Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Big Typeface? Cló-éadan Mór?*

How is the broader adoption of Irish Language and accessibility obligations impacting literature design and typesetting?

Bilingual requirements
2006 was the year when I experienced the real impact of the roll-out of the recent Irish language legislation requiring the majority of State and Semi-state communications to become bilingual publications. While many of the relevant State organisations were able to previously get by with paying lip-service to the bilingual requirements there has been a noticeable tipping point in their adoption over the last twelve months.
The preference today has become to produce one combined bilingual publication. A few years ago it was more common to publish Irish language editions as separate documents. In my experience, the inventory costs of storing a large quantity of unasked-for publications is the real driver for combining the two. Under the new approach, hundreds of Irish language editions are not left sitting in storage.

Accessibility requirements
The second factor influencing literature design projects is the increasing awareness of, and adoption of, accessibility and legibility requirements. These are being adopted in a more à la carte manner — presumably because they intrude more directly into the remit of graphic designers. One common approach is to produce two separate editions of each publication. A printed edition typeset at today’s standard type size (or, more accurately, falling within the gamut of current design conventions for preferred type size parameters) and an accessible version typeset in twelve point text with the page count running about 20–30% longer. I think that the economic realities of running such double editions will result in more of the accessibility conventions migrating into the primary edition, and eventually the two merging. This would not be the worst-case scenario that some designers claim, as most established accessibility conventions align with what I understand to be good typographic practice anyway. I have had a preference for setting ranged-left sans-serif typefaces with large x-heights for years. (While I was able to specify the only hardback book that I have yet designed in Scala, I still could not bring myself to typeset that text justified.) Although I still find it difficult to get over how large twelve point type looks in practice. It is 33% larger than nine point and 20% larger than ten point. Which only shows me how ingrained my design preferences can become, based on what I have been exposed to.

Implications
Combining the bilingual and accessibility requirements, and assuming that the amount of verbiage remains consistent, there has to be an upwards pressure on page counts. The increasing use of PDF as the primary distribution mechanism helps defray large amounts of printing costs (essentially by passing some of them on to the end-user, if they choose to laser-print a hard-copy before reading.) But, in the near term, there is still going to be some form of printed edition for the majority of publications, no matter how short those print runs are. At present these regulations primarily apply to literature projects for Government and Semi-state clients, but these implications may affect a broader base of business clients eventually.

(*My Irish headline is undoubtedly ungrammatical, being an automatic online translation of two separate words out of context. Gaeilgeoirs can comment with corrections please.)