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Published on November 18, 2010

Two space or not two space, that is the question (by André)

Anyone who has worked in a design studio is only too aware of the clash between designers and typists over whether or not to use a double space after punctuation.

In an effort to promote world peace and office harmony I will attempt to explain the history of and reasons behind the debate and perhaps we can settle this argument once and for all! (or maybe not… we’ll see!)

I will start by going back to the very beginning… Publications were once the sole preserve of Scribes who spent years handcrafting documents, but in 1445 (or so) Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press and hence began the development of the mechanised reproduction of type and the craft of the typographer.

For the years pre-dating photo typesetting and then computerised typesetting, documents were created by placing individual characters (letters engraved on metal “blocks”) into frames to make words, sentences and paragraphs. It is a highly skilled profession that takes years to master and for which great effort is taken to ensure that the visual appearance of type is legible, has clarity and is presented beautifully.

To this end, particular care is taken with the spaces between the letters. This is known as “Kerning” and is very important. For some characters, A & V for example, individual “pairs” are made to ensure that gaps and spaces don’t spoil the legibility of the document. These kinds of fonts are known as “Proportional Width” fonts as each character has individual width and spacing dimensions.

Kerning

As industrialisation moved on, the typewriter was invented. It was a boon to offices the world around, allowing legible office documents to be created efficiently and easily. Once again the characters were supplied on metal blocks, but here the similarity ends. Due to the nature of the mechanism, the blocks were identical widths, with the i the same width as the m or the l or o. This kind of font was known as a “monospaced” font.

Monospaced font

A writing style was developed for typists to make use of a double space after punctation to enhance legibility of their documents. It was essential as using monospaced fonts is like writing on a sheet of invisible graph paper, and can lead to a document very quickly becoming a sea of indecipherable characters.

comparison font

Now that computers have entered the scene you will see that the use of monospaced fonts for publication is more or less eradicated. Most machines are supplied with fonts like Times and Helvetica, which are traditional printers’ fonts. You do occasionally see some fonts created to look like typewriter lettering however most of these are stylistic proportional width fonts designed for legibility and professional typesetting.

So back to the argument. As designers, we work with professional Proportional width fonts 99% of the time, so we need documents with single spaces in order to maintain visual beauty and to minimise time correcting badly formatted text.

That covers designers, though I was recently asked if double spaces should be used when typing a letter for example. Well, in my opinion, if you are not using a monospaced font or a typewriter then single spacing is much more aesthetically pleasing, so I say go with 1 space!

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