Dreamweaver, Web, CSS and HTML for typographers

I am a traditional typographer having difficulty understanding HTML tools, some are easy, such as emphasis; though why "ital" wasn't used rather than "em" is a mystery; shouldn't "em" have been reserved for an em-space?

The above example is easy to set in typographic programs such as QuarkXPress or InDesign, and the coding made sense on Quadex and other type systems, back in the day. Note that there are hanging numerals in bold, the text is set 9/11, with alignment for breaking lines, and 2 pts additional space between paragraph returns.

The same goes for the superior shown, again, easy in Quark or InDesign, nearly impossible (at least to me) in HTML.

The dialogue in Quark is easy for a typographer to understand:

I've been wading through page after page of code for two days now, and am more befuddled than when I began. Can someone please recommend a resource for learning Dreamweaver, HTML, and CSS that is geared to typographers? The web people I've been able to speak to seldom understand even the word "leading". Can someone give me some hope?

seventy7's picture

How about The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web? http://www.webtypography.net/

Sounds precisely like what you're after.

kosal's picture

"i" was once widely used for italics. Now "em" is favored, because, in the effort to separate aesthetics from content, "emphasis" does not refer to any particular visual style. Emphasis is more semantically appropriate.

If you're really hopeless, message me privately and I'll give you a rundown on whatever you need help in.

Don McCahill's picture

Originally, HTML, and SGML on which it was based, was highly unfriendly to typographers. Initially you didn't have access to leading, paragraph indents, or paragraph spacing. We still are hampered with lack of hyphenation, making justified text ugly, although possible. It was all originally built by a committee of programmers, with little or no typographic input.

When CSS came out, it did get some input from typographers, and you can now do many more things. (Although I am still baffled how you can use em as a dimension without it being based on some other element).

Slowly the ugly is being squeezed out of HTML, but it is a slow process.

I suggest that the hardest step for a print designer is to learn that on the Web, you never know what size of 'paper' you are designing for. Get past that, and you are more than half way towards being a web designer.

Oh yeah, you did ask a question ... I use http://www.w3schools.com as an excellent learning resource on HTML and CSS.

joeclark's picture

You’re talking to the wrong “Web people.” Talk to Jason Santa Maria, Clagnut, Andy Clarke, Mark Boulton. (Buy Mark’s book.)

Don McCahill, em is “the font-size of the relevant font,” namely the font in use for the text to which the declaration applies. HTML has no “ugly”; it is unstyled by default, save for rare presentational elements that are not used by the pros.

Joe Clark

joeclark's picture

Regarding your examples:

  • I don’t know how to style the numerals in an ordered list (beyond specifying the kind of enumeration). I believe it’s impossible.
  • You get the indention you have shown for free by default in all browsers. You can change it if desired.
  • Type size and leading are readily specified. Space after paragraphs is readily specified.
  • <sup>®</sup> is not horrifically wrong for the registered-trademark symbol you are using and can be styled.

Joe Clark

CameronWilliams's picture

Thank you all for your useful comments, and I will check all the resources you've so kindly provided.

joeclark's picture

You’re at risk here of falling prey to bad advice and producing tag soup. You need to learn correct standards-compliant HTML, which is legitimately easy. (It’s tag soup that’s hard.)

You would want Designing with Web Standards by Zeldman, a new edition of which just came out. The CSS Zen Garden book by Dave Shea could be useful to look at.

If you told us what city you were in, chances are there are standardistas already there whom you could get to know.

Joe Clark

aluminum's picture

HTML is not for typesetting per se. That's really what CSS is for.

A poor analogy, perhaps, but consider HTML the structured Word Document and CSS your InDesign tweaking.

CameronWilliams's picture

Thank you, Joe; I'm in New York City; I'll be looking into all of this! I'll get all of these books ASAP, and I'll beware of producing tag soup.

But to clarify, are you saying I can't get hanging bold numerals in an ordered list with plain HTML, or can it be done with CSS? Or is it better to stick with standards-compliant HTML, and redesign the page?

CameronWilliams's picture

I can live with bullets and no numerals, in any case.

joeclark's picture

I don’t know of a way to style the numbers of an ordered list, beyond specifying the form of enumeration.

Perhaps you should take Jason out for a burger, as he is into that sort of thing, I think. He’ll set you straight.

Aluminum is not really accurate. HTML is your semantically-marked-up text, which has little or no implied presentation. CSS determines presentation, except of course for the fact it can be and is overridden.

Joe Clark

aluminum's picture

Yes, stick with standards compliant HTML. Again, you don't style text with HTML (though browsers do have default styles for the HTML).

Use CSS to style the typefaces to the extent that you can.

Beyond that, you can do things with CSS to fudge what you want. For instance, you could create your own numerals as GIF files, then via CSS, cover the default numbers created with your custom image based numbers. You end up with standards compliant HTML, but with the look you want. You could look into using @font-face as well.

