We’re very pleased to announce the release of Marber, a Wordpress theme we’ve been working on for some time.
Marber is a product of a few of our particular obsessions: typography, book and web design (and the relations between the two), blogging, classic Penguin paperbacks, and of course, Wordpress, the excellent and open-source software we use for many of our projects.
I’d like to take the opportunity to talk a little about the background to the theme. First, and most obviously, it’s a homage to classic Penguin paperbacks with their grid layout and themed colour schemes (orange for fiction, blue for Pelican non-fiction, green for crime, and so on). Peter and I are both the kind of people who buy these in bulk, on impulse, and, at least in my case, frequently to the exclusion of food and lodging. The plan for a Penguin-themed blog design has been germinating for some time – you can see a very early version in a blog I wrote some years ago.
The real catalyst was reading the Penguin Collectors’ Society recent publication Penguin By Designers, itself a companion to Phil Baines’ excellent Penguin By Design (you should also check out Phil’s Public Lettering project). In PBDers Romek Marber writes about what came to be know as the Marber Grid, which dominated Penguin Covers for several decades, and remains instantly recognisable:
Grid-based design is one of the hot themes in current web design, as evinced by such folk as the New York Times’ Khoi Vinh and the BBC’s Mark Boulton, so it made sense to update Marber’s grid to a web layout. This caused some issues – for example, we’re firm believers in fixed and fluid layouts – so Marber comes equipped with simple options for an 800px, a 1000px and a fluid width layout. Marber’s original grid makes most sense at something approaching paperback width, which is why we prefer the 800px layout, but how you use it is up to you. (Minimalism in web design is also one of our touchstones, which, along with the grid, is why this is a simple two-column theme, uncrowded by columns full of distracting and largely unnecessary widgets – although you can add them back in…)
Furthermore, we’re sticklers for good web typography. We believe it’s essential to extending the reach of the web, persuading more people to engage with online content, and making that engagement easier and a more pleasant experience – which is why every one of our projects is carefully set to a typographic baseline grid and uses best type practice wherever possible. Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style has long been the bible of print designers, and a few brave souls are bringing these long-established rules to the web, notably Richard Rutter and his excellent project The Elements of Typographic Style applied to the Web, from which many of the rules on which Marber is based are drawn.
When I say ‘wherever possible’, here’s an example: Bringhurst’s advice on paragraphs goes: “In continuous text mark all paragraphs after the first with an indent of at least one en”, and Rutter implements this using the CSS element text-indent – and so have we. Unfortunately, older versions of Microsoft’s Internet Explorer don’t recognise text-indent, and as we believe in full accessibility and cross-browser compatibility, that means we’ve had to create a separate stylesheet for older IE versions, which spaces the paras out rather than indenting them. But use a good browser, and you’ll get the full effect.
Blogging is frequently derided for it’s poor ‘production values’ and bad typesetting making reading difficulty is one of the prime offenders. We hope Marber will go some way to rectifying this.
Marber was originally conceived as a blog template specifically for authors who blog, and we still hope many of these will choose to use the theme, although for the 1.0 release we’ve stripped away many of the more custom features to leave a theme that will suit any user. We’d love to hear feedback from anyone using the theme, and will be actively working on future, improved versions. Leave us a comment on this post with any feedback you’ve got.
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