Dumb quotes

Tony's-Cafe

This is Tony’s Cafe. It’s a lovely little place on Leather Lane in Clerkenwell. They do a really fine create-your-own salad for just £4. We go there often for lunch.

But. Their sign. It’s a problem.

Look at it. Just after the Y. Just before the S. What is that? It thinks it’s an apostrophe. It certainly wants to be an apostrophe. Heck, it downright needs to be an apostrophe.

But it’s not.

And you know what’s to blame for that?

Typewriters. Damn typewriters.

Take a look at this. It’s a full set of the characters available on an Olivetti Lettera 22 typewriter:

olivetti_characters

Rather beautiful right?

Let’s take a look at the punctuation characters along the bottom row.

Right up front there, that character made of two little vertical lines, like a pair of rabbit’s front teeth? That’s what you’d generally have used to mark out a bit of quoted text. It’s a versatile little thing: you could use it both at the beginning and the end of a chunk of quoted text. You could also use it to indicate various units of measurement – a number of inches, or a number of seconds, or even a number of arcseconds if you were a nagivator. It even doubles (if you’ll excuse the pun) as the ditto symbol.

Further along the line, just after the ampersand, sits its singular sibling. You could also have used that to mark out quoted text, but more frequently you’d have used it as an apostrophe. It also did fine work when it came to measurements, denoting numbers of feet, numbers of minutes, and of course, numbers of arcminutes.

So back up to Tony’s Cafe, we can see that little fella doing his job just fine as an apostrophe, right?

Nope. Uh uh. No sir. Not at all.

You see, although those two characters I just mentioned, which we can call typewriter quotes, were fantastically versatile, they were in truth a mashing together of different characters. It made perfect sense to do that back then, because typewriters only had a set number of keys available.

Here’s the layout of the Olivetti Lettera 22.

lettera_keyboard

The characters that got messed with were the single and double Quotation Marks, which come in left and right varieties; the Apostrophe (which is the same as the single right quotation mark), and the Prime, which is the angled mark used for various units of measurement. Those look like this, when set in the Georgia typeface:

prime-examples_2

So, with typewriters, those characters got mashed together. The left and right varieties of the quotation marks were merged, losing their ears and becoming upright verticals, which meant they could also double for primes. They must have felt good about that versatility, but you can’t help but wonder if they looked at the still-curved comma and semicolon with a sense of loss and longing…

Either way, it was a sensible solution in the days of the typewriter, typing in a single typeface at a single size, when stylistic finesse and grammatical accuracy could be ditched in favour of utility.

But, you know, we don’t generally use typewriters now.

We use computers. Which are just a little bit more sophisticated.

So we shouldn’t really need those vertical typewriter quotes anymore.

But, and it’s a fairly sizeable but, when computer keyboards were put together, they were largely based on typewriters. Here’s the current Mac keyboard, with the key with the quotation marks / apostrophe highlighted.

apple-wireless-keyboard

Theoretically, that key should only bring up left and right quotation marks, either single or double.Those should be the default setting right?

But they’re not. The default characters are the straight vertical typewriter quotes. Characters designed specifically for a drastically reduced set of keys on a machine from the last millennium.

So if we go back to Tony’s cafe, and its sign, this is what you get if you type it out, in AG Book (which is a passable approximation for the actual typeface used on the sign):

 

tonys_dumb

 

And of course, that damn typewriter quote is there, happy as Larry.

Or Tony.

Whose salads, as we’ve mentioned, are really quite good.

Now, of course, there are ways around this intolerable situation. Depending on your software set up, you can tell your machine to ignore the typewriter quotes – sometimes (and entirely justifiably) called ‘dumb quotes’ – and replace them with what are called either ‘smart quotation marks’, ‘smart quotes’ or ‘typographer’s quotes’. Those are all software settings – you might also hear the characters referred to as ‘curly quotes’ or ‘inverted commas’ – really, how many terms to these things need? Smart quotations, smart quotes, typographer’s quotes, book quotes, curly quotes, inverted commas – identity crisis much?

In Microsoft Word, where they’re called “smart quotation marks”, and you’ll find the setting in the AutoCorrect tab of the Word Preferences. This is how it looks in the version we’re running:

Word-AutoCorrect-preferences

Using InDesign, as we are with our revision of Tony’s sign, you switch on ‘Typographer’s Quotes’ in the Type section of the Preferences panel.

With that done, this is how Tony’s looks when you type it out, now with a proper apostrophe:

 

tonys_smart

 

How much better is that? Not only is it the correct grammatical character, its weight and form just fit so much better with the word.

