Tuesday, July 23, 2002
All Hail Arial!
The medium is the message.
I'm looking at two copies of The C Programming Language, Second Edition by Brian W. Kernighan and Dennis M. Ritchie. One (my copy) was printed in 1990 and the other one (Rob's copy) is from 2000. What's interesting are the differences.
Rob's copy looks and feels less elegant.
The content—the actual words themselves—are the same. The page size is the same—layout and page numbers have not changed one bit. But Rob's copy is nearly a third thicker, which may be due to a heavier paper, and the typography is different—less crisp, more bold, somewhat blobbish if you will. It's … well … uglier. Louder.
And that's coloring my perception of the book (well, Rob's copy of the book). Which is a bit odd, because it's the content that should matter, not the medium. But Donald Knuth, one of the more preeminent programmers of our times, took ten years to perfect computerized typography as he was dismayed at the presentation of his content at the hands of the early computerized typographic systems.
But the 2000 printing of The C Programming Language represents the current conventions used in the printing of technical books today (well, not quite—it's not six hundred pages with mind numbing detail about how to use a particular editor or compiler and inane iconic pictures yelling at us to remember this or be wary about that), just as my copy was a snap shot of the conventions about a decade ago.
But the web is different.
Sure, most sites don't bother to update every page when a redesign happens. So, for instance, you can see the evolution of pages at Salon, or the evolution of pages for a personal site. It provides an interesting historical view on the current conventions used on the web (or for the site) at that point in time.
And then there are sites like The Boston Diaries, which are purely dynamic in nature. Play around with the templates some, and every page, going back to the start, has the new look and feel, historical context be damned (you may notice a few pages that don't have the new look—those are (were) statically generated and haven't been integrated with the template engine that primarily drives this site. The design is taken from Caveat Lector: Reader Beware! (without permission I might add) and hastily modified for use in this example). I find this ability both exciting and disturbing. Exciting because it makes changing the look of the site easier. And disturbing because it makes changing the look of the site easier, and I mean that in the most Owellian way.
Verdana is the font to use. All Hail Verdana. We have never used Arial.Arial is the font to use. All Hail Arial. We have never used Verdana.
It might seem silly that I'm making such a big deal out of this but I don't think so. You (those reading this) have no way of seeing the original, table driven design. There's no record of the evolution the site went through—no way of charting the progress (or regression for that matter) this site has been through (outside of possible archives at the Wayback Machine). This is the way my site has always looked.
So is the medium the message? Does the look of this entry make any difference to the content of this message? And is the way it looked yesterday as important as the way it will look tomorrow?