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Hancher vs. Hilton: design notes

2016 December 2

I have a third book, now, Hancher vs. Hilton. You can find information about the book over here. Please have a look. Meanwhile, I’m blowing a bit of dust off the old studio blog to post a few notes about design and production.

My third book was at least as much a challenge to design as its predecessors.

The hardest part should, seemingly, have been the most basic. Working out the base typography was almost a nightmare.

I wasn’t trying to do anything fancy. With the direction established by my cover design (of which more in another post), this interior was the most simple and unembellished of all three books. Granted that simple is not always easy to do well, but in this case the layout and overall design were relatively painless.

I absolutely sweated the type, though. Page after page after page of laser-printed experiment, adjusting first typeface and then margins and point size and leading and it just wasn’t working. Eventually I settled on something that seemed adequate, ordered an early proof copy from lulu.com, and decided that it would not work.

That was tough. Nonetheless, I concluded that I had to revise, resulting in more experiment but finally some useful realizations.

  1. Sabon was not going to work for body copy. It was just too heavy, at least in the printed book from lulu. Its printing seemed to make Sabon just slightly heavier than a laser-printer, just enough that what had looked okay on a test print seemed too dense in the production book form—which of course was the real standard to measure against.
  2. All of the trips up to Lakewood Library for laser-printing might have been counterproductive. Ultimately I concluded that my inkjet printer was on balance a better preview of the product from lulu than the library’s laser printers.
  3. Meanwhile there’s probably a reason why “book weight” fonts are so-named. While not everything else seems too heavy for a proper trade-size book, plenty of ordinary undistinguished “roman” fonts from basic roman/italic/bold/bold-italic font families probably are too heavy.

In the end, low on time and finding my good on-hand options for book body copy typefaces more limited than I realized, I fell back on Garamond. I was a bit reluctant to do so; it seems like such a default serif, and after using it for my very first foray into full-length-book typesetting, I had intended to explore more widely.

As it happens, though, there’s actually a faintly interesting story about why I went with Garamond anyway rather than e.g. a choice from one of my other books. I tried that, and discovered one of those odd little quirks of typography that you might never notice but for very specific chance circumstances.

After all these years as a designer, I finally noticed that Bembo (used in Cotton’s Library) has a very wide capital “U.” Which, again, is not something that I even noticed and does not even now feel like it was remotely a problem for that book.

That book, however, did not feature capital “U” very frequently, however. Unlike Hancher vs. Hilton: Iowa’s Rival University Presidents. In all of Cotton’s Library there are fewer than 60 instances of capital “U.” Hancher vs. Hilton, despite being a bit shorter, includes nearly 750. Mostly because I was writing about Iowa State University and/or State University of Iowa on nearly every page.

And I found that, repeated so often, the the wide capital “U” at the beginning of all those “University”s became noticeable, and looked weird.

Comparison of capital "U" from Bembo and Garamond

I believe one other typeface which otherwise felt like a good candidate had a similar issue; may have been Goudy Old Style.

Garamond features a more modest capital “U,” and in the words of President Hilton, “that settled it!”

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