"Aluminum is not really accurate."

Like I said, not a great analogy. It was the best I could think aimed at someone that is primarily coming from a print-centric mindset.

Joe's literal definition is the better way to describe it. HTML is semantic markup. CSS makes it pretty.

Florian Hardwig's picture

As the enumeration belongs to the list item (LI), it is not possible to specify, for example, different colors for the number and the list item itself – without extra markup. One could wrap the list item's content into a new element (both block and inline elements are allowed within LI). But that’d be a real bloat.

Arno Enslin's picture

@ Cameron

Understanding the difference between the logical structure and the style is important, because many people with handicaps are also using computers. Blind people are using screenreaders. If the markup is misused for the style, the access to the content is harder for them. Cascading Style Sheets are not limited to the visual style by the way. But how should a screenreader interpret the expression "italic"? The expression indicates a visual style, while "emphasis" indicates "importance". Additionally it would be absurd to style the italic element upright bold with the help of CSS, while there are cases in which it makes sense to style the em element upright bold.

For the same reason you should make use of attributes like "title" or elements like "acronym". In case of the acronym-element the handicap is the limited knowledge of the user. The biggest handicap is stupidity. This does not mean, that you always should design for the most stupid user, but in case of websites, that are intended to be used by a wide range of users, that don’t belong to a group with special interests, the Amazon website or a government website for example, you should keep in mind, that many people are more stupid than you or that many people are less competent than you.

There are cases, in which blinds are not in your target group. I think, this website is one example – although even on this website you probably find discussions about braille.

joeclark's picture

Do not do what Aluminum says with the images of numbers and whatnot.

Joe Clark

Arno Enslin's picture

Do not do what Aluminum says with the images of numbers

Why not?

ricadus's picture

Because it messes with the flexibility of the text. Somebody trying to view the page on a monitor set to a different resolution (e.g. someone with sight problems, or someone with a small screen handheld device) may not see the list quite as you see it on your own equipment.

aluminum's picture

I used to be a stubborn as Joe in terms of full on obedience to web accessibility guidelines but have become more pragmatic over the years. Partly because I'm not a pundit and have to adhere to demands of others and partly because the more you learn about web accessibility, the more gray area you find within it. It's getting better (really looking forward to ARIA standards).

In the end, it all depends. Apply and/or ignore the rules of thumb based on the context of the site you are building.

ricadus is sort-of correct. If the numeral is an image, and a user changes their font size, it may not scale in relation to the type. You could get around that by sizing the image in ems. The other issue if a person is using page-zoom (via the OS or the browser itself) the image will scale, but quickly become much more pixelated than the text. That may be an issue. But that's but one way to skin the cat.

You can do a lot with HTML + CSS but there are limitations when comparing it to traditional typesetting. It's up to you to decide when over-rides are warranted and when they are not. Both from an end-user usability/accessibility standpoint as well as production-side sanity.

aluminum's picture

Looking at your specific example, try this:

[ol style="font-weight: bold; font-family: verdana; color: red;"]
[li][div style="font-weight: normal; font-family: georgia; padding-left: 2em; color: black;"]content[/div][/li]

That's about as close as you can get to using pure HTML/CSS to separate the styles of the numerals and the style of the list contents itself.

Alas, the period is part of the browser's rendering of ordered lists so there'd be no way to omit that via this method.

Dan Gayle's picture

Inline styles? Seriously? You might as well use the <sup>®</sup> tags.

One thing that I have learned for a certainty, is that the more bloat you add to your content, the more problems you will eventually have with content re-use (The golden goose of XML) AND usability.

The markup exists for a reason. The UA is supposed to adjust its own display of the content to fit the locale and the technical requirements of the page.

Dan Gayle's picture

Now, given the original problem, a <dl> could also do the trick fairly robustly, although the counter would have to be added manually.

<style type="text/css" media="screen">

<p>Here's what we've done to help:</p>
<dd>We eliminated traditional film and plate processing, along with the associated toxic chemicals</dd>
<dd>We acquired a chemical free <abbr title="computer-to-plate">CTP</abbr> (computer-to-plate) setter.</dd>

Some definite clean up of the CSS would be required, but I hope you get the drift.

aluminum's picture

"Inline styles? Seriously?"

For a simple concise demo in a forum post to communicate the overall concept rather than act as a literal production file? Yes.

The definition list is OK, but technically you aren't defining the numbers. But definition lists always have that issue...no one seems to agree on proper uses for them and accessibility software tends to ignore them outright.

Dan Gayle's picture

I hate that about definition lists. Actually, I hate that about a lot of HTML.

aluminum's picture

To be fair, re: DLs, that's more the fault of browser rendering engines and their ambivalence to the tag.

It'd be a pretty useful set of markup otherwise.

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