Josna Rege

314. Kern(ing)

In blogs and blogging, Books, Media, reading, Stories, Words & phrases, Work on April 14, 2015 at 1:34 am

atoz [2015] - BANNER - 910
051-16th-Century-letter-k-q85-187x200

For a teacher of literature, books—more accurately, texts—are one’s stock in trade, words are one’s units of communication, and letters, one’s building blocks, the very atoms of thought. Just as speech requires the ear to recognize it, reading requires the eye; so what letters and words look like plays a part in how one takes them in, makes sense of them. In typography, beauty is not just aesthetic, it’s eminently practical. Some lines or blocks of type can be virtually unreadable, and this is where good leading (line-spacing), word-spacing, letter-spacing (tracking), and kerning come in.

In typesetting with metal type, a kern is “part of a glyph that extends beyond the type block on which the character is molded” (Alessio, 2013). The word “kern” comes from the corners of the metal type (McComb).

a kerned "f" type block (smashingmagazine,com)

a kerned “f” type block (smashingmagazine,com)

In modern typsetting, though, kerning is an adjustment of the space between two letters. When working with physical type, one can add spaces to widen that space, but one cannot squeeze them any closer together than the block on which they are mounted or cast. In phototypesetting, anything becomes possible, and the results can be pleasing to the eye or migraine-inducing.

(ladyevangelistacain at tumbler.com)

(ladyevangelistacain at tumbler.com)

(from wired.com)

(from wired.com)

(from webdesigndepot.com)

(from webdesigndepot.com)

Lest this post become impossibly arcane, I’ll show you an example of unfortunately spaced letters so that you can decide for yourself whether you think that kerning is important, sometimes even essential to meaning. Then to cleanse your visual palate, I’ll close with a couple of beautiful designs, with tight and loose letter-spacing respectively.

Proof that letter spacing and kerning are of utmost importance (argd3020 at tumblr.com)

Proof that letter spacing and kerning are of utmost importance (argd3020 at tumblr.com)

eros Logotype, 1962. Design: Herb Lubalin. Ultra-tight letterspacing was a hallmark of progressive commercial graphics in the 1960s and 1970s. Here, the letters cradle each other with an intimacy appropriate to the subject matter [from thinkingwithtype.com].

eros Logotype, 1962. Design: Herb Lubalin. Ultra-tight letterspacing was a hallmark of progressive commercial graphics in the 1960s and 1970s. Here, the letters cradle each other with an intimacy appropriate to the subject matter [from thinkingwithtype.com].

cruet & whisk and thymes Logotypes, 2006. Design: Duffy & Partners. The generously tracked capitals in these logotypes give them an affable, antiquarian flavor while imparting an overall lightness to the designs [from thinkingwithtype.com].

cruet & whisk and thymes Logotypes, 2006. Design: Duffy & Partners. The generously tracked capitals in these logotypes give them an affable, antiquarian flavor while imparting an overall lightness to the designs [from thinkingwithtype.com].

Tell Me Another (Contents to Date)

Chronological Table of Contents

atoz [2015] - BANNER - 910

Advertisements
  1. Subtle visuals tell their own story, an unspoken subtext to the supposedly ‘plain and simple’ explicit words we read but a palimpset clear as day to those who understand it. Thanks for the elucidation, Josna.

  2. How close is that … er … click! 🙂

  3. No mention of the undergraduate use of kerning to flesh out a sparse paper or squeeze in an extra 200 words into a five-pager? I’ve been guilty of the latter. 🙂

  4. “Kerning.” I’m learning new things every time I read one of your posts, Josna. So enjoying it.

  5. Bahaha that sign about how to give your designer friends a migraine cracked me up. Going to go send it to my designer friends right now 🙂
    ~AJ Lauer
    an A-Z Cohost
    @ayjaylauer on Twitter

    • Thanks, AJ! The visit and cheerful comment from a busy Co-host helped give me the push I needed to catch up, since I had fallen behind during the work week. Here’s to the rest of the month!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: