Small Caps and Margins

Yes, typography does matter.

March 13, 2015Filed under blogMarkdown source

In addition to the various other issues I tackled in the review I published at Mere O a few weeks ago, there was one other secondary but to my mind non-trivial issue with Barrs’ Echoes of Eden. I left it aside because it certainly wasn’t Barrs’ fault, and would have seemed absurdly nitpicky to my audience there. But it bears comment nonetheless.

The small caps! The divine name appeared in a number of places throughout the books, as Lord (just as it does in the Bible). Unfortunately, Crossway chose to use a Palatino variant without real small capitals. Yes, I know: it’s a little detail, and in the grand scheme of things it isn’t that important. But it’s the little details like that which add up to the difference between a so-so printing of a book and a truly delightful printing of a book. They make a big difference in the experience of reading the book (albeit usually a subconscious one, unless like me you are a typography nerd). I think that a book on the arts, of all books, should have really delightful typesetting. (Honestly, all books should have good typesetting, but the lack is even less excusable when the book is about beauty!)

Today I started reading Bruce Ashford’s new book, Every Square Inch. Five pages in, I’m enjoying his writing so far, but two things are making it a less-than-delightful experience. One is the typeface—the same custom serif used in Logos. It is functional, but there are many irritating details about it. Above all, it screams that it was designed for screens and has not been adjusted for use in print. The other major issue is the page margins. The inner margins are perfectly respectable; the outer margins are so narrow that my much-less-typographically-obsessive wife also immediately noted and commented on them.

These things matter. The old patterns of book-printing—careful designs of everything from leading to line length to the size of margins—were patterns for a reason. In the new digital-everything era, too many of these lessons have been forgotten or ignored by startup presses, and it’s making everyone’s reading experience unnecessarily worse. Typography is a skill and an art that can make an enormous difference in the experience of reading a book; it is one we need publishers like Lexham Press and Crossway to reappropriate.1

Rant over. But please, publishers: work to make your typography excellent, not just passable. Pay attention to your margins and your small capitals.

  1. Crossway I know can do it, because their ESV line includes some of the best Bible typesetting done by anyone. They just need to apply that everywhere!