Is there something wrong with this journal type?

beroe's picture

Is it just me or is there something wrong with the type used in this journal? I'd like to send them a note, but don't know how to put it in words. The lines look irregular, both vertically and horizontally to me, but maybe it is just that the column is too narrow to do full justification at that size?

The full article is here as pdf

PublishingMojo's picture

There's no specific defect in this sample. There are no hyphen strings. There's a river, but it's not egregious. There are a couple of loose lines, but overall the word spacing isn't excessive. It would look better with another point or two of leading, but journals don't usually have that luxury.
The text face itself may be what you're reacting to. It has a large x-height, shortish ascenders and descenders, and small, blunt serifs. It also has low contrast between thick and thin strokes. To my eye, these factors combine to make the letters all look the same, and thus impede reading. If I were designing this journal, I'd use a more traditional text font with more thick-thin contrast and slightly smaller x-height.

bojev's picture

The font is Memento by Franko Luin - it does have a large x-height that makes for better display use and is not great for reading tightly set text as Victor points out.

Nick Shinn's picture

IMO the spacing is wrong for a condensed, low contrast face. Increased sidebearings on the curved characters and diagonals would help—or, same difference, reduce sidebearings on the verticals and track the whole thing out.

Note in the enlargement how o_d creates a heavy area, and how y_o is tighter than o_u. And see how in l_u_d the space between characters is uneven, although the curved stroke of /d is close to vertical.

It would have been better to have adopted the spacing paradigm of a condensed sans, rather than use that of a typical serif face.

The italic is also off-center, to the right.

The hyphenation at right might benefit from hanging, which can be done via InDesign’s “Optical Margin Alignment” (Type and Tables > Story).

hrant's picture

Huh, you're right, that font is hard to read, but it's not clear why... I agree with Nick about the spacing, but I think there's more to it than that – maybe it's the things Victor pointed out.


beroe's picture

Thanks for the great insights. I think the x-height must be the main culprit. The baseline looks like it is bouncing as well: in the enlargement, the u in the bold `source` looks elevated. The n_ot in `not` looks off too. Maybe I'll just send them a link to this discussion and see if they will consider another typeface.

charles ellertson's picture

The overall effect of the spacing is not good. The first thing I would try would be to take the type size down a half a point. This in effect increases the leading, but it's not quite the same thing. Example: I recently tried spacing (kerning plus side bearing work) a font, and with a 10-point setting, it just didn't work very well. I could get it better, but not joyful. But set at 9.5 point (and with several leadings), everything began to click.

Our one-size-masters tend to work that way, esp. for continuous text setting. There will be a range of sizes, ceteris paribus, that work well. Things will quickly fall apart as you stray too far from these. You can save them to a degree by changing the word spacing, or leading, or measure (margin) but it's only to a degree. The internal space of letters, which is not modifiable in layout design or typesetting, has an affect too, along with word spacing, leading, and margins. All space interacts.

You have to learn to live with what a particular typeface offers and use it to its best advantage, not some theoretical ideal. That's part of what is called "interior" or "text" design, and it is by no means as easy as many think. It takes an eye.

hrant's picture

When you consider that this is probably a modification of an existing –probably decent– font (look at the contrast in quality between the easier letterforms versus that horrid "g") I think what's happening is that Luin made the serifs much heavier but left the round overshoot the same, which means they became inadequate, causing apparent misalignment. The spacing being so uneven might even point to the original having been a sans, but I'd have to look closer.

If we want them to change the font, we'll have to suggest something similar in character but crafted much better. Maybe one of these sisters:

The internal space of letters, which is not modifiable in layout design or typesetting

Hmmm, now I'm wondering whether InDesign's "optical spacing" can be useful here.

You have to learn to live with what a particular typeface offers and use it to its best advantage

Unless you can simply jettison the sorry turd into outer space.


