Friday, July 8, 2016

Typographic Pet Peeve #1: Automatic Leading on Titling with Type Elements of Multiple Sizes

I'm starting a new series on the blog, in the hopes that revealing pet peeves as a practiced graphic designer will find fertile ground with OSR self-publishers who are doing their own layout and hoping to improve their skills.

Ultimately, as this (hopefully) series unfolds, you will find that most of my typographic pet peeves all come down to a single root problem... the computer doesn't care what your layout looks like! That's root of today's problem, and one that I see proliferating to an unbearable degree as more and more would-be designers take up the tools of the trade.

Today, I look at the use of automatic leading on titling with type elements of multiple sizes. This goes for both cover titling, as well as interior/section/chapter titling. For today's discussion, I'm using the following two examples (mockups of a non-existent retro-clone).

Please note, that on the sample to the left (the obviously inferiorly typeset version), I did NOT intentionally make the type spacing look bad. I did nothing more than choose a typeface, and set the type size for each element: 1) the name of the book, and 2) the author's by-line. I should back up for a second. While I did say "obviously inferiorly typeset version," it is quite possible that it's taking some of you a few moments to actually see the difference between the two versions, so I'll point it out... look at the spacing between "Swords &" and "Citadels," then compare the spacing between "Citadels" and the by-line.

I'm going to introduce the non-designers among you to a term few non-designers know... "chunking." This is a catchy way of saying that like typographic elements should be treated as a single visual element. For example, the title "Swords & Citadels" is on two lines, but in the left example "Swords &" and "Citadels" are treated as 2 separate chunks, where on the right they're treated as 1 graphic chunk. I'll even go so for to say on the left example, that "Citadels" and the by-line (because of the automatic leading) are accidentally chunked.

Here's the issue: When a designer leaves the leading set for "Automatic," the computer is making decisions for you based purely on mathematics, and not on aesthetics! Yes, I did bold and italicize and underline that, and then make it orange — because it's THAT important to remember.

Here's the solution (and it's VERY simple): NEVER LEAVE THE LEADING ON AUTOMATIC!!! Even in MS Word, there are ways to specifically set the leading in points (instead of variations on line-height).

In both examples, I used Adobe Illustrator and the typeface Trattatello, with the title set in 60 pt. and the by-line set in 36 pt.

In the left example, the automatic leading for type set at 60 pt. defaults to "(72 pt)" and the leading for the type set at 30 pt. defaults to "(30 pt)." I use the parenths to make a point... in Adobe products, any default leading shows up in parentheses to help remind you that the leading is set for automatic. See that! Even Adobe warns you you've left the leading on automatic! So back to those numbers for a second... based on the defaults, the space between line 2 of the title and the by-line is HALF of the space between the 1st and 2nd line of the title.

In the right example, I did nothing more than change the leading for the whole thing (all 3 lines) to 60 points... that's it! The size of the two type elements (title and byline) does the chunking all by itself. But you can change each line individually; adjust this recipe as you see fit.

So that's it. That's the basics of what happens because the computer thinks it's smarter than you, and because a lot of designers allow it to be. Be forewarned, when the computer starts making these kind of chunking adjustments on it's own, I fear we'll be nearing the point where computers overtake humanity!

Put the computer in its place! Manage your leading like the human you are!


  1. Looking forward to more of this, and it couldn't be more timely, as I'm approaching layout (we've got one in draft) of Dragon Heresy...

  2. Automatic Leading leads to Automatic Skynet. A worthwhile and noteworthy warning to computer users and layout folks everywhere. My thanks!