So, we can use the correct characters if we tell our software that we want to. But we shouldn’t really have to do that right? These are hardly obscure characters, only used once in a blue moon. Why on earth do those typewriter quotes even still exist? They were ingenious, but they’re a relic from another age. Stick ’em in a museum.

And actually, you know what, the problems don’t really end there anyway.

Because even if you have your smart quotes turned on, you’re not guaranteed to be getting things right.

Have a look at these three examples, set in Georgia again.

The first one uses the default typewriter quotes:

prime-examples_a1

Unpleasant. Deeply unpleasant. And more than a little confusing.

 

The second one uses typographer’s quotes:

prime-examples_a2

Better. But wait – punctuation klaxon! That height measurement? That’s totally wrong. For that you need to use primes, as we have done in the third version. The eagle-eyed amongst you will also notice that the apostrophe before ’70s is wrong. Despite being called smart, sometimes these quotes can still be a little dumb. When they appear with a space before them, they automatically assume they’re at the beginning of quoted text. But here, we’re using the mark as an apostrophe (marking the absence of 19 from 1970s), so the mark needs to face in the other direction. So in this instance, despite having smart quotes on, we have to use a key command to insert the right character.

So, with all that in place, it should look like this:

prime-examples_b

Peace at last! Typographically and grammatically wonderful.

Headache much?

And it doesn’t even end there. Many contemporary fonts don’t even feature primes in their character set. They’ve just sort of been forgotten about. Instead, those inferior usurpers, the typewriter quotes, have taken their place. You can sort of fudge them, by italicising the dumb quotes, but that’s hardly an ideal solution.

And this isn’t just a problem for purveyors of fine salads.

You’ll notice the problem most online, where typewriter quotes are slung about with a hideous abandon. That’s not a giant problem in body text (though it still irks), but it’s grimly obvious in headings. Here’s a recent post from the very popular tech site Engadget:

Engadget-UK-post

Those typewriter quotes must be laughing it up. Relics they may be, but there they are, in the heading of a post about Google Glass – they could hardly be hanging out anywhere more modern!

This seems to be something to do with the software used for most blog posting, which is less than eager to insert smart quotes.

So, you’re smart people. And you probably know even smarter people. How do we fix this? Surely we can get rid of those dumb typewriter quotes?

Because dumb isn’t clever.

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Oh, and if you’re looking to read a little further on any of this, we’d like to highly recommend Matthew Butterick’s wonderful online book, Butterick’s Practical Typography, which is a treasure trove of learning. His article about this very topic is brilliant, and far more concise than this one.

Lettering: Objects, Examples, Practice

Earlier today we finally made it along to the fantastic Lettering: Objects, Examples, Practice exhibition at Central Saint Martins. The show is a potted history of lettering and typography, featuring examples from the college’s Museum & Study Collection and its Central Lettering Record, as well as some bits and bobs from alumni.

There are a whole series of photographs of Edward Johnston’s incredible type drawings on blackboards:

It’s an absolute feast of a show, which we can’t recommend enough. It’s only open for a few more days (it ends on Saturday 12 April), so if you haven’t been, get along, you won’t regret it. (Oh, and Professor Phil Baines, co-curator of the show, will be giving a tour of the exhibition on Thursday 10 April at 1pm.) Read more about the show on the Eye blog.

Penguin Random House Learning Journal

Often, when you get a job back from the printer (having laboured over it for hours, days, weeks, and often months), there can be a certain sense of disappointment, with the final result not living up to your by now unjustifiably elevated expectations. That’s not to say that the finished object isn’t worthy of love and pride, just that you can easily have an idealised view of what you hope to have created, a view which reality can never match.

But every now and then, the reverse happens. Despite having those same supposedly unrealistic expectations, the finished object manages to exceed them.

This happened to us with this learning journal we created recently for the Penguin Random House Academy – the in-house training programme for the company’s UK staff.

We were hoping it was going to look great, but once we got it in our hands, we couldn’t help but grin. It just felt right – the cover stock, the text stock, the print process, the finishing – it all came together in one lovely package. (And yup, we know we’re blasting away on our own little trumpet here, but heck, sometimes it’s okay to do that.)

We started out by designing the identity for the Academy, a simple circle. We then carried that circle through as a motif throughout the book.

The book is designed in two separate sections, each of which has its own front cover. Start at one end and it’s an informative guide to all the training and career development possibilities at the company; flip it over and it’s a travel journal, where you can make notes and doodle.

The text pages are printed onto a cream stock using the CMYK process, but with the black swapped for a Pantone grey.

The two halves of the book meet at a spread which reads in both directions, letting you know that it’s time to flip the book:

The covers are 2000 micron greyboard, foil-blocked in white.

