Just the other day, we featured a superexclusive interview with three authors of fabbo “content” sites.

Well, there’s always that distinction between content and presentation (discussion passim), so we thought we’d explore sites whose content deals with presentation – that is, typography.

Who are the people in this neighbourhood?

We asked a few of the same questions as in our previous E-interview, and then did the big lawyer-TV-show thing and shouted “Redirect!” to follow up with a few more.


contenu.nu – What role do you think good Web design (however you define that) plays in the way your site is viewed? Is it indeed essential given that you discuss graphic design?

Gen – Well, the content of a site ought to determine its design, right? To me it seems natural that a site dedicated to typography should be a bit on the “austere” side. Typography is a low-key subject, so it follows that the design of a site like Webtype should be low-key as well.

Some people disagree, of course. Typographic56, for example, seem to think it quite OK to sacrifice readability for fancy design. But it’s a bit strange when people from a leading Web-design firm, claiming to be experts on type, (1) use small, anti-aliased text on (2) animated backgrounds, and (3) chop their texts up into tiny bits (4) presented as a slideshow that (5) doesn’t work!

I think this is similar to the early days of print. Some of Gutenberg’s pages were dripping with flowery ornaments when you’d think that the Word of God would be enough. But then people began to calm down a bit.

Andy – Well, first I’d say that I have tried to make a point of not being a graphic design log (or a so-called “design site”). I really try to focus on the whole “putting letters next to one another” endeavor they call Typography. Of course, I have digressed to talk about design at times, which I think is inevitable.

That said, I feel that considering the focus of my site, certain things may be expected of the design. If someone were to do a site on typography (and much of its attendant minutia) and then not seem to care about these things themselves, that would be a bit hypocritical (and foolish-looking), wouldn’t it? Clearly my site isn’t a design tour-de-force: I’m not a graphic designer. All I can hope to do is produce a somewhat clean, to-the-point page, and I hope I’ve done this.

And like I said, though I don’t claim to be a graphic designer, I have read quite a lot about the history and practice of design. And I do feel I am a relatively keen observer of design trends (Web, print, etc.). I’ve also been using the Web for about six years now, and one thing I’ve found remarkable is the creation of this sort false design culture on the Web (AKA the K10K effect). I know identifying this phenomenon isn’t breaking any new ground, but the thing that really gets me are the so-called “Web-design gods” who haven’t one bit of grounding in the actual principles or history of graphic design. So I see a huge æsthetic chasm here, which gets back to your question of “the role of good Web design.” I think this is nearly impossible to address because what the new group of designers think is good design is often nothing like what bona fide designers see as good design.

contenu.nu – K10K, in all fairness, is a kind of design that is intrisically Internet-like, even if the type is too small. What traditional design principles are appropriate there and are absent? (It’s also a Weblog, in part.)

Andy – Well, I suppose I didn’t mean it like that. K10k is great and they know what they’re doing. But I more mean the cult of K10K, in which the the look of K10K is regurgitated and distorted. I’m talking about the sort of sites that actively label themselves “design” sites, but whose owners know nothing of design and provide almost nothing of substance on their sites.

contenu.nu – Don’t you hate it when people describe designs as “clean”? What’s the opposite? Dirty? “Clean” really means that ingénues can discern all the pieces on the page. But we digress.

Andy – Yes. Good point. “Clean” is a very stupid way to describe design. I mean this: with my site, I aim to be relatively unadorned, well-organized, &c. That is what people mean by “clean,” I think. Nevertheless, this sort of conflicts with my (as of late) great interest in the most adorned, ornate sorts of design (baroque typographical ornamentation, intricately-floriated Victorian alphabets, and such). But I too digress.

contenu.nu – Is it noteworthy that your sites are quite austere and <quote>tasteful</quote>?

Andy – Like Gen said, I think our sites are mostly interested in letting the writing stand on its own. As I said before, I don’t aim to be pulling-off visual pyrotechnics. There are certainly more than enough 14-year-old Web “designerz” working on that at the moment. I do think a simple, austere design serves to perhaps lend some credence to what I write. I do spend a good deal of time thinking about what to write and often do research on things before I post. So I wouldn’t want a flashy look to obscure what I’m writing.

contenu.nu – Are you seen as more authoritative or credible by having advanced graphic design – where, in one of those ironic inversions, simple = advanced? If you had the same “content” but your site looked like a Tripod automated homepage, would it still work?

Andy – Well, as I’ve alluded to, I’m pretty sure it helps not to look amateurish. Though my site is only six weeks old, I’m continually surprised by the sorts of people who read it. Many of them are from large, well-known but not-so-cutting-edge companies (of just about every sort). I suppose if my page was more amateurish or cluttered, these sorts of people might not be as disposed to reading it.

contenu.nu – Is personal voice important? If you were an absentee landowner and everyone else did the talking, would your site suffer? Lines & Splines is a one-man army, but Webtype is a blog. What is the difference in tone?

