Smallcaps vs. Bold, Slanted/Oblique vs. Italic

How essential is a bold weight? I’m toying with using smallcaps for the “Bold,” with slanted smallcaps for the “Bold Italic” in a face, and wanted to get some opinions.

I prefer the consistency of color that smallcaps give; I dislike bold weights. Plenty of typographers have used smallcaps in place of bold, so there’s certainly precedent. Italic caps are slanted romans, so slanted smallcaps are in some way consistent. These are all arguments more or less in favor of smallcaps (at least in general).

However, I see a few problems. First, the consistency of color can be a bad thing. Some people like words to jump out. Sometimes such jumping out is even a good thing, such as in a dictionary. Second, I’m proposing a rather nonstandard usage. People just aren’t used to seeing smallcaps at all, and slanted smallcaps probably look exotic even to font geeks. Also, people often use bold in ALL CAPS, and since the caps won’t differ in roman and bold weights, this distinction will be lost.

I dunno; I think I’ve talked myself out of this, and am hoping to be talked into it. ;)


Comments

  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,489
    edited October 28
     Plenty of typographers have used smallcaps in place of bold
    I think you've answered your own question: how to articulate text with various forms and weights of letters is a decision for typographers, not for type designers and font makers. You're free, of course, not to provide multiple weights — thereby limiting the ways in which your fonts can be used —, but I advise against providing a nominal Bold font that isn't in fact bold, but does some other thing.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,141
    edited October 28
    Each case is different, but I believe the best general emphasis style is a judiciously dark weight; most contemporary Bolds are too dark for text, so a Demi tends to be better. As for Italic, to me it generally causes more problems than it solves.

    BTW plenty of people have made plenty of mistakes (including putting too much faith in precedent) so the best way to decide is relying on your own judgment.

    John Hudson said:
    I advise against providing a nominal Bold font that isn't in fact bold, but does some other thing.
    Seconded.
    Not too dissimilar to how the affectation of an "upright Italic" discards the main thing a user expects when choosing Italic: slant.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,313
    Small caps were used before there were bold fonts, so that contrast method has some historical baggage.

    I concur with John—why not give typographers the option to use both kinds of hierarchical layout?


  • Christian ThalmannChristian Thalmann Posts: 1,172
    edited October 28
    Also note that putting the small caps into the Bold slot forces it to use the same OT feature programming, such as ligatures and contextual alternates, as the Regular, which is probably a bad idea.
    (Well, I guess you could use custom parameters to overwrite the features. Still...)
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 1,141
    edited October 28
    Certainly FontLab does not force different weights in a family to have the same OT features, in either 5 or VI.

    (Although of course it also allows different fonts to share all or part of an OT feature file, regardless of family membership.)
  • I stand corrected!
  • Why does Glyphs force this?
  • Frode Frode Posts: 54
    edited October 29
    It doesn’t. There’s only one feature pane in a .glyphs file, because it presupposes that all masters in a project file shares OT features (though not the kerning, which has separate panes for each master). It is probably true most of the time, so for most users the auto-magic is a welcome feature. You can always override, or split into different project files if it doesn’t fit your bill. 
  • Alex VisiAlex Visi Posts: 45

    However, I see a few problems. First, the consistency of color can be a bad thing. Some people like words to jump out.

    I agree, body text texture should be monotone grey, so it’s better to use italics or small caps to ephasize words within the text. However, bold is pretty important when it comes to hierarchy outside of just text – headlines, bullet points, lists, etc. So if you’re making a complete typeface, bold is essential, in my humble opinion.

    To me bold italic or italic caps are rather redundant in this context. Double stress is rarely needed, so it’s more likely to be misused by someone who is not a typographer.
  • One might imagine a website or a book where headings use a bold weight to establish hierarchy, and then may require the use of italics for indicating a work of art’s name, book title, album name, and so on.

    I’m with André in that I don't think they’re inherently redundant.
  • Chris LozosChris Lozos Posts: 1,096
    The job of the type designer to to make the tools available.  The job of the type user is to decide which tools are used in what way for which instance.  This also means that "not use" is an option and much better than "Not Available".
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,141
    edited November 2
    Alex Visi
    body text texture should be monotone grey
    No.
    Information comes only from contrast. With the ideal (or at least idealized) level of contrast being as much as possible without triggering an errant fixation.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,489
    edited November 2
    body text texture should be monotone grey
    It's worth considering why that would be the case.

