters being made to sit in and move through that space. The type always relies on the negative space for its articulation. It can also be overwhelmed by that space and disappear into the blankness of the page. Making type hold weight, compositionally, spatially, temporally, is one of my primary concerns as a designer and maker.
But back to process. Why the kerning? Another attempt: I am an advocate of meditative rigor, of looking and working hard. (Side note: in these descriptions the matter of “depth” keeps reappearing in my initial writing, but the postmodernist me carefully edits those out, suspicious of such things. What is depth? Why is it bad? Or good? Is it spatial? Or can it be temporal?) Again this idea of discipline emerges.
Why are you worried about the kerning? This kind of fine tuning kills the immediacy of production, the “make it & get it out there” ethic that keeps an energy flowing through this kind of literature. If I wasn’t concerned with the (choose one: ethics, politics, aesthetics, economics) of process, and only cared about “getting it out there,” I definitely would not be messing around with the spacing. Can you read it? Good. It’s fine.
You’re not just spending time and energy on the spacing itself, but also in debating its ethics. Is it that important? Maybe and maybe not. But I think it’s a key or point of departure towards a larger discussion about practice. And that discussion is maybe the point of the practice. As always, to be continued, as always.