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Aug 07, 2006


Nathan Miller

Good job on the homework, I'll give you an A- on that. Sorry, I'm only familiar with the american grading system. The problem is that although typography books present good examples they rarely if ever get into the philosophy and rules - sometimes meant to be broken - in regards to typography and kerning. They miss the meat of the matter the, what, when, and why of kerning. The single best resource that I've found which addresses this matter and a whole lot more to do with type is The Elements of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst. Find it on Amazon and buy it, today.


I forgot to mention - the best book on typography is probably 'Stop Stealing Sheep and Find Out How Type Works' by Erik Spiekermann.

As the blurb says, "Frederic Goudy, American type designer, once said, "Anyone who would letterspace lower case would steal sheep." To most people, this comment only adds to the perception that type inhabits a mysterious world with intricate terminology and elaborate rules."


Mr. P.H. Colman

What a delightful post.

Mr R Davies

Brilliant stuff. Many thanks for that.

Any chance you could now explain that golden ratio/section thing designers always go on about?


Kerning is like mountain biking for me, you learnt it once but when actually rationalising what you are doing you can fall off. My tip is if the word looks odd kern it *heaps*, step back, and then take it back. Somehow it seems to fall into place.

henry lambert

cracking post. brilliantly written with some very pertinent examples.



And yet good/bad kerning is also in the eye of the beholder.

Ask five type-aware designers and production artists to kern "enjoying" and you'll get five different results.

(E.g. to my eye your "joy" is inappropriately tight in relationship to your "enj" and "ing")

Some typographers focus on each individual space between letters. Others look at the entire word, or the word within the context of a headline or sentence. What you call an awkward space I call a visual guide to help my brain identify the word correctly in the shortest amount of time possible.

Which is why I'm not taken with your road sign example, because I expect few drivers passing it at 100km/hr are looking for the way to "Eads Court".

But perhaps for that bit of confusion I should blame the type designer, rather than the typesetter.


Chris, you've reminded me of some Pentagram stuff I found but forgot to post.

I don't want people to think that kerning just means making the spaces tighter, and so I found some good examples where the type had extra spacing but still looked great. I must find those and upload them.

When I used the example of newspaper headlines "a visual guide to help my brain identify the word correctly" was exactly what I meant.


Your comment about the type on the road sign reminded me of an exhibition about information design which I think was at the Design Museum a few years ago. I managed to find an article which mentions sloppy use of Calvert Kinnear's system since his death.

Just down the road from me is a school patrol sign, which has been rather spectacularly letterspaced. I have a feeling that this is the work of whoever produced that particular sign, rather than Calvert or Kinnear...

article: http://www.designmuseum.org/design/jock-kinneir-margaret-calvert
sign: http://www.flickr.com/photos/mandatorythinking/211609196/


Thunk, that's a very badly kerned sign.


Thunk, thanks for the article.
The sign is, indeed, spectacularly bad.


the dude is right: the best kerning never gets noticed, because it's not supposed to. besides, the examples he showed of good kerning were showing good tracking. and the other dude is right, too: kerning loosely can sometimes have a dramatic effect, often much more powerful than tight kerning, especially in one word that normally would disappear on the page. and the other dude is right, too: it's hard to express to people our deep passion for working very hard on trying to make something almost entirely unnoticeable (like good kerning).


I don't really understand all this. But I get these sense this is a man with a commitment to good kerning: http://blog.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=blog.view&friendID=84211932&blogID=160567063

Charles Edward Frith

Whats great about this post is I'm reminded of Robert de Niet, a talented friend and designer (and my University lecturer at one point) giving me a copy of Emigre magazine which was about fonts and I couldn't believe that the subject could be so blinky blimey intellectual.

I've always had a healthy interest since then, even a few friendly scraps (Paul in Phuket & Ben in Bangkok just last week!). Any planners would do well to immerse themselves in this discipline that embraces every facet of design. Past present and future.


Great, comprehensive post. Enjoying especially the enjoying bit (felt that I had to be the stupid one with the pun). I started working with design with the first Macs and I remember that condensing typefaces 30% was then usual behaviour, just because it could be done and tested easily.

Back to enjoying. When you first commented on the difficulty of kerning the word, I tried it myself and thought, what the hell, some pairs, no big deal. I thank you for making me pause and look again. Now I see what you meant.

But at the same time I think that anything further than the kerning you did becomes typeface design. The o-y ligature, anyone?

Finishing, agreeing on kerning as a matter of taste (and anal designers): the "njo" would seem too "chunky" for me.

kevin kirkwood

I can say it's very consistent of you in writing such complicated issue.

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