This website is set in Filosofia, a font designed in 1996 by Zuzana Licko and published by Emigre. I’m a huge fan of Licko’s designs; they feel to me like avatars of an age. I also love the fact that Emigre funded its iconic magazine with the sale of digital fonts: one of the all-time great cross-subsidies.
Early in my design explorations for this site, I hopped over to inspect a few Emigre fonts I’d bookmarked —
Then, when I opened the PDF specimen, those eyes widened.
Go ahead: look for yourself.
Could I, at that point, have chosen any other font? No way.
The site’s big headlines are set in Job Clarendon, a terrific new font from David Jonathan Ross and Bethany Heck. I received it as a member of David’s Font of the Month Club, and his accompanying writeup is characteristically fascinating. I totally vibed with this explanation from Bethany of the font’s name:
Job Clarendon is an homage to “job printing”—display-heavy designs made for posters and flyers in the heyday of letterpress printing. This style of Clarendons was wildly popular in this genre of work, and I’ve always been interested in how adaptable they were. The style was fattened, squished, and stretched to accommodate lines of text both short and long, and type foundries across the globe each found their own unique features to contribute to the Clarendon stew.
The site also uses Trade Gothic Next, Akira Kobayashi’s 2008 revision of Jackson Burke’s 1947 design. I love fonts of this style, called “grotesque”. It was years ago that I learned the Star Wars opening crawl is set in, of all things, News Gothic, and that cracked it open for me.
As an experiment, the site’s headings use Job Clarendon, a collaboration between David Jonathan Ross and Bethany Heck. I received Job Clarendon as part of DJR’s Font of the Month Club and it seemed to fit with my increasingly newspaper-y aspirations for this website.
The site’s background is cosmic latte, the average color of the universe.
This website is managed using Middleman, a static site generator that’s simple and flexible and, most importantly, written in the Ruby programming language, which is the one I know best.
The site is hosted on Cloudfront, part of Amazon Web Services. Cloudfront keeps copies of the site close to readers around the world; it’s like having a copy of a book in your local library. The speedup is very slight, fractions of a second, but those fractions are perceptible; they do matter.
A few scraps of support code run as Google Cloud Functions, all of them written in Ruby and Google’s Functions Framework, which is a real pleasure to use.
I send emails using Mailchimp. Its interface is in no way designed for a newsletter-er like me, so I operate it mainly through its API, choreographing messages with a Ruby script that I run on my laptop.
You might have picked up on the fact that I like Ruby; in fact, it is the great love of my programming life. Its creator, Yukihiro Matsumoto, once expressed Ruby’s philosophy like this:
For me, the purpose of life is, at least partly, to have joy. Programmers often feel joy when they can concentrate on the creative side of programming, so Ruby is designed to make programmers happy.
This site doesn’t collect any information about you or your reading. I do track the open rates of the email notifications I send through Mailchimp; that’s both to monitor for technical problems and remove subscribers who haven’t opened my messages in many years. I’m ambivalent about even this level of instrumentation, but/and, for me, it’s balanced against the publisher’s imperative not to spam the world with material, physical or digital, that is unwanted and unread.
I’m noting a few sitewide preferences here, mostly for myself:
Titles of books, periodicals, movies, etc. in plain text rather than italics.
Email, but e-book. Website. Web page, strangely.
Punctuation goes inside the quotation marks for complete sentences; otherwise it goes outside, in the UK style.
Because I have in the past tended to overuse hyphens, here I am going to err on the side of lightness. Basically, if I have to stop and think about it … I’ll skip the hyphen. This will be challenging but I am going to try my best!
After the first reference to the full name of the author of a blog post, newsletter edition, book, etc., references are the author’s first name alone rather than their last name alone, even when I don’t know them personally; indeed, even when they are someone famous, erudite, serious. Too casual, overfamiliar? Maybe! I’d rather take that risk than suffer the stuffiness of the last name alone —
“Sloan makes some interesting choices in his style guide”—which doesn’t suit the feel of writing, linking, thinking together on the web.
Here and there, I use the term “assumed audience”, cribbed from Chris Krycho. For example, look at these two posts of his —
I liked Chris’s placards as soon as I saw them; I appreciate the way they push back against the “context collapse” of the internet, in which every public post is, by default, addressed to everyone.
Many websites provide this bulwark themselves; an article posted on Work Truck is automatically pretty well situated. But that’s not the case for material on a personal site with many cross-cutting interests, and readers who arrived for many different reasons. I can only report that I’ve often felt a tension between
padding a nerdy post with explanatory material, trying to make it legible and inviting to many people, and
going straight in, trying to write something crisp and useful to others already enmeshed in the conversation.
I think both impulses are good, actually, but they’re not always totally compatible. The tension is ongoing; it’s close to the core of what writing is. Maybe being explicit about my assumed audience for certain newsletters will be helpful; maybe it will just be extra cruft. We’ll see!
Finally, I hope it goes without saying: just because you’re not part of a newsletter’s assumed audience doesn’t mean you shouldn’t give it a look 😇
September 2021, Oakland