The Polder Measure

In the past few months I read two classic books about typography: The Elements Of Typographic Style by Robert Bringhurst and Grid Systems in Graphic Design by Josef Müller-Brockmann. I was mainly interested in their theories behind deciding how wide a text column should be. The width of the measure, in technical terms. Because I had come up with the theory that maybe we should define the layout of our sites, and the different breakpoints, based on this width. This theory works. But the most interesting thing I found out was what happens if you apply the theory by Josef Müller-Brockmann to an international site. Let me explain the theories first.

Robert Bringhurst says that an an ideal measure is somewhere between 45 and 70 characters. The thing that struck me is that this is much less than we are used to on the web. But it also struck me that such a tight measure looks really, really good. Josef Müller-Brockmann on the other hand says that an ideal measure contains no more than an average of 10 words per line. This turned out to be really interesting. This means that the measure differs per language. I created this simple tool that visualizes it. When you change the language of the text you will see that the amount of words per line changes dramatically. This is especially obvious when you change the language from English to German or Polish.

This actually means that you could decide to change the layout of your site based on language. And change the breakpoints too. But of course there are many reasons to decide to just pick a measure that looks good in all languages. I propose we call this the Polder Measure, a measure based on the legendary Dutch consensus. To make this metaphor more tangible, if you choose Dutch as a language, you’ll see that its width is right there in the middle, between German and English.