09 October 2007

[news_design] The Perils of Page Layout, 1: Type in Narrow Spaces

996. Here begins an occasional series (essentially when I can find fodder for it), "The Perils of Page Layout". This post carries a Dialup Danger warning; the pictures included are, by necessity, kind of large.

The reason page layout is taken seriously is that the understanding the grammar of placing text and pictures in a page can get quite complicated sometimes, and sometimes, the solution to a problem can be choosing between the lesser of a variety of evils.

For today's example (with due respect toward the layouter who's doing a job I'd kill to have a chance to do and undoubtely has to draw this sort of line more than often–because a food publication withough good illustrations just doesn't make sense), we go to The Big O's FoodDay suppliment, section FD of today's paper, specifically, page FD4, about halfway down, on the left. There is a sidebar with a showcase of interesting items for foodies to buy at various locations around town. One exhibits a book and a set of "tasting forks and spoons" available locally:

Taken from page FD4 from today's The Oregonian. Clicky to embiggen.

Note that really narrow column on the left on the picture. Something tells me the layout artist was right up against the grid here.

A problem with designing to spaces so narrow is that multiple-word sequences that need to hang together to prevent awkward reading. Join the / club causes the brain to "stub its toe": one seems to be called to knit them together again in the mind's eye before proceeding.

Note also the sequence of three consecutive hyphenated words at the lower left corner of the illo. This can be tough on the reader because you work to read and also, as before, to knit the words back together in the mind; moreover, the three hyphens tend to form a visual unit that can be distractive (the weight of the sans-serif type The O uses in its body type here go quite a long way toward mitigating that problem, however).

The biggest hazard in splittling words that need to stay together to complete a thought, however, comes when such things can actually consipre to change the appearent meaning of the text. If you don't think this is possible, check the zoom in here:

$22,255? That's one expensive book! (Clicky to Embiggen)

Note that the text is meant to read "DK Publishing, $22, 255 pages". The line break, however, comes between "255" and "pages". The result looks, despite the obvious space between the comma after the price and the number 2, as though the book is from DK Publishing, costs $22,255, and consists of pages (hell, at that price, I hope it'll contain one or two!).

In my unasked-for opinion, I'd say that that column needs to be widened a little bit–it's just too narrow for successful layout. Alternatively, it probably wouldnt' take too much reduction on the kerning in the the en-space (at least that's what it looks like) between the comma and the number to save enough space to bring the word "pages" up on the line where it should be. Maybe only a couple-hundredths of an em would be all that it needed.

(Disclaimer: I am not employed in page layout right now, but would like to be. I have no idea what pressures the layouter in the cited clippings had driving whatever decision was made)

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