Fonts, double spaces - and numbers, Spotify, fraud, film scripts

(Warning: this email is on detailed typography. Also, the stuff below originally appeared bit by bit over several emails many months apart; here, I've merged it all in this 'Past Email' because it fits together rather nicely.)   

The Book of Jacob: earlier this month (Sept 2019), a newly appointed UK minister - Jacob Rees-Mogg - sent staff his writing guide, and then got a lot of flak from the press. (As an aside, the last bit of that sentence breaks two of Jacob’s rules - got and lot are unacceptable. As is the word unacceptable, due to it being vague. Due to is banned too...)

Some of his 'rules' seem a bit Victorian, e.g. according to Jacob, I’m not Jon Moon, but Jon Moon Esq. And one is distinctly pre-1980s: “Double space after full stops”.

The full stop. A small point, literally and metaphorically. But let’s look at this rule of Jacob's... step back and consider fonts. Figure 1 shows ill and wow in three different fonts. In Arial and Times New Roman, ill is physically shorter than wow – they are so-called 'proportional' fonts. The third font, Courier New, is a so-called ‘monospaced' font, and ill and wow are the same length, as if done on a typewriter. There are gaps between the letters in ill. Result: when typing in Courier New, we need an even bigger gap at the end of sentences in order to create the right distinction for readers - “Hey, reader (Esq), it’s a new sentence” - hence we’d put two spaces after the stop.

Since the '80s, we've typed on computers. Which have proportional fonts. Which don't have big gaps between letters. Result: at the end of sentences, we no longer need two spaces to create that extra distinction.

But now we've a conundrum: (1) put two spaces and MS Word tells you off; (2) don’t put two spaces and Jacob tells you off. If I worked for Jacob, I know what I’d do. And that’s my last thought on the topic. Period.

So that's mono-spaced and proportional... let's apply it to numbers, Spotify, fraud and film scripts.

Applying it to numbers:  here's a question for you: with a computer’s proportional fonts, how do numbers line up down a column? Surely '1' is narrower than, say, '6'? Answer: many fonts add ‘slabs’ to shorter numbers to ensure stuff lines up – Figure 3 shows ten ‘6’s and ten ‘1’s. Physically, they're the same length. Problem solved.

Applying it to Spotify: except not always - click here for a fascinating brief article on the problem of ‘wiggling fonts’ in online digital counters... and Spotify doesn't come out well, typographically. (The final third of the article lost me when it looked at computer codes – but it’s great until then.) With thanks to my brother Richard for bringing this to my attention.

Applying it to fraud: in corporate life I travelled over 100,000 miles investigating big frauds, plus on my Courses, I talk about fonts for 10 minutes. Hence I love a story that was kindly sent to me by Tariq Piperdy - and when you next commit a fraud, do remember its underlying tip: use the right font. You see, a couple lost their case in Canada when they claimed they'd put two properties into trust back in 1994 and 2004 - but the documents that evidenced the trust were in fonts that weren't available back then. Doh! Here is the full article, along with suggestions on which fonts you should use to avoid being caught.

And there was a similar 'font' story in the 2015 movie Truth starring Cate Blanchett - a key part of the story hinged on whether a letter was really as claimed, given its font was proportional, not mono-spaced. 

Applying it to film scripts: here's an oddity... film scripts are always Courier New, size 12 - that way, a page of script apparently equates to 1 minute of screen time. That's what I've heard, albeit I struggle with this concept a bit - Eddie Murphy would read a page in 10 seconds, and Marlon Brando in 10 minutes... so how does that work then, eh?

Told you this email was on detailed typography. 


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