Wood engraving by Julien Turgan, 1875
I’m getting the band back together. This here is Adventures in Typography, a newsletter by your friendly neighborhood Robin Rendle where I uncontrollably ramble about fonts from time to time. And with this email I hereby announce season three of Adventures, with the plan being to publish one of these every Saturday until spring.
So: let’s get right to it.
Over the holidays I wrote an essay called Newsletters, a piece about— shut up—newsletters. I had a blast making this thing because there are so many questions I have about writing on the web today: Why are newsletters so popular all of a sudden? What happened to RSS? And why did blogs mostly die off?
Here’s what the intro looks like:
For the longest time I’d also wanted to experiment with the format of websites, too. Everything I’ve made in the past have been broken up into paragraphs, chapters, subsections with headings, and you always scroll from the top to the bottom.
But—what if websites snapped together like comic books instead?
Not so long ago I made a demo of this idea where a section would expand to take up the full width/height of the screen and as you scroll it snaps to the next section:
This was all exciting to me because I’d been somewhat obsessed with a few comic books and I fell in love with the pacing of Blankets by Craig Thompson. I’d also been thinking a lot about an essay by Robin Sloan called Fish where, instead of scrolling, you tap to jump to the next bit of text.
There’s something about Fish and comic books that allow for an entirely separate kind of writing, the procession of it is magic because it slows everything way down; it sounds as if someone is talking to you. Everything is less serious, everything is playful, and that’s what I wanted to emulate with Newsletters.
To build this thing I knew I could use this one tiny CSS property called
So! How would that click-clack between sections change my writing? Could I build a scroll-jacking website that isn’t annoying, with nothing but CSS? And, most importantly: would this thing be fun?
The only snag in this plan of mine is that browsers tend to disagree about how to render these properties. Safari and Firefox make the snapping perfect and Firefox even lets you jump from section to section with the keyboard up/down arrows. But Chrome has this bewildering interpretation where it does precisely the opposite of what I wanted; it jumps too far with each tiny scroll and makes the whole idea sort of busted and annoying. It makes you cautious of scrolling through it and that interrupts the flow of writing.
ANYWAY—I hear you loudly say—I also decided to use LfA Aluminia by Letterform Archive. It has this stately look most of the time but I think in this context I’ve made it a little playful. (It’s interesting how changing the size of the text or the width of a paragraph can change the texture of a typeface entirely).
Somehow this typeface blends in so very well with the illustrations I took from this rather lovely and straightforwardly-named archive called Old Book Illustrations. I tried to match each metal or wood engraving with the text to add an extra level of quirkiness and humor to what might’ve been pretty boring otherwise.
I also drafted the whole piece in Keynote because it allowed me to quickly drop images in and compare each one to the speaker notes.
After hitting the big publish button, something else happened. I found it so very interesting to watch as this piece flew around the web. It didn’t do gangbusters or anything—it seems like only around 15,000 people read it over the course of three days. But seeing how people responded, how they messaged other folks about it, and how you could see the connections to people through it, is nothing short of remarkable. For a brief moment it felt like a respite from the world we’re familiar with; one where websites are designed to inflame, to incite, to pull us down into the muck. For a tiny moment we could rant about newsletters and argue about the merits of scrolling on the web.
And that’s more than enough for me.
Until next time,