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Developing a system to help chunk text for readers

From: Typography for Web Designers

Video: Developing a system to help chunk text for readers

We know that things that are closer together are seen as belonging together. This is the theory of proximity. We can use proximity to improve the visual chunking on the page. A chunk can be a paragraph or a group of paragraphs within a section. In fact, a chunk can even be a group of sections within a larger long page, like if our page had image resources and color resources on it too, but on our page we have primarily got resources and sections of resources.

Developing a system to help chunk text for readers

We know that things that are closer together are seen as belonging together. This is the theory of proximity. We can use proximity to improve the visual chunking on the page. A chunk can be a paragraph or a group of paragraphs within a section. In fact, a chunk can even be a group of sections within a larger long page, like if our page had image resources and color resources on it too, but on our page we have primarily got resources and sections of resources.

In our bibliography we have sort of a double chunk for each resource. One is the title and author, the other is the description, but nothing feels like it belongs together yet. All the elements flit away from each other. A default vertical spacing system does not work. Looking at our current page using a default spacing system we can see the space between the title and author is too loose. They don't feel like they belong together. In fact, the title, Nice Web Type, is actually closer to the description for the resource above it then it is to the author.

We need to tighten this vertical space. When we tighten up the space between the title and author, we can see that they are still too far from the description and they all belong together in a single chunk. The title and author are still slightly closer to the description for the resource above them. We can tighten the relationship between author and description but we still need to add a bit more space above the titles to really separate the resources from each other, like this. The chunking looks pretty good. We can clearly see there are two resources and each resource has two parts in it, but what about the overall chunking? I know readers won't see this much of the page at once, but keeping a good vertical spacing system will help them as they scroll down the page.

This is what the page looked like before we fixed some of the spacing and here's what it looks like after we fixed the spacing. We can see there are six resources. But the section heading, our h2, it's too close to the resource about it and it belongs to the resources that come after it. We need more space here to improve chunking. When we add the space, we can more clearly see the two sections of resources. This looks good! But how do we know how much space to add or take out between title, authors, descriptions, resources, and sections? Well, part of it is experience and learning to recognize what feels right, but there is also recommendation you can follow.

It will get you started. When developing a system of vertical space, I recommend starting with a modular scale. A modular scale means the amounts of space are mathematically related to each other. For example if the line height is 20, base your vertical spacing on units of 4 or 5. Spaces could measure 4, 8, 12, 16, or 20 pixels or they could measure 5, 10, 15, 20, and 25 pixels. If your line height is 18 pixels, you could base your vertical spacing system on 3.

Our line height is 22 pixels so we could base our spacing system on units of 2 or 11, which unfortunately is not really helpful. One unit is too small and the other is too big. If you have experienced setting type in print, you're probably familiar with the idea of creating a vertical spacing system using a modular scale. There are good reasons for using one. It gives you a place to start exploring spacing. It creates a pleasing mathematical relationship between the different amounts of space.

When working with multiple columns of text, lines of type will end up lining up, which is always good but when working with web type there are some reason why it's okay to not use a modular scale. We cannot measure space in units smaller than a whole pixel. So if a line height is 19 pixels we can't use one half, two thirds, or three quarters of the measurement elsewhere. Paragraph spacing needs to be a little bigger on the screen. Maybe it's the needs for fonts with larger x-heights or maybe it's the need for slightly larger font sizes to maintain readability, but where paragraph space and print often works at only about 50% of the line height, on the screen 66%-75% of the line height works much better.

The need for looser paragraph spacing can lead to really big spaces between sections if we forced ourselves to work with a modular scale. And readers will rarely see the entire page at one time. They will scroll up and down seeking what interests them. The subtle mathematical relationships in a modular scale bring a quiet attention to the printed page, but the subtlety gets lost in a long page meant to be scrolled. Web readers need us to first and foremost pay attention to legibility and readability.

If breaking the modular vertical spacing system by a pixel or two or even five improves chunking and improves readability, I hereby give you permission to break it. Having said that, our serif bibliography will not use a modular scale although I sort of started with one. I ended up with these measurements for the spacing. Above the h3 titles, I used 20 pixels and I started with 22 pixels. Below the author, I used 5 pixels but I had started with 8 pixels. Above the h2 section header, I used 40 pixels and I started with 44 pixels.

Below the h2 section header, I used 16 pixels although I started--- I did! I started with 16 pixels. Between the title and author, we are using 2 pixels and I had started without any space here at all. You can see I started with a sort of modular scale. The 22 and 44 are based on 11. The 8 and 16 fall on either side of 11 and are based on 2 and they are mathematically related to each other. You can also see a change to modular scale when needed to refine the chunking.