    I consider consistent texture or 'colour' a byproduct of the actually beneficial design goal. What we're really talking about is restricting spatial frequency in text so that reading isn't slowed by requiring re-tuning to a different spatial frequency channel mid-text. This is why changing weight of type in the midst of continuous text isn't a good idea if your intention is to enable continuous reading. The roman/italic pairing is functionally superior in this regard to weight change: the styles are sufficiently distinct to be able to articulate content, while the spatial frequency is close enough to fall within a common channel.
    _____

    Addendum: Majaj, Pelli et al. 'The role of spatial frequency channels in letter identification.'
    Still one of the most interesting and conceptually useful studies in the field.
  • John Hudson
    The roman/italic pairing is functionally superior in this regard to weight change
    Only if the darker weight is too dark. A judiciously dark weight will do the job with far less of the undesirable skew of the "voice" of the Roman that virtually all Italics cause; cursiveness introduces a shift in mood that is generally arbitrary with respect to the reason the particular Roman was chosen. This being the main reason a slanted-Roman structure is generally more authentic. The pairing of cursive-Italic to Roman concocted by Aldus was an expediency bordering on a shotgun wedding... Legacy baggage we should wean ourselves off of.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,489
    edited November 2
    The pairing of cursive-Italic to Roman concocted by Aldus was an expediency bordering on a shotgun wedding
    It wasn't concocted by Aldus: scribes had been using different styles of letters to differentiate and emphasise content, including using formal upright and cursive slanted styles together. Similar things happen in scribal text production in many cultures, and the biggest criticism I would have of the roman/italic pairing is that European typography has restricted itself to this one combination and then inflicted it on the rest of the world's writing systems.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,313
    Another nail in the coffin of “Either/Or”: Bold Small Caps, serving a hierarchical purpose in Entertainment Weekly. Scala Sans, c.2000.


  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,141
    edited November 2
    It wasn't concocted by Aldus
    In a way you're right, however the formalism of typography does give the Aldine precedent real conceptual weight among type designers.
    John Hudson 
    the biggest criticism I would have of the roman/italic pairing is that European typography has restricted itself to this one combination and then inflicted it on the rest of the world's writing systems.
    Yes, Latin typographers should correct this poor standard at home.

    But inflicted? European typography is not a person, hence does not make decisions. As you've pointed out yourself, most Latinization is done by natives; the flawed, largely one-dimensional modes of emphasis of Latin is the only thing natives can observe. Let's give them better things to observe. That could even be seen as a duty.

    Also, non-Latin writing systems are not museum pieces that should remain unchanged; being inspired by a feature of Latin (or of any other writing system) is how culture works, and when done judiciously actually ends up helping minority cultures survive. The history of writing is replete with examples of fruitful cross-script migration. And guess what, it will never stop. Which means we should help guide it. Most of all, a ghetto is no place for a culture to flourish, especially in this connected age.

    Cursiveness as emphasis (most apparent in the contrivance of the "upright Italic") is a denigration of how visual language works.
  • John HudsonJohn Hudson Posts: 1,489
    I'd say that the presence of [I] and [B] buttons in text processing software, regardless of the script in use, constitutes the inflicting of European typographic norms on the rest of the world's writing systems. European typography, indeed, is not a person: it is a culture and a technology, and it does not make decisions but it embodies them and, in this case, exports them. Since the recipients don't get a choice, I think the term 'inflicted' is appropriate.

    As you know, I disagree with you regarding italics, and I'm not inclined to go through it again.
  • Alex Visi
    body text texture should be monotone grey
    No.
    Information comes only from contrast. With the ideal (or at least idealized) level of contrast being as much as possible without triggering an errant fixation.
    Could you expand on this a bit? You also mention elsewhere about a "judicious" bold, which I take to mean one which is just bold enough to make a difference, "without triggering an errant fixation." For me, that'd be about a semibold, not much darker than normal; anything bolder just screams at me and irritates me. (I'd imagine people without sensory issues would perceive the contrast differently!) Is there any objective data about how dark is enough?

