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Distracted by a double-u (W)... (a.k.a. when fonts detract from your message)

Very early this morning, when I was awake but the rest of the household was not, I was reading an excellent book on a topic I'm very passionate about when all of a sudden I found myself drawn to a drop cap with the thought:

Wow!  What a beautiful "W"!

Like the image accompanying this blog post (which comes from the Wikipedia entry about "W"), the capital W that was the drop cap looked like two "V" letters with their lines crossed. There was actually a bit more separation in the two middle ascenders. The upper serifs had a break in them such that it really looked like an "X" with branches on either side. It was quite beautifully done.

So much so that I lost track of what I was reading and started hunting around for other "W" characters in other font sizes and locations (including the front cover).  The uppercase ones all had the split serif while the lowercase one looked much more like a traditional "w" character.  I went on from there to look at the other characters to see if there were any other exemplary characters.  (There weren't, although it was a nice typeface - no colophon to know what the precise typeface was, unfortunately.)

A few minutes later I returned to the text trying to remember where I was and what I had been reading. 

While the distraction was really only for a few minutes and would probably be limited to an extreme few[1], it was a poignant reminder to me of the power that fonts/typefaces can have both to make our material beautiful... but also to distract from the message.  And why it is so incredibly important to choose the typeface(s) you use so very carefully.

[1] Now, granted, odds are that in this particular case, probably very, very, VERY few people would have been distracted.  It happens that I taught electronic publishing for about 5 years back in the 1990's and still continue to have a fascination with many aspects of typography, so I have an interest in and appreciation for well-done typefaces.

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