Both times, we mentioned we had some big news to share, and here it is: we’re launching a Kickstarter, with three community-oriented goals to free our content and make it more broadly available.
Big goals, open future
1) We’re publishing a free and open web edition.
We’re dropping our copyright and putting all our articles and lessons online for everyone to read and share. Everything will be available under a Creative Commons license on a brand-new responsive site designed for reading.
2) We’re publishing everywhere.
In addition to our print edition, you can now find us on any ebook device, audiobook form, and the previously mentioned web edition.
3) We’re offering “pay if you want” subscriptions.
You can sign up for a recurring subscription for the web, ebook, audiobook, and/or print editions if you’d like to support our work.
In return, we’re giving our backers early access to everything we’re building now and everything we’ll build in the future — along with a few extra rewards, including a trip to Iceland, where The Manual is printed. We’ll rent an Airbnb, tour the factory, get an up-close view of Issue 5, and talk about the future of our work. Pack your snow boots!
New identity, site design, and URL
We also are unveiling a brand-new look, including:
A new logo and identity: Designed by Brent Couchman of Moniker, it’s simple and striking, and it reflects our movement across print into digital media.
A new website: It’s elegantly responsive and designed with reading in mind, and it allows you to browse all articles and lessons by topic and issue.
A new URL: Our current URL always felt like a mouthful, so we’ve moved to themanual.org.
These are big steps, and we continue to take them because we have your support. Thank you for helping to bring us this far — we hope you’ll continue to enjoy The Manual, Everywhere.
Last week, we told you Issue 4 had gone to print and would be available for pre-order in late September, shipping in early October. (Reminder: in celebration, we’ve discounted Issues 1-3 and our engraved plywood case in our store through Friday, September 5.)
Today, we want to give a deeper look at what you can expect from the six articles and six lessons shared by our authors — Jennifer Brook, David Cole, Paul Ford, Diana Kimball, Wilson Miner, and Craig Mod — as well as the illustrators whose art continues to be an essential part of The Manual.
Authors and Illustrators
Like our previous three issues, Issue 4 contains six substantial articles and six personal lessons from some of the best minds writing and working on the web today, along with a beautiful centerpiece illustration by Jen Mussari.
We start with Craig Mod, whose article “On Permission” focuses on finding whitespace to free the mind. In his lesson, he shares his experience moving through memory to being present. Craig’s article is illustrated by Julianna Brion.
Wilson Miner brings us “Perennial Design,” on the impermanence (and yet, future promise) of our work. Similarly, his lesson examines how to approach what we do with perspective and gravity — paired with an illustration by Richard Perez.
Diana Kimball writes “On Mentoring,” a personal tale of solving the mystery of mentorship. In her lesson, she confesses the negative reaction she felt when a friend landed a coveted job, and the surprising freedom she felt in admitting it. Diana’s piece is accompanied by an illustration from Matthew the Horse.
From Jennifer Brook, we have “Platforms as Cultures,” an evaluation of the different services available to us and how to distinguish what’s optimal from what’s available. Her lesson speaks to the value of participating in a community and how it can shape the work of an artist. César Barceló provides the illustration for Jennifer’s article.
David Cole offers a new perspective on data and the opportunity it affords designers in “Made to Measure.” In his lesson, David describes the three criteria to hit when looking for a job. David’s article is illustrated by Tim Gough.
Paul Ford expands the histories of our software in “On File Formats, Very Briefly.” In his lesson, he discusses what happens when the world appears on your doorstep – or device of your choosing – and how to cope. Philipp Dornbierer produced the artwork for Paul’s piece.
We’re excited to share that Issue 4 of The Manual has shipped and is being printed. Although we’re expanding beyond print (more on that next week!), this is a big moment for us, and we want to share some details about the issue with you.
The print edition of our new issue has a completely new design by Frank Chimero of Another. It comes in a beautiful A5 hardback format with a foil-stamped, full cotton cover and is printed on 96 pages by Oddi, our trusted longtime printer in Reykjavík, Iceland.
It will be available in our shop toward the end of September for pre-orders and begin shipping in early October — but if you’d like a sneak peek, check out Wilson Miner’s article, “Perennial Design.”
Issues 1–3 on sale for a week
To celebrate the new release, we’re offering Issues 1, 2, and 3, along with our custom engraved plywood case, at a discount until Friday, September 5th:
When we decided to expand The Manual beyond the printed book, we did so with one clear goal: to make it as easy as we could for anyone to read The Manual in whichever way they prefer.
