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BookSmarts Podcast (ep. 36): Sustainable Typesetting with Klaus Krogh

Klaus Krogh is the President, CEO, and co-founder of ⁠2K/Denmark⁠, a graphic design, typesetting, and type design company that earlier this year launched the ⁠Sustainable Typesetting⁠ brand of services. He joins the BookSmarts Podcast to discuss the importance of Sustainable Typesetting for publishers and the complicated process of creating bibles.

Klaus also serves as the President of the ⁠Society of Bible Craftsmanship⁠, in partnership with the Museum of the Bible, a global network of publishers, producers, and suppliers who aim to nurture and highlight excellence in Bible craftsmanship.

What is Sustainable Typesetting and what does it mean for publishers?

Well, there are different challenges facing publishing today. So publishing broadly. One thing is, of course, economy. Inflation and other stuff has made it more expensive to produce books. A shortage of paper has increased the price dramatically. There are voices that say, well, reading books is not responsible, you should all read digitally instead. And we were thinking about all these things. Is there a joint solution to all these serious problems?

We thought, well, for the last 40 years, I’ve been making Bibles, designing Bibles, designing typefaces for Bibles, and typesetting Bibles, and we have always looked at the Bible as a tool. And a tool should be as efficient as possible. An efficient Bible is very well readable, but on the fewest number of pages possible. With the aesthetics, that shows the contents, or and, in this case, the Bible, it can’t be more important. It changes lives, and we want to just give our little part in presenting the content of the Bible to an audience and hopefully, it’ll remain in their hearts forever. So it’s important stuff we do. And so we take very much care of doing our very best.

You might say, being a Bible designer is just like, go look for the last 1% or the lost sheep, and then make sure that you get everything, right. Of course you don’t. And so the most important Bible you’re working on—or the most important Bible in your life is the one you’re working on, only maybe challenged by the next one, that we’ll start to create even better. And from that kind of work aesthetics we thought well, can we merge that into a world of publishing, where we need both to save money, to be efficient in what we do, to make sure that books are being printed still, and try to combat the rising prices? And also, the voices saying, well, books are not sustainable. Now books are sustainable as they are now. But we’ve created Sustainable Typesetting to take everything we’ve learned from the Bible typeface design, the Bible design, and Bibles typesetting and brought that into the book world. First of all, we have, if you look at the website, Sustainable Typesetting, you might find examples of this but, you know, a general novel, we can easily cut down 40% of the number of pages.

I sent some designs to a publisher in Nashville, where we cut down his general textbooks, but 37% of the pages and, at the same time, enlarge the typeface, change the typeface from something like Garamond, to Sustainable Serif, which is a typeface we made especially for this. So, his readers will experience a huge increase in readability on 37% less pages.Let’s just keep to 20—not overdo it. 

20% pages less in a bbook; what does that mean?

Well, it means that you save 20% of your production costs, not only the printing—or not only the paper and the paper production, but you have 20% less printing. You have 20 percent less binding, sort of. And that goes for transportation, and storage, and shipment again. So all steps of your production line, you will have the same cut in your expenses 20%. And that’s right out on your bottom line.

Now, at the same time, we live in a world where industry, if they can save 3% of their CO2 emissions, they’re willing to pay huge amounts, and they might not even get there. Now Sustainable Typesetting has a one-to-one savings in CO2 emission, because if you cut down 20% of your page count, then you’ve cut down 20% of the paper needed, it cuts down the electricity and printing time, it cuts down on bookbinding time, book transportation and so on, so forth. So we have a documented one-to-one savings of CO2 emission of 20%. That means, and we have calculated this in programs called Cradle to Cradle and we know exactly that this is not greenwashing. This is a one-to-one savings. And if you think about it, well, it couldn’t be anything else.

