What is Typesetting?

Web Design

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A note from the editors: We’re pleased to share an excerpt from Chapter 1 of Tim Brown’s Flexible Typesetting, from A Book Apart.

Typesetting is the most important part of typography, because most text is meant to be read, and typesetting involves preparing text for reading.

You’re already great at typesetting. Think about it. You choose good typefaces. You determine font sizes and line spacing. You decide on the margins that surround text elements. You set media query breakpoints. All of that is typesetting.

Maybe you’re thinking, But Tim, I am a font muggins. Help me make better decisions! Relax. You make better decisions than you realize. Some people will try to make you feel inferior; ignore them. Your intuition is good. Practice, and your skills will improve. Make a few solid decisions; then build on them. I’ll help you get started.

In this chapter, I’ll identify the value of typesetting and its place within the practice of typography. I’ll talk about pressure, a concept I use throughout this book to explain why typeset texts sometimes feel awkward or wrong. I’ll also discuss how typesetting for the web differs from traditional typesetting.

Why does typesetting matter?

Typesetting shows readers you care. If your work looks good and feels right, people will stick around—not only because the typography is comfortable and familiar, but also because you show your audience respect by giving their experience your serious attention (Fig 1.1).

Two panels. On the left, text is small an unbalanced. On the right, the text is larger with proportional spacing.
Fig 1.1: Glance at these two screenshots. Which one would you rather read? Which publisher do you think cares more about your experience?

Sure, you could buy the “it” font of the moment (you know, the font all the cool people are talking about). You could use a template that promises good typography. You could use a script that spiffs up small typographic details. None of these things is necessarily

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