Archive for 2008

Use the Best Available Ampersand

I love ampersands. And interest in this quirky character seems to be on the rise as of late. Case in point: Just last week, I purchased not one, but two t-shirts adorned with nothing more than an ampersand. That’s telling, no?

For much of last year, I had a little portion of a presentation dedicated to using CSS to serve up alternate, compelling ampersands. It’s also something I’ve done here on SimpleBits for quite awhile in our tagline. The simple little concept comes from one of Robert Bringhurst’s guidelines in his seminal typographic bible, The Elements of Typographic Style.

Guideline 5.1.3 offers this little tidbit regarding ampersands:

In heads and titles, use the best available ampersand.

Bringhurst explains that frequently the italic version of an ampersand is more decorative and interesting than its roman counterpart, and goes on to suggest:

Since the ampersand is more often used in display work than in ordinary text, the more creative versions are often the more useful. There is rarely any reason not to borrow the italic ampersand for use with roman text.

So why not apply this to the web? We can use CSS to cleverly specify a list of our favorite ampersands, with the reader getting the best one available. We’ll first apply a class wrapped around the ampersand we’d like to beautify like so:

<span class="amp">&amp;</span>

And we’ll build a list of cool italic ampersands that readers might have installed by default, while also specifying the italic version:

span.amp {
  font-family: Baskerville, Palatino, "Book Antiqua", serif;
  font-style: italic;

We can weight our list, putting our favorites near the front, understanding that the reader may get one or none, depending on which operating system they’re on, and if they have the font installed.

Thanks to the excellent efforts of our newly-hired help, here are some charts showing some of the more interesting italic ampersands available as default fonts on Mac and Windows. These’ll help get you started building your own awesompersand list.

These charts are by no means comprehensive, but were created from the default lists from each operating system. Pre-bundled or third-party applications may install other cool fonts that could be common enough to use as well. If you have a favorite that’s not listed, let us know in the comments.

Mac OS X (10.5)

OSX ampersands

Windows XP

Windows XP ampersands

Windows Vista

Vista added several new fonts, all beginning with the letter ‘C’. What’s nice is that Constantia nicely matches Palatino on the Mac and Palatino Linotype on Windows XP.

Windows Vista ampersands

For more Bringhurst-to-CSS goodness, see Richard Rutter‘s The Elements of Typographic Style Applied to the Web project. And be sure to grab Meagan’s wallpapers to ampersandify your desktop.

Welcome, Meagan Fisher

On a brief break from diaper changes and time-outs, I have an important announcement. Several months ago, I put out a call for help. Today, I’m excited to announce the search is over!

Meagan Fisher (talented designer, front-end coder and owl aficionado) will be joining us as a part-time assistant. Meagan has recently moved from sunny Florida to Salem, and will help SimpleBits become slightly less tiny than it’s been for the past six years or so, beginning next month. I’m really excited about some of the new things this will allow us to work on.

Some of her recent work includes a wonderful Rails Machine redesign (where she worked with Dan Benjamin, who I owe for putting us in touch) and Halogen Guides Greener. You can read more about her big move over at her blog.

So, welcome aboard, Meagan — and get ready to become a converted Red Sox, Patriots and Celtics fan (I’m omitting the Bruins since they have a bit of catching up to do).

Tenley Murphy Cederholm


Kerry and I welcomed the birth of our daughter yesterday. Tenley Murphy Cederholm was born June 25th at 1:22pm. Six pounds, eleven ounces of pure joy.

Where our 2 1/2 year old son Jack came six weeks early, Tenley decided to do it her own way, arriving 3 days late. Everyone’s doing wonderfully though, and Mom and baby will be coming home tomorrow.

I’ll be taking the next month off as much as possible as we adjust to newborn status once again. See you in a bit.

“There’s a big difference between building YASN (Yet Another Social Network) and building a new application with social features.”

Tipping Point


At one of my favorite local coffee shops, I’ve noticed they have a creative take on generating tips. I’m sure this is used elsewhere as well, but it’s the first time I’ve come across it.

There are two baskets by the register, with a rotating sign above that asks a question. Today it was: “Should Obama pick Hillary as Vice President?” Throw your tip in the appropriate basket, and we get an instant, visible poll as a byproduct of giving your barista a little extra change. Some questions generate a more noticeable swing in basket preference (sorry, Hillary), while others are just fun throwaways.

A small reward for participation. I’m sure there’s a parallel here with social web interaction, but I’ll let Josh or someone else who’s hot on this topic decipher it.

Listening, Too

I rarely find new music these days. I’ll blame it on time and general lameness. But here’s two new (to me) bands that are worthy of spreading the word on.
Midlake: “Head Home”. My pal Jeff turned me on these guys. Pure 70s smoothness. No one does vocal harmonies like this anymore. Their album, The Trials of Van Occupanther is an absolute gem.

MGMT: “Time to Pretend”. Could this be the Summer 2008 Anthem™? It’d probably need different lyrics. But regardless, this is one catchy tune, with an ABBA-esque quality (again, vocal harmonies) that’s damn infectious.
What are you listening to these days?


Emboss closeup

The custom handheld embosser I ordered last week arrived today. I can highly recommend Acorn Sales, as the order shipped incredibly fast, the quality is great (feels like this thing was designed by the military, 50 years ago) and their customer service was excellent.

I’m looking forward to impressing things that were previously unimpressed. Now to find some quality paper to brand…


I used to despise mushrooms. Avoided them at all costs for the first 30 years of my life. Now I love them. I seek them out. Order them, specifically. “Oh, that has sliced shiitakes on it? Well, yeah, let’s go with that one, thanks”.

I have a similar tale about asparagus.

It’s funny how we box ourselves in.

“I don’t eat mushrooms. I’m not a mushroom-eater.”

I need to remind myself that I spent 30 years avoiding something that I now enjoy.