But so we’re very often asked, well, if you want to be kind to the environment, you read all your books on an iPad. And first of all, you can. It’s readable. But the pleasure of reading, I think, is turning pages in a book. And we calculated sort of a lifetime calculation of CO2 emission if you read your books on an iPad, or if you buy books, which one is the most sustainable solution? We calculated that you have to read more than 50 books on your iPad, to have the same CO2 emission as the printed books. So if you only read 20, and there’s not a lot of people that read more than that, 25 books, the most sustainable way of reading is in a printed book. So, we have introduced this and we’ve created a lot of interest, not least the Book Industry Study Group that has accepted this as the only way to typeset books sustainable. And that’s also the BIC, the English version of the same, and the Canadian. Also, the Green Book Alliance, all of these. Go look, they will have our logo, the sustainable logo, and they will tell about how we manage to create a much higher readability on quite a few less pages.

How do you fit more content on a page with a larger font face?

We started this process a year ago, exactly. Last year in August by a young man come coming to our company and he wanted to be an intern from economic school. And I said, well, yes, there’s two things you can work with. And one of the things were trying to take the quality from our Bibles to the general publishing industry. And that’s what became Sustainable Typesetting. And he couldn’t believe it. He asked me every day, for the first week. “Well, is this true? Can you really do this?” And the reason we can do that is because we are type designers, and if we hadn’t been, it would have been impossible to create the typefaces needed to do that.

So, what is a readable typeface?

Well, you might say that there are three things that we need to get right in typography to create this huge advantage. One thing is the type design. We need to design typefaces that 1) has a higher x-height. So what’s the x-height? Well, that’s the height of the little “x” in the text. That x-height needs to be at least 50% of the total height of a letter. So the f/g height or whatever you want to call it, so it’s taking everything into consideration, you need at least 50% on x-height, then you need to open inner forms, because you actually read the white space in the inner forms more than you read the black space, at least to differentiate the different titles from each other. And then you need to equalize the hair strokes and the ground strokes in a letter. If you think about the lowercase “e” in Times New Roman, you have a very huge difference in the hairstrokes (the thin strokes) and the ground strokes (the thick strokes). And that only makes it more difficult to read. So that’s thing #1, you have to design a typeface with these qualities.

Thing #2 is we developed something called “Cloud Reading.” As I said, we read just as much white space as we will read black space. We all have some lazy brains, our brains don’t want to work very much—at least not mine, and so, we needed to create a reading situation where you read without using too much brain power. You need to make sure that 1) the distance between the letters serve two purposes: to keep letters from each other, so you can read each and every one of them—you don’t, but they have to be apart—and 2) the space between the letters needs to create beautiful letterscapes for words.

It’s a letterscape. So, what you read is—we all read like Chinese. We recognize a sign that’s constructed with Latin letters put together to create a beautiful letterscape. That’s what we read. But we don’t read only the word. We read the whitespace around it. So, it’s very, very important to adjust the word spaces according to how you adjust your letter space. And it’s very important to adjust your leading, according to your letter space and word spaces. So, you create a little cloud. And in that little cloud, you place your letterscape. And that’s the same cloud around every word on a line. If you do that, you create a very, very smooth and fast reading. And you enhance—what you experience, also, is the size of the typeface, because it becomes more easy to read. I’ve studied sort of all the little brain research to know what happens to the brain when you read. I know you should be very, very thoughtful about your kids when they start to read to crack the reading code because it’s difficult. You have to rewire your brain.

St. Augustine in 323 said, “Well, we have a monk, his eyes scan the text, and his heart understands the meaning, but his tongue is still.” What does that mean? It means that everybody were reading aloud before this monk in the year 325. If you are going to read the Quran, the only right way to read it, some scholars say, is to read it as loud as you can hear it clearly without annoying others. And that’s because we are born talkers and we are born listeners. We’re not born readers. That’s something you have to rewire your brain to do.

