April 16, 2014

Typographic detail: Considering type size and line spacing for BROKEN

After selecting the fonts for my latest book BROKEN—Recovery for headers, Harriet for body copy—one of the next typographic steps was to determine their sizes and line spacing, or leading(1). There was the temptation to rely on how paragraphs looked on screen, since the book was planned to be only made available as a digital publication (PDF, eBook). But not applying fonts and line spacing to prose, on a printed page, would be dismissive.

From his seminal book The Elements of Typographic Style, in a section called “Vertical Motion,” Robert Bringhurst advised, “Choose a basic leading that suits the typeface, text and measure [line length].” With this guidance in mind, a portion of text was taken from the manuscript and inserted into an InDesign document. Variations of type sizes and line spacing were arranged and printed:
  • 13-point type size on 18-point line spacing
  • 12-point type size on 17-point line spacing
  • 11.5-point type size on 15.5-point line spacing
  • 11-point type size on 14-point line spacing
Each variation of font size and leading was evaluated. I asked others to do the same and give their impressions about which one was preferred reading. What may be viewed as minuscule adjustments in type size and line spacing, are not trivial. I needed to be comfortable with the arrangement of type size and line spacing, and how it embraced the prose. I decided to present the body copy at 11.5-point type size on 16-point line spacing. Right amount of scale and breathing room, to me, for words primarily set in the font of Harriet. My co-writer Stephanie, a graphic designer, commented that the selected type size and vertical spacing felt “readable.”

To physically see the relationship of type size and line spacing, even for a book only offered digitally, is another opportunity to be sensitive toward how your book looks. It’s also a way to be sensitive toward curious readers of your book, because the aspiring relationship with a potential audience is never to be dismissed.

(1) From Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style: “Lead [rhymes with red] 1) A strip of soft metal used for vertical spacing between lines of type, or its digital equivalent. 2) To space type vertically by inserting leads or their digital equivalent.” / “Leading [rhymes with sledding] In digital typography, this usually means the total vertical increment, baseline to baseline, in a block of text. Ten-point type leaded 2 pt is set to 10/12. We now usually say the leading is 12 pt, not 2 pt.”

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