TM&Th blog
Jean-luc Doumont
A little space goes a long way

Space is the essence of page layout—at all levels of the page,
from the overall appearance all the way down to a single mark.
As typographer Jan Tschichold put it, “Every shape exists only
because of the space around it.” Illustrations of the importance
of space through its effective or ineffective uses are of course
innumerable; among them, one that keeps getting my attention
is the insufficient space, compared to regular interword space,
between two items that are not supposed to be read together.
This issue is frequent with bulleted lists on presentation slides
and with hyperlinks displayed on the same line on Web pages.

Bullets on slides lend themselves to criticism on many counts:
they are often unnecessary, as for the slide's top-level items
or when they misleadingly mark items that do not form a list;
they assume special shapes that suggest unintended meaning
to the audience, as with a star, check mark, or pointing hand;
and… they are often placed too close to the item's first word.
That is, the space between bullet and item is about the same
as that between the words in this item. As a result, the bullet
looks like it is part of the text, as in the example below (left).

Bulleted lists

Bullets can usefully be set much further away from the item
than the interword space within the item. To appear visually
as distinct from the words, they can further be set in color,
typically in one of the corporate colors, if only for harmony.
They can also best assume a neutral shape, such as a circle
or square. (I prefer squares myself, because they can be set
to align elegantly to the left margin of the column of text.)
Since the intent is to make the items in the list stand out,
they should in any case be solid symbols, not hollow ones.

A similar issue arises when distinct links are placed too close
to one another on a Web page—again, closer than the space
between two words, as is the case on the Facebook homepage,
part of which is displayed below. I had read About Advertising
as one link, in the same way that Find Friends and Help Center
are single links. The space between the bottom links is about
1.5 times the interword space—not different enough, that is.
(The “title capitalization” does not help, either: why not write
Find friends and Help center to differentiate the links better?)
In contrast, the links indicating languages are better separated:
the space between them is more like twice the interword space.

Facebook homepage

(Why, yes, under pressure from my fans and despite being wary
of such social networks, I am now on Facebook. So go ahead:
visit my page and become a fan… and tell your friends, too! ;–)

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