Burriss: Is print really dead?

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I don't know how many times I've heard that no one cares about print any more. That print is dead. That print is so, is so, well, twentieth century. Then why, tell me, did just about every major news organization in the country recently run a story about the Navy dropping its requirement that messages no longer had to be in all caps? It's not like we were all receiving official Navy messages every day.

Actually, with the development of the Internet, long after the development of print, typography has become even more important. Because of the Internet we are all communicating more often than ever before. And it's not just e-mail, Facebook and Twitter. Every time we go to a new web site there are dozens of messages trying to get our attention. So every message sender on the screen is having to make sure their message is as effective as possible. Which means they have to understand how people comprehend the typography being used.

We know, for example, that lower case letters are generally easier to read and understand. <BF>Boldface has a sense of urgency.</BF> <I>Italic type is used to set off long quotations, and also has an air of sophistication.</I> <UL>And underlining? Well, a block of text that is underlined just looks strange. Just look at how little underlining you see in advertisements.</UL> <AC>All caps is seen as shouting</AC>.

But you know what: sometimes we need to be shouted at. That road sign warning us of a railroad crossing isn't asking for a discussion or a dialogue. It's shouting at you, in all caps, because it's giving you a serious warning.

But all lower case can be disconcerting as well, because we use both punctuation and capitalization to make passages easier to read.

You know what's really interesting: typography represents the oldest non-verbal medium of communication. But it seems to be the only one that has withstood the ravages of the Internet.

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Larry Burriss
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