Using Technology to Deepen Democracy, Using Democracy to Ensure Technology Benefits Us All

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Garamond Reprimand

Folks celebrating the ingenious young citizen who would deliver millions of cost-saving dollars to the Federal Budget through the thinness of the Garamond font should possibly consider, as he may not have done, the costs associated with less-readable multiply-copied government documents for older and differently-enabled people creating accessibility issues. The success of technofixes almost always depends as much on the complexities in the problem they ignore as the ones they address.

Speaking of dumb technofixated celebrants of solutionism, the libertopians at Reason Magazine are snidely sure Big Bro's drone army will be too entranced in their elite-effete-aesthete money-wasting petty-tyrannizing thick-headed thick-font fondness that they will ignore such a simple solution. Our libertechbrotarians might benefit from a look at a document from the bright sensible dedicated civic-minded good-government folks of Print Wise, who already propose that cost-savings can follow from changing fonts (Garamond being ONE option they recommend), but thoughtfully remind us all that there are other issues that should enter into such considerations. It is worth noting that Reason's Randroidal archetypes quoted someone in the Government Print Office to illustrate their point about Big Bad Gu'ment -- but anybody following their link would discover that the functionary against whom they fulminate himself directs our attention to the very PrintWise document I have mentioned (that's how I found it myself). Were our technofixated libertopians too lazy to read their own sources or were they counting on the laziness of their fellow libertopians not to expose the bankruptcy of their own premise? 

Suvir Mirchandani seems to be a creative and thoughtful young man, eager to address his intelligence to public problems. His ingenuity and civic-mindedness should indeed be encouraged. As he grows up, experience will show him how complicated our shared problems can be and how this complexity makes his creativity and intelligence that much more valuable. I hope he doesn't make the mistake of taking seriously simplistic libertopian technofixated profiteers just because they have taken him seriously for the wrong reasons.

1 comment:

Adam said...

I was compelled to let my inner font geek out on this one:

I whipped up a side-by-side comparison of Garamond (regular weight) and Gotham XNarrow (book weight). Why Gotham XNarrow? Well, it happened to be the closest—alphabetically, in the drop down menu—condensed typeface I own to Garamond.

Gotham XNarrow is a sans serif typeface with a relatively uniform stroke weight, meaning its letterforms have a fighting chance of reproducing faithfully after multiple copies of copies of copies, ad infinitum. Even Benjamin might agree that a wisp of its aura would remain intact after such abuse! Further, it has a much taller x-height (approx. 25%, by my best estimation), making it more legible, particularly at smaller sizes (one could also make the argument that, because of this, it is also better suited for use on the web, but I digress...).

Anyway, I set the exact same text in both typefaces and Gotham XNarrow clocked in at around one line less than Garamond. Of course, that does not address the actual ink-to-letterform ratio—Mirchandani's justification for the inherent "economics" of Garamond. But, it is significant regarding another sort of economics, the economy of space. One line might not seem like much, but consider it in the context of millions or billions of documents: How much less paper? How much less resources allocated to the production, packaging, and distribution of said paper. And, more significantly, how many more (diverse and differently enabled) end-users' experiences might be improved? The point of design anyway, IMHO.

While I don't know the precise answers to these questions, I do think they begin to get at your point, Dale, about the complexity that inheres in (design) problems. I could not agree more.