More ways to read meant moving away from a print mentality and re-considering what reading should be in each medium, creating the best experience for all three editions — Web, Ebook, and Print. To do so, each should be individually designed around the intrinsic characteristics and constraints of their environments, instead of attempting a digital translation of the print edition.
Last week, we turned our attention to the Ebook edition, and rolled up our sleeves to reconsider what our ebooks should be. What makes sense to include? What should go? What should the reader see when they open the ebook? What should an ebook cover be? How do we organize front and back matter? How do we deal with ebook readers’ preferences? We had let go every preconceived notion of what a book is, and just consider what an ebook is. Whatever makes for the best reading experience, that’s what we’re going to make.
The process of producing an ebook when you’ve never produced an ebook before feels very much like making websites fifteen years ago. Days are spent perusing the source of other ebooks, reading old posts in obscure forums, scouting for help from experienced people, and feeling like a beginner at everything again. Fortunately the ebook community is warm and passionate, fighting the good fight against the chaotic and fragmented world of ebook readers, and they welcome everyone new as a friend and ally. We’re very grateful for their help in making our ebook edition.
It’s a week later, and we have a great new version of the ebook that we’re very happy with — it’s the ebook The Manual deserves. We’ve just shared this new version with our trusted team of beta testers, and we’re looking forward to fixing bugs, polishing everything up even more, and sharing this new edition with a whole new audience of readers.
Next week we will unveil the list of six remarkable contributors for Issue 4, and give you an update on its schedule. It’s been a long wait, but one we’re confident will be worth it.
We plan to work in public here at The Manual, sharing insights from our work, the rationale behind our design decisions, releasing smaller but more frequent updates to our site, and in a larger way, being more transparent and open to our readers.
Earlier this week, we released a preview of the work we’ve been doing on our website by publishing “Perennial Design”, an article from our upcoming fourth issue. While the final design will be more complete, this preview already reveals many design decisions, namely in terms of typography.
[The Manual] is a brand new limited-run print magazine, focussing around the maturing of design on the web. Each issue will have six substantial, beautifully illustrated feature articles, written by established and emerging talent, with a focus on bringing a greater depth to the conversation surrounding our profession.
These words still guide us to this day, and we wanted the typography, which plays a major role in the overall design, to reflect the guiding principles of The Manual. Our typefaces should feel like the publication itself: mature but modern, substantial but friendly, deep but unassuming.
I began by picking up from the choices I had made on The Manual, Everywhere teaser page — Cronos Pro and Minion Pro, two beautiful faces from Adobe type designer Robert Slimbach which pair incredibly well. Then, I set an article with them, and let it sit for a while. Typefaces need time. We need to live with them before making up our minds. That means reading with them, and being around them to fully appreciate how they are, feel, and behave. Typefaces have their own ways and little quirks which only reveal themselves after taking time to sink in.
After a period, we still liked how they read — and still do — but it wasn’t until I tried them in a different context that we started to understand that they weren’t exactly right for us.
We moved on to the Issue page, which displays an overview of the issue’s contents. Whereas articles page are dominated by two major elements, issue pages display six neatly organized small blocks, one per author, each containing multiple distinct bits of text: writer’s names, articles and lessons’ titles and corresponding synopses. As such, readers will quickly hop between blocks, scanning small disparate bits of text as their eyes zag across the page in bursts, making sense of all these pieces in a matter of seconds.
Different content creates different contexts, which require specific ways to set type. Whereas I relied on size and layout for contrast on the article page, here I set the type much smaller, relying mostly on weight and color for contrast between distinctive elements. However, whenever more than a typeface is used, an additional natural contrast comes to play — the inherent differences between each face’s typeforms — and that’s where we began to notice a few shortcomings.
When set in small sizes, the likeness of both typefaces’ humanist forms becomes apparent, decreasing contrast. Relying too much on weight and color in a context with so many diverse elements could result in a cacophonous design, and I wanted to retain enough contrast between the typefaces even and similar sizes and weights. Pairing distinct styles, such as a grotesque sans and a humanist serif, should improve it. Additionally, at a smaller size Minion’s low x-height becomes obvious, harming legibility, which calls for a body typeface with a taller x-height.
So I went hunting for typefaces that fit our particular needs. For the serif, we picked Freight Text Pro designed by Joshua Darden, with a tall x-height, an useful myriad of weights, and beautiful italics to boot. For the sans, we went with Franklin Gothic, Morris Fuller Benton’s classic grotesque, which contrasts nicely with our serif, renders well at both large and small sizes, and also features a rich variety of weights1.
