We love handcrafted things. They embody humanity’s most cherished values, such as patience, hard work, thoughtfulness, and grace. They remind us that other human beings care about the same things that we do.
Design, in particular, is a practice resonant with our love for empathy, harmony, and attention to detail. And typesetting, the act of imbuing a text with our design ideals, is the key to handcrafting websites.
Typesetting, the sensible and reasonable servant of design, is responsible for all of the ecstasy, heartache, headache, and laughter of printed human thought. Its job is to be invisible so that ideas can be communicated as directly as possible from one mind to another. It is the crystal goblet from which words flow like wine. This is not to say that a text must always be clean, calm, or quiet; rather, let the typesetting serve the intended experience.
In practice, typesetting is what web designers have done for years in selecting, sizing, and spacing type, shaping layouts, and to some extent in choosing markup. We need to recognize typesetting – the term and the craft – because it is our heritage to keep.
While we admire the typography of a particular web page, to build such a page is an act of typesetting. Clarifying these terms, and differentiating tactical actions from the general arts of design and authorship can help us better organize resources, focus our thoughts, and show professionalism toward tasks (like spacing text blocks, using proper punctuation, and arguing for consistent, meaningful markup) that are often given too little respect.
In even grander terms, typesetting is the key to unlocking a half millennium of humankind’s most renowned, refined typographic achievements. And it is a core concept for handcrafted design on the web. A solid understanding of, and an ability to find balance among, letters, words, paragraphs, headings, and text blocks is the raw material for bringing forth beauty bound both in the works of our ancestors and in our own bones.
We know, deep down, we can do better.