“Law of Optical Volumes” Finally Defined By Wired (And Guess What? It’s Kerning!)


A few months ago, we wondered what the hell Wired was talking about when discussing their redesigned logo:

“…it now adheres to the Law of Optical Volumes”

We went to the most trusted names in typography to inquire about this term that was so innovative we had never heard it before. As you may have guessed, we came up empty. Now, thanks to the keen eyes of John Gruber, we have an explanation from Wired, posted by senior editor Paul Boutin:

Here’s the skinny: The Law of Optical Volumes is Wired creative director Scott Dadich‘s term for a typography rule that governs the spacing of characters within a font. The theory behind it has been evident on newsstands for years now, thanks in part to typography guru Jonathan Hoefler, whose firm Hoefler & Frere-Jones designed Wired’s new typefaces used throughout the magazine.

So…the Law of Optical Volumes is defined as a typography rule that governs the spacing of characters within a font which has been evident on newsstands for years now thanks to Hoefler & Frere-Jones.

We don’t even know where to begin, but we’d probably start with the word “kerning.”

Boutin gives little credit to the typographers who have been slaving away for centuries by explaning that “the Law boils down to the science of kerning.” Then he offered this little gem of insight:

Unfortunately this advanced, scientific approach to font layout is still only available in ink on paper. Web fonts in 2007 still don’t have kerning pairs. We don’t know why. To see and appreciate the Law in action beyond our logo, you’ll need to pick up a copy of the magazine.

So not only is kerning no longer available on computers in 2007, you can only see examples of it in Wired magazine. Luckily, a few of you set him straight:

UPDATE: I’m completely wrong! See the comments below for Web-based solutions.

The funny thing is, if Boutin had just read down a little further in the Wikipedia article he linked to on kerning (you know, Wikipedia, a great tool for serious journalists everywhere) he would have seen this:

Kerning is implicitly part of digital type design, and advanced typographic systems allow the specification of kerning.