GenWebtype would be a lot worse off if I was doing it on my own – I simply don’t know enough, and all the other contributors always post much better stuff than me. So it’s really impressive that Andy can do it all by himself! (Not that I’d normally admit to that in public, of course, with us being archrivals on the Web typography scene.)

Andy – Well, when I first started doing the site, I think I was hesitant to have too much of a “personal voice.” I didn’t even have my name or picture (the colophon page) when I first started it. I guess I felt reluctant to have these things because I was so certain that I wanted the site to be nothing like the ultra-narcissistic Weblogs which have proliferated. And I’m not at all bashing personal sites; indeed I love them and read many of them each day. But I felt that there was no need for me to add another Web page that was primarily concerned with the movie the author just saw, or how the author felt that day, or what sort of sandwich the author enjoyed at lunch.

But as I’ve continued with the site, I think my writing has become more conversational or informal, and thus more personal. After getting lots of E-mails about the site, I added the colophon. And I think, also, the feedback from the readers has made me less anxious about injecting my voice into the blog. Lately I feel like I have more of a conversation going with the readers, rather than just posting things into the ether.

contenu.nu – Why’d you start it? Why was the topic so important that you made an open-ended commitment to maintaining a site about it?

Gen – In the words of that dimwit Fred Durst: Take a look around! It’s really appaling the way designers don’t give a damn about typography, or, even worse, view it as just another outlet for their Flash and Photoshop fantasies. That’s another reason why I didn’t want to make my site too flashy. People need to understand that being good at typography is similar to being good at grammar or spelling – if you’re not willing to work away at the small, small details, don’t even bother.

Andy – Well, I had been planning and planning to do some sort of type-related site for a long time. But the planning sort of kept me from doing it – I kept changing the way I wanted to structure it, etc. So I thought, well why not just make it a Weblog, as that will solve the whole format/structure problem.

As for the topic’s importance, well, for me there was no question about that. I really live, breathe, and sleep type. It’s very much beyond an obsession... but it’s a topic that relatively few people are interested in. So, when you are deeply focused on a subject, you obviously then want some way to communicate all the ideas you have on this subject with people. But I wasn’t really finding any way of doing, and that was a bit aggravating. So, for me I suppose the site is a way of letting all of this bottled-up type nonsense out of my head. Also, the site helps me to focus my thoughts on things – to synthesize the stuff rattling around in my brain.

contenu.nu – What does official sanctioning mean to you? Let’s take the K10K example. They’re sponsored by Apple. If Adobe or (God help us) Microsoft wanted to sign on, how would you react?

Andy – Well, I’d certainly be more than happy to be sponsored (full disclosure: I recently interned at one of the two software companies listed above). But from what I know of the typography groups at both Adobe and Microsoft, I’d be surprised if they had the inclination to begin sponsoring sites. I’m not sure they really need to build brand recognition in the type world, in light of their current positions as the two most important type-technology companies – what with the joint ownership (Adobe, Microsoft) of the OpenType spec and all.

contenu.nu – How much of your time does the site eat up? How many visitors, etc.? Are bandwidth costs a hassle?

Andy – The time the site takes is variable. Sometimes I see something that I want to blog and it only takes a moment. But the longer posts often require me to do some research, digging through my books and magazines, finding passages to quote, etc. Also, I often scan things from my collection of type ephemera, so that takes time. I’ve spent as much as an hour and a half on a single post, but most posts probably take no more than half an hour.

As for hosting costs, I’m lucky enough to host my site on a server with free, unlimited space and bandwidth, so it isn’t a concern for now. As for visitors, they’ve fluctuated (the site is only about six weeks old), and I haven’t done any exact counts. It appears that I get some hundreds of visitors each day, with exceptional days perhaps approaching a thousand visitors (a few days last month – the combination Kottke-linked/K10K-linked/blog-of-the-week effect, I suppose).

contenu.nu – You started your sites because you’re interested in the topic – passionately so. That’s all well and good. But how do you maintain the commitment? Was stoking your obsession, as the Internet so readily permits, worth it after all?

Andy – So far it’s been a very rewarding way to spend my time. As I said before, I felt I had so much type stuff to natter on about, I just had to find an outlet (or else my head might explode). The amount of feedback I’ve received since starting the site has been astounding, and I really appreciate it. I’ve also had multiple offers to get involved in other projects, which has been especially nice. So, all of these factors (along with my continuing type obsession) helps to keep me committed to the site.

contenu.nu – What kind of work do you do in print design?

Andy – Most of the print design I’ve done has been relatively unexciting newspaper stuff. I’m generally put off by the flashier sorts of print design; what I’d truly like to do is the more traditional sort of book design (for me, at least, this is the holy grail of typography).

contenu.nu – What other variants of design Weblogs do you think we need? Motion design, for example?

Andy – I’d love to see a design log that focused on newspaper design. There’s really lots of stuff in that area that could be blogged. Jim Romanesko gets some of it sometimes on MediaNews, but a dedicated blog would be great. Magazine design as well, and perhaps advertising design. Motion design doesn’t interest me as much, but I’m sure there’d be plenty of readers for something like that.

Posted on 2000-11-23