That's our vertical spacing system for the serif bibliography. Now we need to apply it in our HTML and CSS.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Typography for Web Designers
Typography for Web Designers

74 video lessons · 14184 viewers

Laura Franz
Author

 
Expand all | Collapse all
  1. 6m 18s
    1. Welcome
      1m 9s
    2. Using the exercise files
      1m 57s
    3. Things to consider before starting this course
      3m 12s
  2. 41m 3s
    1. Understanding how good typography promotes reading
      2m 9s
    2. Understanding legibility
      4m 41s
    3. Understanding how fonts convey meaning
      5m 19s
    4. Choosing web-safe fonts to convey meaning
      6m 13s
    5. Using font size, case, style, letter spacing, weight, and color to convey meaning
      6m 22s
    6. Choosing web fonts to convey meaning
      6m 23s
    7. Downloading web fonts
      4m 9s
    8. Applying web fonts in CSS with @font-face
      5m 47s
  3. 38m 0s
    1. Choosing a web-safe font for use in text
      4m 13s
    2. Applying the web-safe font to the text and the heading
      3m 4s
    3. Setting a class for the resource titles in the text
      3m 45s
    4. Choosing a second web-safe font for the heading
      2m 42s
    5. Applying the second font to the heading
      2m 16s
    6. Choosing a web font from the Google Font API for use in text
      5m 44s
    7. Adding and applying the Google Font API syntax
      4m 29s
    8. Choosing a second web font from the Google Font API for the heading
      2m 56s
    9. Adding and applying the second font to the heading
      4m 52s
    10. Analyzing the fonts on some professional sites
      3m 59s
  4. 55m 31s
    1. Understanding how we read
      4m 34s
    2. Finding and applying a good font size and line height
      4m 50s
    3. Finding and applying a good line length
      8m 6s
    4. Understanding ems
      6m 17s
    5. Using ems to set font size
      6m 9s
    6. Using ems to set line length
      3m 40s
    7. Understanding how color affects readability
      3m 58s
    8. Improving a color palette by improving contrast
      5m 39s
    9. Improving a color palette by reducing optical vibration
      4m 59s
    10. Analyzing text readability on the professional sites
      7m 19s
  5. 1h 11m
    1. Understanding how we "chunk" visual elements
      3m 59s
    2. Developing a system of hierarchy
      2m 17s
    3. Applying hierarchy in HTML and CSS
      7m 16s
    4. Developing a system to help chunk text for readers
      6m 1s
    5. Applying the system in the CSS
      4m 19s
    6. Changing an element by creating and applying a class
      5m 0s
    7. Using multiple columns to create hierarchy
      4m 12s
    8. Building a two-column system in HTML and CSS
      10m 56s
    9. Refining the horizontal space in a two-column layout
      6m 1s
    10. Adding rule lines to improve chunking
      5m 50s
    11. Adding emphasis within a heading
      4m 36s
    12. Analyzing the chunking on the professional sites
      11m 18s
  6. 17m 57s
    1. Understanding classic and modernist typographic pages
      7m 3s
    2. Understanding how to create rhythm and tension
      6m 0s
    3. Applying typography skills when making design decisions
      4m 54s
  7. 55m 47s
    1. Designing typographic links for the traditional page
      5m 54s
    2. Adding a list of links to the traditional page
      8m 44s
    3. Describing the link states in CSS
      6m 30s
    4. Returning links to their original "unvisited" style
      2m 38s
    5. Using different CSS for different kinds of links
      7m 28s
    6. Using CSS notation to organize syntax
      5m 34s
    7. Choosing a background color or image
      4m 0s
    8. Applying a repeating background image
      2m 58s
    9. Shaping the traditional page layout
      6m 38s
    10. Analyzing the traditional typographic elements on the professional sites
      5m 23s
  8. 43m 0s
    1. Designing typographic links for the modernist page
      6m 47s
    2. Making a list of links run across the page
      2m 14s
    3. Adding and removing space between the navigation links
      6m 50s
    4. Styling the inline links on the modernist page
      5m 33s
    5. Choosing a background color or image for the modernist bibliography
      4m 4s
    6. Applying a no-repeat background image
      4m 13s
    7. Shaping the modernist page layout
      6m 58s
    8. Analyzing the modernist typographic elements on the professional sites
      6m 21s
  9. 52m 53s
    1. Fixing quotation marks and apostrophes
      6m 59s
    2. Fixing dashes
      6m 33s
    3. Working with lining figures (numbers) and acronyms
      9m 28s
    4. Fixing characters that don't look right
      8m 19s
    5. Hanging punctuation
      2m 54s
    6. Applying typographic accents
      2m 36s
    7. Vertically centering text
      5m 18s
    8. Creating drop caps
      5m 59s
    9. Analyzing the typographic details on the professional sites
      4m 47s
  10. 3m 9s
    1. Additional resources
      3m 9s

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