The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Web Type West

I had the privilege of attending the most recent edition of Type Camp, lovingly titled Web Type West. The simple fact of being at a conference can be enjoyable on its own. Being at one where the entire focus is a topic you're very passionate about … the enjoyment is greatly magnified.

There were four speakers I was familiar with and was looking forward to the most. But others were also entertaining and informative. Here are some highlights!

Grant Hutchinson: Can You See Me Now?

With a focus on accessibility, splorp displayed his love for the base on which the web was built and viewing sites in Netscape 4. Seriously.

In the first days of the web, text came first.

And now?

Current processes involve adding layers of additions to your primary content.

Grant gave some great examples of non-semantic, meaningless HTML from sites such as Twitter and Facebook. Text marked as bold in the HTML, yet is not bold. Empty tags.

On using Netscape for his evaluation of sites:

Netscape 4 understands JavaScript, but it's old, sipping-lemonade-on-the-porch JavaScript.

He summed up his talk with his tips on building for the web:

  • Be semantic
  • Use a logical flow of content
  • Make CSS and JS enhancement optional

And finally:

The web is text!

Zara Vasquez-Evans: Typography for Interactive Design

An interactive designer I was not familiar with, Zara made some good points in her talk.

Clarity in the organization of content is often ignored.

Amen! Further to that point:

Typography is the invisible workhorse of interface design.

She also listed her thoughts on the basic tools that any kind of designer has at his/her disposal. These are:

  • Contrast
  • Scale
  • Space
  • Hierarchy

Of course, using the first three well will result in a decent hierarchy. She also discussed the three modes of interaction that users or readers will have with content:

  • Glance
  • Scan
  • Read

She focused on how the tools we have available can be used in different ways depending on the user's needs in different contexts. These three modes of interaction will require that the four tools be used accordingly.

Her talk could be summed in one of her final statements:

A strong hierarchy is a critical element in creating content.

Brian Warren - Thinking Typographically

Brian gave one of my two favourite talks for the day. I summed it up in this tweet. He made a lot of good points and his passion came through. This statement is a good overview of his point:

Typography is an opportunity to care.

It was clear from the start that Brian was sharing something he has a passion for. Along with his children and beer, typography is what "gets him up in the morning".

Logic & whimsey. Head & heart. They give us an opportunity.

I enjoyed Brian's talk the most because he was coming from the perspective a front end developer.

A highlight in my design career was rediscovering my love for the baseline grid.

His talk started with Part I Scales, Modular, and Otherwise … topics that made my heart flutter. The good news is that there was no Part II, leaving him talking about grids, scales, and how to use Sass to make this all easier.

And the purpose of it all:

Having a grid in place can enable the designer and developer to talk more about principles than pixels.

Solid gold, right there! Fibonacci and the Lost numbers also made appearances in his slides, so he walked away with the best talk of the day award in my mind.

Stephen Coles: How to Select the Right Web Font for Your Project

The talented stewf started off with some definitions. What is a typeface? A font? And why are there so many and why should I care? His answer could be summed up as such:

Typography can immediately evoke feelings, emotions, and cultural attitudes.

And so, making the right choice for each and every project is vital. He spent a good bit of time in his talk using the analogy of a typeface being like a chair.

A page is like a room. Type is the furniture.

It's a good analogy and he interspersed examples of lovely type with examples of lovely chairs throughout the talk. He focused on how form and function must be balanced and this is important for both typefaces and furniture. Gridbutts were also mentioned.

And so, how do you choose the right type?

It depends on the user. It depends on the context.

He also discussed how we still need new designs in type because new uses are being discovered. And as classic chair designs are being improved upon, so are classic typefaces. A great talk from an expert in his craft and my other favourite for the day.

André Mora: Line Height, Just Right

Last, André Mora spoke about he importance of well laid type on the web. He's passionate enough about this that he does not use Read It Later services or Reader modes. If a site does not look good or read well on its own, he does not visit it.

I don't have any take away quotes from his talk, but I appreciated his recipe for a successful web project:

  • Know your story
  • Understand the context
  • Know your screen size (trim)
  • Select your typefaces
  • Set your font size
  • Decide on your line height

The whole is better than the parts when all the above are carefully considered and done well. And last, André finished his talk with one of the best points of the day, encouraging designers to:

Read what you design!

Nuff said.


There were two other speakers I was able to take in. One was Kevin Larson, a member of Microsoft's Advanced Reading Technologies team. I must admit, this was one talk that had not piqued my interest. But Mr. Larson did a fantastic job describing the process they went through creating a font that was as readable as possible — the content was fascinating. If you care about words, language, and we process it, check out his essay here.

Sadly, due to a lack of flight options and a Sunday morning teaching engagement, I had to duck out before the last two speakers were finished. One was Luke Dorny and I was very sorry to miss his talk. It sounded like a winner!

If you have any interest in typography, Type Camp is an event I highly recommend. Even you're not passionate about it, bringing good typography to the web and understanding this fundamental aspect of design is vital for anyone working on the web.

And so I give a big thank you to Shelley and her team for bringing Type Camp to Vancouver and for a great event!

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