    Similarly, what does the research say about slanted vs. italic in contrast to roman? I know I tend to miss the extra information when slant is the only difference -- maybe because because I grew up with poor-quality printing. The extra differentiation of cursive forms helps make that distinction clear. But then, I'm a language guy, not a design guy, and I need clearer cues than the rest of you.

    Anyway, it seems that if you grow up seeing the double distinction of slant + cursive, the single distinction of only slope will tend to be lost on you. I'd also imagine that if you grow up seeing other single distinctions, this double distinction will look overdone, maybe even distasteful.

    Seriously, somebody (else) should do their dissertation on all this.

    Hmm, so many options. Sloped romans, upright italics, even different styles of italic for different moods... it's a shame that the (text) publishing industry tends to be so actively hostile to such experimentation.

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,313
    edited November 4
    A monotone grey for body text contrast is preferable—because that way when someone looks at a whole page or a column of type the italics (or small caps) used for textual emphasis don’t jump out.

    They only become apparent when text is being read, when the reader comes upon them, which is appropriate for the kind of meaning they represent, within the body of a sentence. In other words, they are capable of avoiding an unwanted function in layout navigation, by not catching the reader’s eye as the page is scanned, when camouflaged with the same tone as the plain roman.

    Their contrast is not therefore achieved because of weight, but because of a change in texture (pattern). At its simplest, this can be merely a slant.
  • Cory MaylettCory Maylett Posts: 77
    edited November 4
    I'm a language guy, not a design guy, and I need clearer cues than the rest of you.
    I'm a design guy with more years designing magazines, newspapers, books, websites and other publications than I care to count.
    ...it's a shame that the (text) publishing industry tends to be so actively hostile to such experimentation.
    I wouldn't say there's a lack of experimentation. Type designed to be used at display sizes is often very experimental. Text faces, on the other hand, are primarily designed to be easily read, which tends to confine them to what readers feel comfortable with and are used to.
    Is there any objective data about how dark is enough?
    Similarly, what does the research say about slanted vs. italic in contrast to roman?
    Seriously, somebody (else) should do their dissertation on all this.
    Designers probably make more decisions on intuition and experience than research. Both should play a role, but there's a reason why it's called graphic arts.

    Designers rarely consider typography in a vacuum. Instead, they regard the typography as an element in a layout. Typefaces are typically chosen to complement the personality of the layout. Sometimes that means an aggressive typeface that draws attention to itself. Other times it means a neutral typeface malleable enough to take on the personality of the layout without intruding upon it.
    For me, that'd be about a semibold, not much darker than normal; anything bolder just screams at me and irritates me.
    I've recently been running into newly graduated copy editors who habitually use bold type for emphasis in text when, say, 20 years ago, they might have been more likely to italicize it. When I ask them about it, they often tell me they're trying to emphasize key phrases and that italics are not noticeable enough to do that. I usually consider this bad typography, but I can still see their point.

    There are times when italics work and aren't meant to draw attention. Italicizing the name of a publication in a block of text is a good example. There are other times, when a key word or phrase needs to stand out, like a critical sentence in an instruction booklet. As important as aesthetics might be in typography, function should come first. And noticeable contrast between a regular and bold weight serves an important function that can often improve clarity, which leads to better comprehension.
  • As you've pointed out yourself, most Latinization is done by natives; the flawed, largely one-dimensional modes of emphasis of Latin is the only thing natives can observe. Let's give them better things to observe.
    Underlining is one-dimensional. Italicizing is basically replacing the font entirely with another font from a different genre, which is about as complex as it comes (barring simple slanted obliques). It might not work for other scripts, but it's a beautiful thing for Latin.
  • What Cory said: As commonly used in publication design, italics aren't supposed to provide emphasis. They denote a change in the tone of voice, a word borrowed from another language, a publication name, and other subtle differences from the surrounding text. 
  • I remember back in the seventies Herb Lubalin used to use bold rather than italics for emphasis in U&lc and other publications he designed. I seem to recall him writing something about the idea or maybe talking about it in an interview, that he considered it a better way to indicate emphasis. It didn’t catch on at the time, in spite of his influence in design.
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