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Understanding classic and modernist typographic pages

From: Typography for Web Designers

Video: Understanding classic and modernist typographic pages

Typographers have placed text on the page in different ways over the years. I'm going to cover two general approaches to the typographic page in this lesson. The traditional or classic approach, and the modernist approach. First, some history. The traditional page developed from the old ways of creating books. First in scriptoriums written by hand and later with the advent of the printing press and refinement in printing technology.

Understanding classic and modernist typographic pages

Typographers have placed text on the page in different ways over the years. I'm going to cover two general approaches to the typographic page in this lesson. The traditional or classic approach, and the modernist approach. First, some history. The traditional page developed from the old ways of creating books. First in scriptoriums written by hand and later with the advent of the printing press and refinement in printing technology.

The modernist page grew out of a fascination with industrialization and a desire to bring order back after years of living through the chaos of World War I. The modernist page is a stark deviation from centuries of traditional typography. More importantly, the traditional and modernist typographer had different ideas about how people read. A traditional typographer might say "Books are meant to diffuse ideas. Here is an important text.

I've set it in a pleasing manner so the reader can enjoy and contemplate it." A modernist typographer might say, "People don't read in a leisurely manner anymore so I've used emphasis and space to help people skim it, then read what is important to them." The traditional typographer was interested in pleasing the eye with elegance and beauty. The modernist typographer was interested in guiding the reader's eye, setting type with clarity.

Contemporary typographers combine formal and theoretical elements as needed. It's not necessary or practical to separate traditional and modernist approaches to typography. So now that we know the ideas behind the traditional and modernist page, let's look at the pages themselves. Traditional pages tend to use a text frame. That is, text lives in a block framed by generous margins. Margins can be filled with additional text, a border image, or even links, but the main relationship of text to space is often one of text block to margin.

Modernist pages tend to use space in an architectural manner. The text frame is gone. Text blocks can live anywhere on the page and are spatially related to each other via the grid. Shapes, not just gutters and margins, are equally important architectural elements. Elements are rarely centered or symmetrical. If we look at the two bibliographies you've been making this far, you will see one is more traditional than the other. The serif version uses more of a text frame approach while the sans serif version allows space to break into the text block.

Large areas of white space are almost as visually important as the text itself. Traditional and modernist pages tend to use different fonts. Traditional pages tend to use serif fonts. This comes out of the history of handwritten lettering and the first fonts designed for the press. Modernist pages tend to use sans serif fonts. This comes from the first modernist's desire to seek clarity and order.

If we look at our two bibliographies, you'll see we're working in a more contemporary style. We're embracing both serif and sans serif fonts in both versions. We could have easily done one version all serif and one version all sans serif and it would have been great. But serif and sans serif fonts can live beautifully on the page together. Traditional and modernist pages tend to have a different approach to the overall tone of the page.

Traditional pages tend to keep an even tone. The text is meant to be read in a relaxed, contemplative manner. Let's look at our more traditional version. Hierarchy is subtle, using changes in size, case, and style. Capital letters will usually use letter spacing to keep them from feeling too dark on the page. But we've deviated from the truly traditional page in three ways. One, we're using a bold face to help improve hierarchy for scanning information.

This is necessary, because reading on the web usually is not contemplative. The bold helps break up the page and to create chunks. Two, true traditional pages tend to use justified text to emphasize the text block, and centered headings. But justified text is difficult to work with online. So we left-aligned the text and all the headings. Three, ornaments were often used in the traditional page to add emphasis or help chunk text and we're not using any ornaments here.

With the bold Verdana subheadings, ornaments aren't necessary for emphasis and chunking. There isn't any web-based reason not to use them; we just didn't. Modernist pages on the other hand tend to use contrast to create emphasis. Let's look at our modernist version. Text on the page is meant to be glanced at quickly, so hierarchy is created with placement, size, and weight. Different levels of emphasis guide readers around the page.

This is particularly true in comparison with the more traditional version. In this version, we moved our section headings into a different column. Our sans serif bibliography follows a lot of the modernist ideals of a page, but once again we have deviated from a truly modernist page, this time in two ways. A truly modernist page would have used the space more architecturally, letting the white spaces become as important as the text areas. The white space would have helped guide a reader's eye around the entire page.

I find this can be difficult to do in web typography. It takes practice. Space is limited and readers don't see the whole page at the same time if it's long and they need to scroll. Careful placing of elements to create architectural space doesn't have the impact on a long web page as it does in a contained printed page. The modernist page would have used a grid to guide placement of type on the page. But I find text is more readable on screen if we base line length on readability rather than a modular grid.

Looking at historic approaches to the typographic page can inspire our own work as typographers. It's important to remember a couple of things though. Think about why type looked the way it did, not just how it looked. It is not necessary to separate traditional and modernist ideals and web typography especially benefits from combining the two approaches to the typographic page.

Show transcript

This video is part of

Image for Typography for Web Designers
Typography for Web Designers

74 video lessons · 13733 viewers

Laura Franz
Author

 
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  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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