The travel journal pages are a mix of blank pages, inspirational quotes, and many different types of lined paper pages:

Our thanks to Jo, Bethany and Erica at Penguin Random House, and printers Colophon and Lavengro for their help in creating something we’re dead proud of.

Golden Meaning: Fifty-five graphic experiments

The good folks over at GraphicDesign& sent us a copy of their fine new book Golden Meaning: Fifty-five graphic experiments.

It’s almost two years since their first book, Page 1: Great Expectations, explored the world of literature via the first page of Dickens’ Great Expectations. Where that book was mainly typographic in its explorations, this one principally illustrative, looking at the relationship of the Golden ratio to graphic design. We particularly liked the wonderful illustration by Malika Favre:

‘I decided to approach the brief as I remember approaching mathematical exercises in high school, setting strict constraints and rules before moving on to the more instinctive part of the process. As a starting point, I constructed a golden ratio grid within the double page spread without thinking about what I wanted to draw or how I would draw it. Once the grid was finished, I looked at what the lines were showing and saw a silhouette emerging. I started drawing shapes and lines as an overlay, using the lines and angles of the grid as a loose guide but relying on my instinct to create what became a woman walking by.’

Grid and overlay above, finished illustration below.

Other contributors include:

Adrian Talbot

Bibliothèque

Jerzy Skakun and Joanna Górska at Homework

Matt Rice and Christoph Lorenzi at Sennep (play with their design over here - it’s fun).

It’s a lovely book, very much sitting on the ‘book as object’ shelf thanks to a lovely format, foil-blocked cover, and the use of a single spot colour throughout (gold, of course). There’s a slight whiff of the degree show catalogue about it, because of its repetitive portfolio format (each contributor gets an introductory page, then one or two spreads), but with students of this calibre, who’s complaining?

Two more books are already in the pipeline (Religion: Looking good, and Social Science: Graphic designers surveyed), and they should build into a solid collection.

We’d really like to see a book that pulls together creative teams of Designers & Others, where designers are teamed up with philosophers, musicians, biologists, teachers, doctors, dramaturgs and others. That might start some really interesting conversations…

Liberty London now selling Thickest Human Snot

It used to be that when you fancied picking up a jar of Thickest Human Snot, or a tin of Collywobbles, you had to head over to east London, to Hoxton Street Monster Supplies (or visit their online store of course).

But, for a limited time only, monsters can now pick up all their daily supplies at London’s smartest department store, Liberty. They’ve created a fantastic Pop Up Snot Shop, with an entrance right on Carnaby Street.

The entrance even has little peepholes, so that more nervous monsters (of any stature) can take a look at what’s on offer before venturing in.

Inside, a sign explains what the shop is all about.

The shelves are full of a range of the very best monster supplies, including Tinned Fear, Human Preserves (Thickest Human Snot, Old Fashioned Brain Jam and Organ Marmalade), boxes of Cubed Earwax, bars of Impacted Earwax, and of course, Zombie Freshmints.

There’s even a height chart, usefully sized for younger monsters:

Fantastic work by the creative team at Liberty, with art direction by We Made This.

The Best Kids’ Shop in London

Boom! We’re hugely proud to announce that Hoxton Street Monster Supplies has just been nominated as the Best Kids’ Shop in London by the good folks over at Time Out London magazine.

The latest issue of the magazine lists the best 100 shops in the capital, and singles out Hoxton Street Monster Supplies as the very best place for young folk to do a spot of shopping.

Of course, it’s not really a kids’ shop. It’s a shop for monsters. The clue is in the name really. But it would seem impolite to quibble, and the staff are generally fairly tolerant of humans, especially the younger variety.

If you can’t make it along to 159 Hoxton Street, you can buy some of the shop’s wonderful goods at their online store at www.monstersupplies.org

Read more about how we designed the shop, and how we helped set up and design the Ministry of Stories.

Design for Ministers and Monsters

As you might have noticed from our two previous posts, things have been pretty busy lately at the Ministry of Stories and Hoxton Street Monster Supplies.

It’s been three years since the Ministry, a young people’s writing centre in Hoxton, opened its secret door at the back of Hoxton Street Monster Supplies – the only shop in the world catering exclusively to the needs of monsters. (Check out this post if you need a bit of background to it all.)

In that time, the Ministry (thanks to a small army of volunteers) has helped thousands of children and teenagers to discover their inner authors. They’ve published a series of anthologies of writing by those children, as well as a Guide to Monster Housekeeping (designed by Ed Cornish).

They’ve published a regular newspaper, Hoxton A.M. (designed by Alex Parrott), filmed a soap opera, created a new republic in Shoreditch (designed by Burgess Studio), and, most recently, released an album (designed by We Made This).

