And so - kerning. Around two weeks ago the Vice Chancellor of the Account Planning School of the Web set me the following assignment.
Here's your chance to educate the rest of us. I would like a really detailed explanation of why that's true ('enjoying' is a difficult word to kern). With lots of examples. Show your working.
I've heard about kerning all my life, kind of understood it, in the way that people think they kind of understand relativity. But I'd like to actually understand it.
What is kerning?
I think it's a good idea to start with a definition of kerning. In a nutshell, kerning is the act of changing the spacing between individual letters.
Or to be a bit for more formal answers.com says "In proportional spacing, the tightening of space between letters to create a visually appealing flow to the text. Letter combinations, such as WA, MW and TA, are routinely kerned for better appearance."
There is such a thing as the Dictionary of Graphic Design and Designers and they say this:
(NB: Kerning is different from tracking which is making the same alteration to all the letters in one word. That's important because a lot of people think they're the same. They are not.)
Normally kerning is only noticeable when it's done badly. Like here:
In the mid nineties people used to say that print was dead. (Or if not dead, dying at least. A bit like people keep telling me that advertising is dead. Sorrell must be having sleepless nights.) The same people also used to say that the grid is dead and all the old typographic rules were redundant. This came about largely because the Apple Mac meant that you could try, literally, hundreds of different arrangements of type in a few seconds. You see, you couldn't do this with old, big, metal blocks of type.
See also the Carson designed Raygun, any issue. I'm telling you all this because this era (and by implication the Apple Mac) is largely responsible for a lot of the bad kerning you see today. The craft has been lost.
Why kern at all?
More people probably 'track' rather than 'kern' these days, because the software makes this easier. Originally you would kern something to make the legibility better, nowadays I suspect that most people kern so they can fit more words on a page. If you make the kerning a little tighter on a paragraph of say 200 words, you might be able to squeeze another 10 or 20 words in. This can be vital.
Why 'enjoying' is a hard word to kern
I probably should have said that enjoying is a word that needs kerning, rather than it's a word that is hard to kern. (Wikipedia use the example WAR which is better.) Let's go back to what I was doing when I wrote that. I had just typed the word 'enjoying' in Times New Roman in Photoshop. Here's how it looked:
The software spaces this automatically to the lowest common denominator. And it's probably fine for most people. It's certainly fine for body text (the 10pt stuff). But for big, display text, in my opinion, it's not good enough.
We need to mess around with the "joyi" bit. Here goes.
That's better. But the O and the Y and the I still leave awkward spaces. Can you see? And that is why 'enjoying' is a hard word to kern.
Good kerning not only looks great but aids legibility (which is linked to usability, and usability is a good thing).
One outlet where I see good kerning everyday, used to aid legibility and save space, is the tabloid press. (The only problem with the tabloid press is that it's really hard to find a front page that won't offend someone, somewhere. This was the least offensive one I could find).
Can you see how they used kerning on that 'Killer Flip Flops' headline?
I also raided my little design library at home to try and find examples of great kerning.
That's not such an easy thing to do, it's a bit like a surgeon looking for examples of great stitching. Anyway, here are some good examples illustrated with bad photos.
Here's some pages from a lovely book by/about Michael Jordan. (There's loads of good typography in general in this book.)
Neville Brody actually did some great kerning.
Pentagram, of course, are very good at kerning.
With massive thanks to Gaetan Lee.
I can now understand what he meant.