Keep Editorial Fingers Out of Your Layouts
After all the creative effort you've put into a magazine, brochure, or advertisement layout, pouring large blocks of text into the design can be something of an afterthought. (Heck, many designers and editors consider this part of the design process a success as long as all - or most - of the text ends up in the document.)
But making sure that text blocks are not only present but also beautiful and readable can do two very important things: First, it can greatly enhance the overall appeal of your design. Second, it'll keep persnickety editors like me from sending layouts back with requests for design changes (or, worse, opening your creations and poking at them).
There are nine major paint points that may cause editors to open a layout and start fiddling with it. Nine sounds like a lot, but don't worry. You can resolve most of these problems very simply, by tracking text, kerning letter spaces, adjusting leading, forcing a line return, or tweaking a program's text settings. Although I'll give you the shortcuts in QuarkXPress, you can achieve similar results in Adobe InDesign.
When text doesn't appear where a reader expects it to (forcing him or her to hunt for the beginning of a story or the second half of a page-jumping sentence, for example), reading becomes unpleasant. And when reading becomes unpleasant, readers put down your magazine or turn past your advertisement and find something more enjoyable to do. You can often check a design's readability by filling it with greeked text and seeing where your eye jumps to after you read a headline or turn a page. Speaking very generally, your eye will look for the top of the page and then go as far to the left as possible to start reading.
This design may need to be reworked - my eye jumps to the top of the right-hand column, instead of to the top of the left-hand column.
In editorial terms, a "bad break" is a word that has broken improperly across two lines. In XPress, you can tweak the H&J settings to your and your editor's satisfaction (for instance, many publications don't allow a word to break in a way that leaves only two letters alone on a line).
Sometimes, you'll have to make word-breaking decisions on your own. Keep in mind that a word can't be broken just any old place. Check your dictionary: there will be a dot at acceptable breaking points: mas•quer•ade. Here are some other things to consider:
- Often, words that appear in display type shouldn't be broken.
- When breaking URLs, many publications prefer to use no hyphens (to avoid confusion when readers try to enter the URLs into a browser).
- Many publications consider it impolite to break a person's name if such a break can be avoided.
- If possible, use temporary hyphens to rebreak improperly broken words (in XPress, press Command or Control-hyphen [-]). If the broken word gets pushed around later and ends up in the middle of a line, the hyphen will disappear.
The designer checked a dictionary to break this word at the proper place, then used a temporary hyphen to make the break. Two gold stars!
Straight Quotation Marks
Especially when you're copying and pasting your text (from an e-mail, say), watch for straight quotation marks and apostrophes. And particularly in display type, make sure you change them into true quotation marks and apostrophes. When I see straight quotation marks pop up in an otherwise gorgeous typeface, I'm not always able to fight back my tears.
Widows and Orphans
This may sound cruel, but I insist that designers eliminate widows and orphans - and if they can't bring themselves to do so, I'm prepared to go after them myself. A widow is a short line left alone at the top of a page. An orphan (sometimes called a runt) is one word (or part of a word) left alone at the end of a wide paragraph. Both are typographic undesirables.
An example of an orphan is on the left; the widow is on the right.
When it comes to ragged (or nonjustified) type, some people like a curvy, flowing rag, and some people like a jagged, spiky rag. (I count myself in the latter group, but I'm willing to concede that this is a subjective area.) However, no one likes what I call a "dirty rag" - that is, a rag that leaves a small word beyond the reach of the lines above and below it. These are easy to fix with a forced return (in XPress, press shift-return), rather than a paragraph return, which may introduce unwanted indentation or extra leading.
Clean up this unsightly rag with a forced return.
Too Much Air
When text is set in narrow justified columns, you'll often end up with airy text, which can mar the elegantly consistent grayness that a block of type should have. One quick way to fix this problem is to introduce fixed spaces between the words in an airy line (in XPress, press option-spacebar). Not all type mavens like the results - but in many cases, text looks a lot better without big gaps.
Another way to ensure consistently gray text is to search out double spaces that have somehow found their way into your text and replace them with single spaces. This is a typesetting fundamental that editors and designers often overlook.
Too much air is a bad thing (top). The type looks better without large gaps (bottom).
As you track paragraphs (via XPress's Measurements palette) to eliminate orphans, widows, bad breaks, and so on, remember that a paragraph tracked to -4 may look fine alone, but it won't look good sitting on top of a paragraph tracked to 3. Two paragraphs next to each other should have similar tracking.
In terms of tracking, some typefaces are more flexible than others. Some serif fonts, for instance, begin to look excessively claustrophobic when they're tracked too tightly. Experiment a bit with your typeface to see what its limits are. (With the utilitarian but tasteful Garamond you see in these screenshots, for instance, a generous tracking range would be -4 to 4.)
Also keep in mind that subheads and other supertextual, display-type elements (including run-in subheads) should usually match each other, not the paragraphs they sit next to. When selecting a paragraph to track, don't grab nearby subheads, too!
Rivers Running Through It
A river is a line of white space that flows, uninterrupted, through a layout's text. (I find that they're easier to spot when I turn a layout upside-down and look at it). Because readers are accustomed to seeing white space used as a separator, rivers can make a document structurally confusing-as well as ugly.
Avoid rivers, which are unwanted lines of white space.
A Line Alone
I generally suggest following a two-line rule - that is, putting at least two full lines of type above any break in text, such as an art element or the bottom of the page - when possible (it won't always be). This will help you avoid "staircasing" (staircase-shaped white space), unintended white-space boxes, and other unattractive text-flow problems. Astute typesetters will also watch for proper indentation (not all editors pay enough attention to this): the first line of a piece, as well as the first line beneath a stand-alone subhead, should usually not be indented.
Incorporate a two-line rule into your design, and you'll outwit several text-flow problems.
Those Devilish Details
Of course, not all of these problems can be resolved in every layout. Often, a designer and an editor must prioritize: Should we fix the widow and live with the resulting flawed tracking, or fix the tracking and live with the resulting widow? And do we even have time to deal with a few bad breaks?
But when you're working collaboratively with nitpicking editors (or with editorial folks who don't know much about typesetting), setting your text with an eye toward avoiding these problems can save your layout from imperfection - and from meddling editors.
Charles Purdy is Macworld magazine's Managing Editor and the author of Urban Etiquette: Marvelous Manners for the Modern Metropolis.
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