Join John McWade for an in-depth discussion in this video Rewind: Seeing sight lines, part of Graphic Design Tips & Tricks Weekly.
- I was at Typography.com a while back, that's Jonathan Hoefler and Company, Jonathan is one of the world's preeminent type designers, buying a new typeface of theirs called Peristyle. I like it a lot. It's a condensed sans-serif with thicks and thins, a very high thick/thin stroke ratio. You can see here how much contrast there is between the width of the thin strokes and the width of the thick strokes. Also interesting is that it has an almost extreme x-height.
The x-height is the size of the lowercase letters, and you can see here that those lowercase letters extend probably to 80% or so, 85%, the height of the uppercase characters. This is a fresh, kind of modern look, and as a practical matter, it also means that you can stack lines of type really tightly if you want to. The general construction of Peristyle is just tall rectangles.
You can see the characters are all rectangular like this, and they have just rounded off corners. It's not a round typeface, it's just a tall, narrow squarish one. It also has some fun little characters like the circle, the ball terminal on the R, it has some wedges, and mostly it's just a fun, fresh take on this genre. On the site, they also have a dozen or so examples of showing Peristyle in use.
One of them is this one. It's a logo looking M in a circle above a name and a tagline, and I like it. And when I saw it, it got me thinking about sight lines and phantom lines and how shapes form in negative spaces. It's a topic I've covered before, but it's a basic, I'd like to show it to you again because, really, what we can do is build a functional grid out of imagery that's on the page, and I think this typeface will be a good one to illustrate this with because it's so rectangular.
You'll see what I mean in a minute. There's obviously a sight line here. It's this one, and what's interesting about it is that you can see it there even though the circle is in between those two objects. That's how strong it is. It doesn't really matter whether that's a circle or it's a square, you can still see it. And you can see it if there's just a big orange circle. That line is here. There are also horizontal sight lines that form off of these letters, they are here.
And so, I mean, what you have when you place these objects on the page, we have the beginning of a grid. This is not a grid that we created and then put stuff on it, this is a grid that forms from the things that are on the page. So, what can we do with this? Well, one thing is we can move the type to anywhere on the grid. I've just eliminated all those sight lines except the two that we're using, and when you remove the lines, you can see, still, a really strong alignment.
One of the things that's kind of interesting here, and I noticed this after I did it, we have this grid line, we have this grid line, we have this grid line, all of which are phantoms, but note that the length of this type and this empty space are the same. I didn't plan that, that was just by eye, and I think I was able to do that just because these rectangles are so strong.
You can just see that these are pretty much the same. That's working a grid by eye. We know these sight lines exist. Let me add a couple text blocks to the grid. I'm going to place them here, aligned with the M. Remove the grid and take a look at the construction that's here. Let me show you what's happening. One is we know that we have a point of alignment here.
One of the questions is, how big are these text blocks and why are they the size they are and why are they where they are, other than this one point of alignment? So, each text block is this wide, which is twice the width of an M. It's not exact, but you can see that this space and this space really are the same, and that's just carried over here as well. You can also tell, or maybe you can't tell, but you probably can, that the height of the M and the height of the space under it are the same.
We've put an M in here. Again, that was done by eye, and I think, the reason it's so easy, again, is because this typeface is rectangular as it is. When I look at this page now, what I see is a channel here and I see a rectangle here. These are all phantom lines, but they exist and we can work with those.
Let me move the type over to the left margin and have a look at it there. Now, what's interesting to my eye is that this is not as successful. I think what's happening is the M really is our focal point, so all eyes are moving toward that M. We want to look at it. And yet, by moving the type over where it is, we've kind of eliminated the foundation that's underneath the M. So, it's just kind of hanging out in space, and it just, sort of, is falling weakly off the picture like this.
And so, we are seeing, our eyes are moving this way and yet the M is just kind of falling away into open space, and it's not all hanging together. The headline, the text, and the M. A solution to that would be this, where now what I've done is justified the type. So, we have straight right-hand margins, it makes those into blockier blocks, and they're an arbitrary width now.
They're not twice the M, they're whatever it takes to reach this margin, the right margin aligned with the M. And so, we wind up with this rectangular construction, which has brought the M back into the design. When I move all the lines, you can see that rectangle that's there. And I think this solution works. One of the things that's interesting about this is, this entire time, there's been this orange circle there and you don't even notice that, really.
That's because, I think, the circle is a completely different form. It's orange, it's a circle. It has no corners, no edges, no straight lines, and so we kind of see right through it. Also the fact that most of the type is white in contract against the dark background as well as that orange. The text blocks where they are give us a horizontal sight line across the top of the text extending across the page, and we can add to that sight line anything that we want, in this case, it's just a small caption, and just hang it on that line.
So, our finished design looks like this. If we look again at the original design but change the type style, this is a classic Roman serif, it's Adobe Garamond, you can tell that that line, although it's still there, is not as strong, but it's definitely one that can be worked with, and should be. A second example using Peristyle is this one. I like this.
And let me point out a couple things. One is that the type, the edge of the small type and the edge of the big type are aligned exactly, both horizontally and vertically. This is kind of trendy. It doesn't always work, it's certainly working in this case. Two is this shows you how extreme the x-height on Peristyle is. There's just these tiny little bits sticking above the x-height line. And three, the translucent blue just gives the whole thing just kind of a fresh, crisp wintery look.
There are really strong vertical lines here. The vertical lines of the stencil type, you could see all the way through here. The horizontal sight line of winter gala, how did winter gala get to be this size? Well, it was probably eyeballed, but note that the space here and the space here are the same. It's the same thing we just saw a few moments ago, and it's almost the same as the gap in here.
Not quite, but that's probably where the size of winter gala came from. It's one of those things, when you're working with a constructed face like this, it just sort of appears in the space. Keep your eye out for that. Let me add a text block to this, I'm going to put it here. A couple things about it. One, the width of the text block is similar to, in fact, it's almost the same as the width of the C, that would also be the width of the N.
Your eye does not always relate white to black, so the black text block could be a little bit wider or a little bit narrower, and you're not going to notice whether it's exactly the same or not. If it was compared to something, if the C were black, you probably would see that contrast. Also, you can tell that the channel in the stencil of the C is the same as this channel here, and of course we have a sight line here.
So, this is a rational, kind of a logical size and position to put this text block. There are certainly other places it could go. One is that we could park it exactly against the edge of the C. So, the text block now looks just like winter gala. There's sort of a piece, this design hangs together just very cleanly. We've also eliminated the channel that was here, and so that has cleaned up the design as well.
Another possibility is to overlap it entirely, and this now is like winter gala as well. You can get away with this because the background is very light, the yellow is very light, the C is very light, and so the black is in high contrast against it. Where you're going to run into a problem like this is if you're trying to, if you're creating this overlap on a background that's darker, it's going to look odd. It'll be difficult to read across the background, but in this case, it works great and goes just fine.
You also can note that the space here really is the same as the space here. That's sort of where that size came from, and as before, the width of the text block and the width of the C are the same. These are all logical, rational things. That text block does not have to go there, it could go here. It could go here, like so.
It could align with the top, like so. It could align with the N here, like so. There's many points of alignment that you're free to experiment with, depending on what your design looks like and how the thing feels to your eye. But always be attuned to the fact that whenever you place something in the page, you have created sight lines and you have created shapes and spaces in the negative field that affect how the thing looks.
Sometimes when you say, oh, I just needed to nudge it over or scooch it there, or it felt right over there, what you're feeling is actually this stuff. And so, tune yourself into this, be aware of what's going on in those spaces, and kind of key your design to those things. And that's your design for the day. See you next time.
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