Tuesday, May 1, 2018

The Challenges of Typography

When I went to school I learned to touch type at 60 words per minute. Next to reading, writing, and mathematics, it was without a doubt, the most useful skill I learned. It's a skill I'm using now, over five decades later.

Typing, like most skills we learn, has rules. One of those rules was to always insert two spaces after a full stop (double space rule). I could never understand the logic behind it, but we are conditioned from childhood to accept rules, so I accepted it and applied it when producing typewritten documents.

Much later, I became a Technical and Further Education (TAFE) teacher and my specialty in business and computing saw me teaching students to type using manual and electronic typewriters. A large part of learning to type is typography, the style and appearance of printed matter.

All the typographical manuals we had access to insisted on two spaces after a period, so that's what I taught.

When our colleges moved to word processing, the old typographical procedures came with us. The double space rule continued.

Later I taught the evolving desktop publishing programs such as Pagemaker, Ventura, PublishIt! and others. They gave us a far greater range of typographical elements, but the double space rule survived.

Throughout the years, various discussions occurred about whether the double space rule was necessary. It often occurred between teaching staff during our lunch breaks. There were the die-hards like me who insisted that was how it was done; there were those who said it was nonsense. The debate rolled on.

One day, long after I had ended my teaching career, I simply decided not to apply the double space rule. It seemed it had been unnecessary for as long as I could remember. It didn't make any difference to my ability to read. It seemed that it had been as silly an element of typography as placing a figure after a written number eg, "seven (7)" that some people had been clinging to for years as if readers were too stupid to understand the words that depicted numbers.

Today, I read an article by Angela Chen in The Verge that reminded me how often I have read about or discussed the double space issue. It brought back many fond memories of the teachers with whom I had taught typewriting and typography. It reminded me that some things never fall into the dustbin of history, even ideas that make no sense.

Where do you stand on the double space rule? Read Angela Chen's article and send us a comment. We'd love to hear from you.


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