Sep 10, 2008

type, the web, and the crystal goblet

"the crystal goblet" by beatrice warde (a short read available here) is a crisp exposition of invisible typography, the idea that the design of the page should be transparent rather than calling attention to itself. content should speak for itself; bad content can infrequently (arguably, never) be saved by good design:
Get attention as you will by your headline, and make any pretty type pictures you like if you are sure that the copy is useless as a means of selling goods; but if you are happy enough to have really good copy to work with, I beg you to remember that thousands of people pay hard-earned money for the privilege of reading quietly set book-pages, and that only your wildest ingenuity can stop people from reading a really interesting text.

Printing demands a humility of mind, for the lack of which many of the fine arts are even now floundering in self-conscious and maudlin experiments. There is nothing simple or dull in achieving the transparent page. Vulgar ostentation is twice as easy as discipline. When you realise that ugly typography never effaces itself; you will be able to capture beauty as the wise men capture happiness by aiming at something else. The 'stunt typographer' learns the fickleness of rich men who hate to read. Not for them are long breaths held over serif and kern, they will not appreciate your splitting of hair-spaces. Nobody (save the other craftsmen) will appreciate half your skill. But you may spend endless years of happy experiment in devising that crystalline goblet which is worthy to hold the vintage of the human mind.

the same can be said of the web -- good content and good design that enables good content to be parsed easily are paramount. flash-heavy, content-poor sites may launch with a big splash, but are generally assured of rapid anonymity. the same principle also applies to all sorts of domains in which craft is applied to raw materials of varying quality: food, furniture, education, etc.

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