Besides working well in multiple contexts, we feel that these typefaces reflect how The Manual wants to feel: mature, deep, and substantial, but also modern, friendly, and unassuming.
The bulk of an article is its body, taking over 90% of its length. However, it proved to be a fairly straightforward design problem, due to the articles’ very simple nature: a sequence of ordinary paragraphs, with occasional subheadings or quotations — but nothing else — arranged consecutively and without anything on either side.
That’s not to say there weren’t any constraints or interesting problems. Common typesetting details such as initials or opening paragraphs in a larger size were constrained by authors often starting their articles with quotations. On the other hand, authors also create an interesting problem with their use of footnotes, which in their current incarnation still dramatically disrupt the reading flow, a problem we’re still working on.
However, the two most curious decisions have to do with seemingly ordinary paragraphs, and arose late in the process.
When I first imported the previous issues’ articles and lessons — all of which I had previously read in print — on to the site, it occurred to me that I should try hyphenating the text2. It looked good, but looking good wasn’t enough to form a solid opinion, so I read some passages but still couldn’t detect any major faults with hyphenation, and it stayed on.
Hyphenation didn’t make the cut, but it wasn’t until I first set “Perennial Design” — which I hadn’t read before — and decided to read it in full on the browser that I my opinion reversed. As I was reading the article, it became increasingly obvious that hyphenation had less than optimal results, and it was distracting and disrupting my reading. As it turns out, I hadn’t really read on the browser before — I thought I had, but reading a few passages is just not the same. Some problems are only caught and some judgments can only be made by being meticulous and thorough in observing the work, leaving no stone unturned. When setting type, there’s no substitute for reading.
Hours before we launched, I decided to question a decision made long ago. Earlier in the process, as I was setting articles and lessons side by side, spacing consecutive paragraphs seemed like an obvious choice. Unlike articles, lessons don’t usually have subheadings or quotations, and indenting paragraphs would create an impenetrable block of uninterrupted text3.
However, as we were launching “Perennial Design” on its own, without a companion lesson, indented paragraphs had no reason not to be an viable choice, so I took some precious pre-launch time to see how they looked, and was surprisingly glad with the result. Not only it suits The Manual more,4 evoking a more substantial feeling, as it also groups consecutive paragraphs nicely under a common subheading, until the appearance of a new one imposes a break in the rhythm.
The rationale for spacing paragraphs was one of consistency, but different kinds of pieces have their own particular constraints. Finding a proper solution for each specific set of problems, however related, is a better option than attempting at a one-size-fits-all decision for the sake of consistency5.
A few insights emerged from this long process — nothing other people haven’t written about before, but that somehow became truer as they were revealed to me through my own work.
Typefaces are much like people. They have a personality of their own, and all the little quirks and intricacies that come along with it. They can’t be fully appreciated on the surface, and we don’t really know them until we live with them for a while and watch them in many different contexts.
There’s no substitute for real content. Each subject matter has its intrinsic constraints, so the more final our content is when we design, the less time we risk wasting by coming up with solutions for a set of problems that isn’t exactly ours.
Reading is the fundamental test. Even if content final and type looks great, it’s not until we read that we know if it actually works. Don’t shortcut it — some problems need time and patience before revealing themselves.
Writing about this process was immensely enlightening, and we plan to keep doing as we go, hoping it’s as useful to our readers as it is to us.
It’s time to get back to work. Until next time.
You may notice that all of our choices were available in Typekit, and that was a conscious choice. By using typefaces from a one single provider, we’re making less HTTP requests when loading the page, reducing the number of points of failure, and improving the project’s maintainability. ↩
For the past 19 months, The Manual has been on somewhat of an unplanned hiatus. Lots of small problems and delays have quietly nudged us to where we are now, over a year and a half outside of our original publishing schedule. Today, that comes to an end.
Today, a sea change. Count this as the first of many announcements (here on our spiffy new blog!) as The Manual returns to a regular schedule, with a new website, brand new digital editions, and a few new faces joining our team.
Currently, an early version of our new website — including a full archive of every article and lesson — is almost complete, and just a few weeks away from a private beta. Our digital editions have been sent out to a small group of readers, and will soon be available to all. I am returning to my role as publisher full-time, and Paulo Pereira has also joined The Manual, focussing on the launch of the website and digital editions.
Issue 4 is a few weeks from heading to the printer, but we wanted to share something early with you today. Wilson Miner has written a beautiful piece, “Perennial Design”, for the next issue, which we’ve set in an early version of our new website, free for everyone to enjoy.