If you’ve designed or produced documents for any length of time, you almost certainly know to avoid what has been called the “ransom note effect”—the juxtaposition of too many typefaces in a given document.
However, the ransom note effect on the Web is not a matter of font abuse alone; it’s also a function of the colors, sizes, and styles in which you set type.
A site is arranged into sections, and each section contains one or more pages. The ease with which web documents can be organized hierarchically means that it’s not only possible but easy to enforce a degree of consistency in a site’s presentation that pays ongoing dividends. The workload of the designer and stylist can be reduced, and it becomes easy to identify and stake out the parts of the site’s page layouts that serve as signposts for visitors.
The bad news is that like most aspects of the Web, this consistency has limits: in many cases, particularly those involving user-generated content, it becomes impossible to predict the amount of content that will be present on a given page. With that unpredictability comes a certain loss of control—and from that follows panicked attempts to manipulate the presence, behavior, and content coverage of a site’s layouts.
One common reaction to this panic is to make slight adjustments to gutters, rules, and type size throughout the site, which at first glance makes it easier to resolve each “special” layout case as ...