Clarity


This one is a little off my usual topics, but important. We’re currently reviewing drafting standards in the office. Nothing major, but we need some tweaks to keep up with changes in NYC Department of Buildings requirements, to keep up with changes in our drafting program, and to keep up with changes in our thinking about how we present structural information.

One thing that won’t be changing is our drawing typography. We use a traditional serif font in upper and lower case for notes, call-outs, dimensions, and so on. The logic behind this is simple: traditional typography has developed over the more than five hundred years since the printing press was invented to provide clarity to the written word. Of course, our drawings are drawings, not texts, and most of the information they convey is in the form of two-dimensional line pictures. We also occasionally use photographs and we occasionally use axiomatic three-dimensional drawings, but what all of the graphics have in common is text. Without labels and notes, the drawings are useless. Some drawings – particularly our general notes sheets – are very text-heavy.

First, all-caps is hard to read. If the purpose of our drawings is to convey information, why would we want to make it more difficult? This is a standard in certain design offices, particularly engineering offices, for no good reason. I suspect the standard had its roots in Leroy sets, which saved room on the stencil by only having capital letters. In any case, a drafting standard that interferes with the purpose of drafting is a bad idea.

Second, oddball fonts are hard to read. The worst are the single- and double-line fonts that AutoCAD created decades ago to work with pen plotters. Pen plotters are long gone but those terrible fonts (Simplex, for example, and most of the fonts ending in .shx) are still around. Almost as bad are the fake-architects’-handwriting fonts. I used one of those for drawings in the early 1990s, when CAD was still a minority compared to hand-drafting; then came the day that an older architect complimented me on my skill at lettering and I decided that I needed to switch to an actual typeface.

Finally, let’s call look at…call it the philosophy of drafting. When we create a report, we try to make it look as good as possible. The content is what we’re paid for, but a readable and good-looking document doesn’t hurt. The same logic applies to our drawings.