Typefaces don’t exist in a vacuum

Today a newsletter came through my inbox from Monotype showing Alisal in use. Immediately, I had a few thoughts. First, “oh nice! Matthew Carter put some lovely details into Alisal about which I had forgotten.” Second, “too bad it is so sparkly in this setting.”

Because of the sharp angles and straight sides Alisal is quite lovely at display sizes. However at text sizes the shapes start touching, the words seem to be more words than lines of text, meanwhile all of this making it hard on the eyes. This is where one should consider changing the settings to suit the medium.

I understand that typography is a matter of opinion and seriously subjective. And fair enough that many people wouldn’t even notice…yada yada yada…how boring. But it is a typographer’s job to pay attention to the the so-called boring details. As a typographer I live in the boring. I live for the boring. Content might be king, but the minutiae is the queen at his side making sure everyone understands and can read the message!

Now for some of you I’m about to commit sacrilege. I can hear you saying, “Mess with Matthew’s settings? Perish the thought!” Therefore, please avert your eyes or close the window.

(Image credit: part of aforementioned email from Monotype.)

(Image credit: part of aforementioned email from Monotype.)

All I did was open Google Chrome* and turn on the developer tools. Then I scrolled down until the text was highlighted and adjusted the CSS until I felt that it was enough improved to demonstrate my initial thoughts. In this instance I added .25px of letter-spacing and subtracted -2px of word-spacing. Very minor tweakage but I feel it improves the reading experience. The letters in the smaller text aren’t banging and blending into one another and there aren’t word spaces large enough to disrupt the eye. 

This is neither a tutorial nor the perfect solution for every typographic problem. There are many books and online resources that go well beyond what I’ve written above. Both in explaining and demonstrating how to achieve great typography. While this is only a friendly reminder that the type is there to serve the text and should sometimes be adjusted. Not because the design is bad, but because not every setting will suit the typeface straight out of the box.

*Web typography is a lot less predictable than print and no setting is guaranteed to look the same in every browser or email application. However, this doesn’t mean we can be lazy in our typographic duties.

Happy 1st Birthday, Alphabettes


This week, Alphabettes.org turned one. Blogs, they grow up so fast! We’re celebrating with cake.

We wanted a place on the internet to publish our own thoughts and writing, so we did what any self-respecting, overcommitted people do: we started a new side project. Within two weeks of registering the domain name, the site was live. Scrappy and minimal, the original design worked (through many late night, trans-Atlantic sessions of reckless-intermediate theme editing), but we quickly began feeling some growing pains. One year later, the site boasts around 145 posts (and 25 headers), most of which feature previously unpublished content.

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Greetings from… around the world

We’re a bit jet-lagged from our vacation series last month, but it was worth visiting some excellent local typographic treasures. In case you missed any of the destinations, we’ve created this handy map with all our stops (and links to each article). Kudos to Liron for organizing it and Luisa for creating these cool passport stamps we used to mark the series.


You can also find all of the posts here. Happy travels!

Certifiably Awesome

A few days ago, I had the honor to be awarded by SOTA (Society of Typography Aficionados). On the 26th of August, I stood on stage during TypeCon to receive the 2016 Catalyst award and then present my work.

I wanted to write a bit about the certificate I received, because first, it was designed by another Alphabette: Laura Worthington, and second, it’s just gorgeous.

Look at this:

Isn’t it just great ?

Laura did this ALL BY HAND, I am so impressed.

Just a quick line about it: Laura explained to me how she stalked me on social media to find some aspects of my personality. She chose to draw fruits to recall my collection of fruit stickers, patterns for my collection of vintage parisian floor tiles (#passionvieuxcarreaux on my instagram), and of course a dinosaur.

Colors + gold (she used shell gold to paint it. It’s 24 karat gold mixed with a binding agent ✨), and this amazing type, all done by hand. What she didn’t know about me is that I absolutely love when typefaces have their top « regular » and bottom part ornamented as you can see in the « SOTA » word. As I don’t know the proper word for this style, I call them « typefaces with fancy socks ». So I am delighted to have also a sample of this style on my certificate.

Thank you so much Laura, I absolutely love it.

Greetings from Knuckleheads

Neon sign paying homage to its past at Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City, Missouri.

Neon sign paying homage to its past at Knuckleheads Saloon in Kansas City, Missouri.

As much as I wanted to go on a nice, long vacation this year, a summer full of work prevented me from getting the R&R I really wanted. Despite that setback, I’ve been spending the last few months catching up with friends, eating tasty food, and listening to lots of music.

When I first moved to the Middle of the Map from New York City in late 2012, going to see musicians perform was one of the many things I would do to alleviate the culture shock and homesickness that would come over me without warning.

I always enjoyed going to concerts when I lived in New York City, but there’s something unusually comforting about going to a show in a new place. Everyone may be a complete stranger, but you still feel connected to them because you are all there for one reason: to listen to the music.

For someone who is still pretty new to Kansas City, I have experienced so much of what the city has to offer. However, the list of things I still want to do exceeds what I have done so far.

One place on my “To Go” list is a Honky Tonk Blues Roadhouse called Knuckleheads Saloon.

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Greetings From Isla Mujeres

Last spring I found myself desperate for a vacation while also paying off also my student loans. Like the scrappy gal I am, I decided there was only one thing to do—mooch off my parents!

I was vaguely aware of their plans to travel to Cancun for spring break, so I asked if I could join their all inclusive adventure. They agreed. I was off to Mexico!

After five days of touristy ~chill~ we decided to take a boat to Isla Mujeres.

If the boats on the pier were any indication of the lettering I was about to see on the island, I knew I was in for a treat.


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Greetings from Barcelona

The grand view inside Sagrada Famíla

The grand view inside Sagrada Famíla

Of the many cities I’ve visited over the years, Barcelona never ceases to amaze me. It’s forever seared into my brain as the dream city of Art Nouveau — where I saw the celebrated 19th century architect Gaudí’s La Sagrada Família and realized the imagination has no limit. As a creative working in the commercial sector, I’m all too familiar with compromising great ideas by bits and pieces as they come to fruition. But Gaudí had an extraordinary ability to turn his dreams into reality.

Gaudí: The Peak of Modernisme

Like many, I view Barcelona as the city of Gaudí. With all its Modernisme influences, it’s a city full of dreamy Catalan Art Nouveau, of which Gaudí stands at the peak. As Martin Filler said in The New York Review of Books, Gaudí was one among an extraordinary generation of local architects who embraced Modernisme, the distinctive Catalan variant of Art Nouveau which drew heavily on the Romantic revivalist renaissance movement of mid-19th century Spain.

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