Sometimes, flipping things around can be a useful mental exercise. It can raise a wry smile. An idle comparison between print and web typography was one of those times.
Imagine this: A client gives you a detailed brief and the content to go with it. You choose the type and design the layout, applying all of your craft and skill to every last detail of the work. With the help of a rendering expert, you specify precisely what device, screen, operating system, colour profile and browser the finished work will be viewed with. You test your work in that environment and make necessary adjustments. It’s distributed to the audience who see it exactly as you expect. That’s print typography.
Now imagine this: A client gives you a detailed brief and the content to go with it. You choose the type and design the layout, applying all of your craft and skill to every last detail of the work. Two files are given to the audience: one with content, the other with detailed design instructions. They pass both files to their printer. The instructions ask for a specific typeface to be used. The printer may or may not have it, but will never tell anyone, so you specify a few alternatives, just in case. The audience chooses the kind of paper to use, and what size it will be. They also tell the printer what personal preferences they want applied to the design, like making the text size smaller or larger. Your work is printed for them. You never see it. You’ve already resigned yourself to the fact that it will look different for different people. By testing your work in a broad range of environments before you sent it to the printer, you’d like to believe it will look good for most people, and adjust itself gracefully. Not to worry though, someone will probably tell you in no uncertain terms if you get it wrong. That’s web typography.
Image courtesy of the New York Public Library digital gallery, entitled Typesetting-Printing Office from Working with the hands : being a sequel to ‘Up from slavery’, covering the author’s experiences in industrial training at Tuskegee (1904) by Booker T. Washington.