Meanwhile, the monster shop has continued to do great business, constantly releasing new products, including Salt made from Tears (from a concept by StudioWeave), and Milk Tooth Chocolate (designed by We Made This).

And that’s just a few of the highlights – there’ve been a whole bunch of other projects, all designed by various brilliant designers (with art direction by We Made This), all of them giving their time and skills for free.

But the Ministry has a whole heap of new projects (small, large, and gargantuan) coming up in the next couple of years, and needs to add to its design roster. That means you!

So if you’re based in London, are ridiculously talented, and want to create something brilliant for the Ministry or the monster shop, drop Alistair a line. We’re happy to hear from freelancers or studios, and from graphic designers, web & interaction designers, and illustrators. There’s no money, but it’s for a fantastic cause, and you’ll get the chance to create something incredible.

Share More Air

What would happen if you asked a group of children to write the lyrics for some songs, and then asked a bunch of adult musicians to write and record music to go with the lyrics? That’s the premise for the brilliant new album Share More Air, released jointly by the Ministry of Stories and Communion Records. It features lyrics from children aged 8-13 from east London, and music from artists including Ben Folds, Matthew and the Atlas, and Marcus Foster.

It’s a really wonderful project, and the finished songs sound fantastic.

We put together the CD book and the microsite for the album (built with skill and speed by Alex Wybraniec).

If you want to know more about it, check out this wonderful short film – there’s a humdinger of a moment part way through that may well get your tear ducts going:

Jarvis Cocker even dropped by to chat to author & Ministry co-founder Nick Hornby (one of the founders of the Ministry of Stories) about the project for his show on BBC 6 Music. Look, here are Jarvis and Nick hanging out at Hoxton Street Monster Supplies:

Buy the digital download of Share More Air now on i-Tunes, or pre-order the CD from Hoxton Street Monster Supplies (available from 25 November).

Milk Tooth Chocolate

We’ve been busy lately on a variety of projects for the Ministry of Stories and Hoxton Street Monster Supplies, and this is the first to hit the shelves: Milk Tooth Chocolate – a smooth milk chocolate with utterly delicious chunks of delicately roasted milk teeth.

It is of course ethically sourced: “Our chocolate is made with only the finest quality molars, gathered by our skilled team of tooth fairies – and children are always paid a fair price for their teeth.”

It’s truly delicious (with an uncanny similarity to milk chocolate with hazelnut pieces).

And, there’s an added bonus – the inside of the wrapper has the beginnings of a short story by Francesca Simon (author of the Horrid Henry books). The story is about the tooth fairy, who is bored and fed up. Francesca has asked for any budding young writers amongst the shop’s customers to help finish the story for her – with the best results being published on the Ministry of Stories website.

As with all Hoxton Street Monster Supplies stuff, the profits from the sale of the bars support free writing workshops for children and young people in east London. You can order them from the monstersupplies.org website – and with Christmas looming, they make fantastic Secret Santa gifts, or stocking fillers.

The bar is produced by the lovely people at the rather brilliant Divine Chocolate - the only Fairtrade chocolate company 45% owned by farmers.

Packaging design and copywriting are by We Made This.

Rapha City Cycling Guides

The good folks at super-smart cycling brand Rapha sent us over a boxed set of their brand new City Cycling Guides to have a look at – and what a wonderful thing it is.

The set features eight small guide books – covering Antwerp & Ghent, Amsterdam, Barcelona, Berlin, Copenhagen, London, Milan and Paris. Each one is densely packed with information for the cycling tourist, or the touring cyclist, or even just any old tourist to be honest. They each have a short introduction to the city, and feature a mapped day-ride that takes you round the main parts of the city, before diving in to more detail on a few specific neighbourhoods. They’re written and designed by Andrew Edwards and Max Leonard.

By way of example, with the London guide you’re given detailed information about Soho & Mayfair, Shoreditch, Borough, Notting Hill and Hampstead – including shopping, eating, stuff to see and do, and of course a few bike shops and cafés.

At the back of each book there’s also a great (and detailed) guide to the cycling habits of the city you’re visiting – invaluable when you consider the starkly different riding habits of Londoners, Milanese and Parisians.

Each book is illustrated by a different local illustrator: Amsterdam is by Joost Stokhof, Antwerp & Ghent by Sebastiaan van Doninck, Barcelona by Judy Kaufmann, Berlin by Mikkel Sommer, Copenhagen by Simon Væth (pictured below), London by Henry McCausland, Milan by Riccardo Guasco, and Paris by Louis Thomas.

The Rapha website also has a set of additional ride routes for each city which you can download to your bike’s GPS thingamajig if you have one.

Very lovely, and, given that these are produced by Rapha, surprisingly affordable at £25.