Tue 14 Aug
In case you missed it, there was a really terrific piece in yesterday᾿s New York Times Magazine called “The Road to Clarity.” Ostensibly a report on how the Federal Highway Administration is transitioning Interstate highway signage away from the typeface Highway Gothic and to the better optimized Clearview, its writer, Joshua Yaffa, manages to elegantly transition the angle of this article into an excellent primer on the nuances and importance graphic design. It’s actually quite slyly done.
Of course, there’s a little bit of that “Who’d have guessed it, but did you know there’s an art and a craft to typefaces?” sentiment, the sort with which arcane trades are often exposed to the general public. But Yaffa pulls it off quite gracefully:
“Less than a generation ago, fonts were for the specialist, an esoteric pursuit, what Stanley Morison, the English typographer who helped create Times New Roman in the 1930s, called ‘a minor technicality of civilized life.’ Now, as the idea of branding has claimed a central role in American life, so, too, has the importance and understanding of type. Fonts are image, and image is modern America.”
Nicely said, right? What I like so much about this piece is that, almost furtively, Yaffa has slipped in a truly excellent overview of the principles of graphic design and a surprisingly detailed lesson on the finer points of typography. To see that kind of smart overview inside a general interest magazine is a healthy sign for the trade.
You can read the full article over at NYTimes.com of course, but this is one of many instances in which our Web version utterly fails the presentation of the content. The online article, while put together with care by one of our online edit staffers (especially in the handy in-line, clickable timeline), just doesn’t have the visual panache of its printed counterpart.
Right now, we just haven’t got the tools or the infrastructure to do justice to the beautiful work done by Magazine art director Rem Duplessis and his staff — nor for any art directors at the newspaper, for example. By and large, I fully believe we deliver great content in a great package — we make the news in as useful and elegant a digital manner as anyone — but I admit we often fall short of the aesthetic bar set by our counterparts in print.
Which isn’t to say that the goal of NYTimes.com should be to fully emulate the layout of the printed paper. To the contrary: in the vast majority of instances, that should not be the strategy. I don’t believe in one design for every medium; I’m more of the school that content should be designed appropriate to each medium. Still, it would have been nice if we could have done something for this article that was remotely as attractive as these pages.