R.'s picture

Equally unable to put my finger on the source of the discomfort, I just wanted to say that the typeface (Memento) feels hard to read to me as well. One thing I spontaneously dislike is the tight spacing. The spacing generally isn’t great (some random examples here; apparently nobody thought about the possibility of two consecutive forward slashes when the fonts were created, but words starting with ‘Py’ already existed in the 90s). One more downside, in my eyes, is that the regular cut looks quite light, even flimsy (but I’m admittedly partial to ‘darker’ typefaces). Contrary to what somebody else said, I actually see a fair bit of contrast in the letters. These two factors—light and some contrast—might contribute to the bad screen rendering on some devices. When I printed out a page, things got a little better, but that doesn’t really help when most people probably read the PDF.

charles ellertson's picture

Within certain limits, InDesign's optical spacing -- if I understand you aright -- is, in effect, like a multiple masters font with a width axis (for condensing/expanding). You can do things with such tools, but maybe different things than one might expect. When Minion Multiple Masters first came out, Richard Eckersley (a book designer) and I played around a fair bit with that axis. Richard was fond of shorter measures -- his favorite trim was a 5.5 x 9 (just trim off the extra half inch), or even a 5 x 9. To get that to look good, a shorter measure was called for.

But given academic prose (look at what's written in the sample we're all complaining about) there is a tension between the measure and number of word spaces. To justify a line, you vary the word spacing or hyphenate. The more word spaces there are on a line, the less each has to absorb the needed variance. (Yes, modern layout engines can automatically apply glyph scaling and tracking, but if you think that doesn't show beyond small amounts, we have very different eyes). It isn't the big words that kill you, it is the absence of short ones, with the spaces they bring.

Anyway, using Minion MM, we played around a lot with that width axis, and you know, the type held up quite well. I think the space contained within a letter, even one open on the bottom like h, m, n, is not just a total amount of white, but is also in some ways set up by the curves of the letterforms. When they're working well, condensing a font doesn't hurt. When those relationships are bad, or "fussy," not much helps -- you've got a one-size turd at best. (Which, I think, is why my biggest complaint about a number of interior designers is they spend too much time being tempted by letterforms, and not enough paying attention to how those letterforms interact.)

Nor do I buy Publishing Mojo's analysis, at least, not in toto. You can make Matthew Carter's Charter a wonderful text face, yet

It has a large x-height, shortish ascenders and descenders, and small, blunt serifs. It also has low contrast between thick and thin strokes.

But I do agree we'd all live longer if a lot of turds were thrown out. Or not really "turds," say rather, fonts that work best with uses other than setting extended text.

hrant's picture

Actually InDesign's "optical spacing" is not like a width axis at all. Besides the fact that it does not provide a continuous harmonization between internal and external whites, it actually essentially replaces a type designer's spacing determinations with its own, using a clever, but of course not truly intelligent, algorithmic. Many people think Optical Spacing should never be used; I'm of the opinion that in cases where a font is very poorly spaced (but otherwise desirable) it can be helpful.

Turds: although no font is good enough to be optimal in any situation, I think there most certainly are fonts that are not optimal in any situation.


quadibloc's picture

I noticed that in the bold of the original paper, using Adobe Acrobat Reader, letters like m, n, and r were above the baseline. However, this went away if I changed from "fit width" to a magnification that was an even multiple of 100%. So there may be problems with how the face is hinted.

The face is lighter and more condensed than the typical faces used for scientific papers. It did seem like the right margin was uneven in the cases where a hyphen was present, but I didn't notice a problem in that respect otherwise.

Martin Silvertant's picture

Many people think Optical Spacing should never be used; I'm of the opinion that in cases where a font is very poorly spaced (but otherwise desirable) it can be helpful.

That's kind of strange. I initially learned that Optical Spacing should always be used, but my own research has lead me to believe that for body text it's best to use Metric spacing if you're using a professional typeface. If the spacing isn't great Optical Spacing should be used and you may want to add a bit of tracking to compensate.
For titles using Optical Spacing may be more logical. I tend to use it by default for headings.

Recently my typography teacher told our class to always use Optical Spacing. I think this is a myth going around in the design community, at least at the art academy I'm at. I told her what I came to understand and I think she has updated her information accordingly. It's kind of pleasant to hear apparently many people think Optical Spacing should never be used. To me it emphasizes the notion that there is middle ground and one should decide whether to use it or not for each individual project, rather than completely avoiding it or always using it by default.

By the way, I think I find the text from the sample hard to read because it's such a condensed typeface with such a tall x-height, combined with the tight spacing and the lack of any advanced typographic functions. I think the text would be much more pleasant to read if the tracking is set to 10, Story is activated and the settings for Justification and Hyphenation are set accordingly. Even with a typeface which clearly isn't optimal for reading, there's quite a bit you can do in InDesign to make it much more pleasant to read.

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