Folk typography

Why is type getting so bad?

Well, actually, the people who are noticing it, the ones who care about kerning or keming or serifs or the rest… we’re not the reason that it’s getting bad.

It’s all the people who don’t notice it.

For thousands of years, type was something you did with your hands. If you were a writer, you were also the person who was putting the words onto the paper.

It was only in the last few centuries that setting type was a craft, reserved for people with a printing press, or a set of Letraset rub-down letters or even a top-of-the-line Mac with the right software.

And so, into this specialty, principles developed. There was actually a difference between professional and amateur typesetting. There was style and craft and insight that was worth paying for. There were magazines and conferences about what looked good and right and professional and cutting edge.

Of course, social media changed that. Memes and the rest, built on a flimsy foundation of Comic Sans and Arial and Impact. Whatever’s handy. And then what was handy became popular, and what was popular became the new standard.

And this is always the way. When the public gets tools, they use them, without regard for the rules that might have come before.

But there’s still a desire for craft, and people, particularly over 30, are eager to judge a book, not by its cover but by its type. Even if they don’t know why.

There will be a new set of standards for type, just as the quality of every folk innovation has improved over time.