Tell me a little bit about your Bible craftsmanship and why 11 years is maybe a normal amount of time to create a Bible

Well, Bibles take time. It takes time to translate the Bible from the original texts. It takes time to identify why the new Bible translation is needed and so on. Sort of, first of all, we look at the Bible translation before we start thinking about design. Why? Because we want our design to represent its true image of the intentions of the Bible translators. So, by the way, you hear what I say, it’s words, you hear what I say, but you hear it by the sound of my voice, so my voice, the sound of my voice or my accent, or what have you, becomes an integrated part of this conversation. And indeed, communication, all in all. When you design typeface, it’s just sort of give the Bible of voice, you actually create the sound of the voice by creating typefaces, so therefore Bible, so that’s extremely important.

Then we have that very much in mind when we did all the Comfort Print typefaces we made for HarperCollins Christian, six different complete typeface families, to create the voice of the NIV, to create the voice of the KJV, and the NKJV, and so on, so forth. And that’s, of course, a huge privilege to be able to create the voice of a Bible translation. Likewise, we designed the Bible Serif typeface and it’s for a long time been, all the time the CSB translation has existed it’s been set in the Bible Serif typeface were made at the same time it was translated. And I think it’s—sort of, we made all the design and all the typesetting for all the CSB out there. And I think we take a little bit of pride in being a part of the CSB translation moving from number seven or eight to number two on the last ECPA list of translations.

It might be because when, as I said, when you will make a Bible, you take extra care. You go look for the lost sheep, you really don’t want anything, not changed that you could change for the better. Creating a Bible, it’s so important that you get every detail right, so you don’t go through the Bible typeset one time, and not 5 times and maybe not 10 times but more, because you want to go look for that 1%, or that mistake that you actually can correct to make the Bible better. And why do we do that? Well, you can, if you go to the Museum of the Bible and have a look at the Bibles in their beautiful, beautiful exhibition, you will find that looking at, for instance, the John Baskerville’s center-column Bible from 1763. You’re looking at just at the spreads, you will experience, at least I do, a respect for the ambitions you have to have to create something as beautiful as that. And that’s actually a bigger inspiration for me as a Bible designer to look at the work that they’ve done, rather to be inspired by the solution they’ve made.

So the solutions that have on typography and you know, tools change and aesthetics change and stylistic history changes also. So fashion changes, and you wouldn’t believe how much fashion—you even see the fashion from 1763 and the Rococo Times is inside that Bible. And inside the way John Baskerville designed his typefaces. That’s so fascinating and somewhat inspiring to take that as an inspiration. And also, I’m sure that sort of the idea of taking extra care and finding the last 1%, they had as well. If you really get into designing and typesetting Bibles, get into designing typefaces for Bibles, you feel, sort of the, you feel the 2000 years that this many people have really taken care first, in retelling the stories then in handwriting, on parchment, the text then in all these different ways of printing.

It really is an extraordinary, extraordinary legacy to take part in and that’s what the society of the Bible, Society of Bible Craftsmanship, is all about. It’s really to verbalize or to exhibit or to show what Bible design, really, how Bible design really makes a difference. And, yes, this event on the Museum of the Bible on August 26, we have the second annual Conference of Bible Craftsmanship. We decided to make an exhibition of the best Bibles of the last 20 years. And the last 20 years, are, Bible-wise, really important because they represent a golden age of Bible production.

I started in the Bible business late [19]70, or something like that, and from there, as—where everybody had a Bible on black with eight points, or nine points leading Times New Roman, and it looked absolutely awful, because there was such a huge loss of quality when we all from the middle of the ’60s went from hot metal typesetting into photo typesetting, it really didn’t represent anything of the quality that you had a legacy for the last 500 years. Until then, from the first Bible printed, everything was thrown away. We spent 40 years of reconstructing the same quality. So it was around the year 2005, we had the same tools and the same possibilities and same quality of Bibles that we have in 1965. And from then, and from there on, and the next 20 years, really meant a huge lift of quality Bibles being designed and typeset and printed and bound and so on. And we show 30 of those Bibles in an exhibition at the Museum of the Bible, August 26th this year.

If you have questions or comments on what was discussed, you can reach Klaus at ⁠klaus@2kdenmark.com⁠.