The Personal Disquiet of

Mark Boulton

Five Simple Steps to Typesetting on the web: Introduction

– January 25th, 2006 –

{title}It’s been quite a while since the last Simple Steps series, but this new series of articles has been brewing for a while. Before I go into the first installment I’d like to clarify what exactly I mean by Typesetting and how that differs from Design, Typographic Design or Typography. Each ‘Simple Step’ will be just that, clear simple rule(s) to follow.

I feel that Typographic Design is such a large field in the practice of design that some of the constituent parts need a bit of attention. Take Type Design for example. The font industry is big business, and rightly so, but to many people this is what typography is; choosing a font. That’s it. My typography is done, move on to the colours. Hang on one minute. You’ve forgotten Typesetting.

Typesetting, as defined by, is:

To set (written material) into type; compose.

Not very enlightening, but the word ‘compose’, used in this context is an important word.

Composition. Take a look at the definition. Typesetting is in some pretty impressive company, but I like this one: Arrangement of artistic parts so as to form a unified whole..

Typesetting has a rich history in the craft of the printing trade where compositors grafted, by hand and later by machines, to produce printed material. Then, along came desktop publshing and things changed slightly. The basic principles (I’ll get onto some of them) remained the same, but something was lost in translation. Typesetting was no longer being done by skilled tradesmen—Compositors—But by Graphic Designers, who arguably didn’t have the skills, but were cheap because they worked on labour saving computers. And so, from the late 1980’s onwards, Typesetting suffered and as a result Typography suffered.

This all may be a little melodramatic for the print based world, but things are a whole lot worse on the web. True, there are technical constraints on which font you can have, but as I said, there’s more to typography than the font.

Tomorrow, I’ll get onto the first Step: The Right Glyph for the Job.

Filed in: simple-steps.

Further reading