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Friday, November 14, 2008

How Bad Typography Can Help You Solve Problems

Typography Friday

Last night, I attended my first Refresh Pittsburgh meet-up, held at the local tech startup incubator, AlphaLab. Refresh Pittsburgh is an informal group of designers and programmers, looking both to network and to learn from one another (and their occasional guest speakers). Although I'm not a designer, per se, I *am* a creative type (or so I like to claim), so I enjoy hearing how other creative types solve their problems.

Yesterday's guest speaker was Samantha Warren of Viget, a design firm in Washington DC. (She also blogs here. She gave a kick-ass presentation on bad typography, and how (and why) it can kill your web experience. And then she showed how she would have redesigned one horrible site in particular, taking us step-by-step through both her technical AND her theoretical processes.

What I appreciated most was seeing her decision-making process, and learning HOW and WHY she arrived at the conclusions she did. Sometimes, she realized her initial presumptions or goals were incorrect midway through her process, so she backtracked to redesign her end product. Fellow speakers and presenters of the world, take note: knowing that a speaker can admit to being wrong, and then seeing the steps she took to fix things, made me trust her (and her process) even more.

In the end, the two lessons that stuck in my head most clearly were:

* (Samantha's intentional lesson): Don't let the details (like typography, design or even functionality) drive the project; let the PURPOSE drive the project, and the details will fall into place.

* (Samantha's unintentional lesson): When presenting, always make sure to include the URLs of any interesting sites / services you might mention. If you catch the audience's attention, they'll want to know how to learn more.

Other cool tips and tidbits you may know (but I didn't):

* Ms. Warren considers the 3 pillars of web typography to be: Legibility, Hierarchy and Expression.

* A gent named Jakob Nielsen developed a design concept called the F-Pattern, which (counter-intuitively, if you ask me) seems to make sense.

* Ms. Warren suggests designers evaluate all information on a webpage in terms of order of importance, and then allocate the proper typographical weight and direction of attention as required.

* Use phark or siffr for image replacement -- which, as a non-designer, I can barely even understand, but I suspect some of you know what she's talking about (and it seemed important).

* Texture, texture, texture.

If any of this sounds interesting to you -- or if you suspect you would have learned more by actually attending the meet-up (rather than reading my shoddy secondhand journalism), perhaps I'll see you at the next Refresh Pittsburgh event?

Image by ErokCom.

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  • Bookmarked. This is a great post. That F-pattern concept is really interesting. (Although it's kind of creepy that they can measure the heat coming off of your eyeballs.)

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 10:07 PM  

  • Wow~ there is a whole nother world on my desktop

    keen to texture

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    By Blogger Char Paul, at 5:19 PM  

  • I'm a fan of websites that have great typography. During my free time, I search for sites that strike me, and then I make sketches of them. There's this site of a Toronto web design and development company that got me interested. Since I also draw logos, I drew theirs and uploaded it online. I had several comments saying that the logo and the sketch looks great.

    Anyway, I agree with Ms. Warren on the pillars of typography. I'm glad that she considered hierarchy, because some sites don't pay attention to it. One example of good hierarchy is the website of the Toronto web design company I mentioned.

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