Matters of spacing and position were considered by Morris to be of the greatest importance in producing beautiful books. If proper consideration was given to these matters, a book printed in a quite ordinary type would still look decent and pleasant to the eye, but disregard of these matters would spoil the effect of the best-designed type. He had been told that in the best medieval books and manuscripts, the amount of the four margins differed successively by twenty percent: the inner margin was always narrowest, the top twenty percent wider, the outer edge twenty percent wider than that, and the bottom widest of all. He attacked modern printers for systematically breaking this rule. In doing so they contradicted a fact to which Morris attached the greatest importance, namely that the unit of a book is a pair of pages, not a single page.
He preferred to see a type-size not below twelve point used for an ordinary octavo, but he had a strong liking for larger formats. While admitting that some small books were tolerably comfortable, he considered that even the best of them were not as comfortable as a fairly big folio (by which he meant a format at least 12 ¾ × 8 inches). He complained that a small book seldom lay quiet, and that you either had to cramp your hand by holding it, or else had to put it on a table ‘with a paraphernalia of matters to keep it down, a tablespoon on one side, a knife on another, and so on, which things always tumble off at a critical moment, and fidget you out of the repose which is absolutely necessary to reading. Whereas, a big folio lies quiet and majestic on the table, waiting kindly till you please to come to it, so that your mind is free to enjoy the literature which its beauty enshrines.’
Readability is very largely a question of habit. The basic truth is that we read most easily the types that we read the most frequently. In setting himself the task ‘to redeem the Gothic character from the charge of unreadableness which is commonly brought against it,’ Morris largely ignored the fact that Gothic letterforms were so infrequently read as continuous texts by his contemporaries that such letterforms, however beautifully and skilfully he interpreted them, were bound on account of their unfamiliarity to be considered less readable than roman type. His own satisfaction with gothic type was that it provided a richer texture that was to him a pleasure in itself, and also made it a better foil for fine woodcut illustrations than any page of spindly roman type.
Among the photographic enlargements supplied by Walker were some lines from Morris’s copy of Aretino’s Historia Fiorentina, printed at Venice in 1476 by Jacobus Rubeus in a type that closely resembled Jenson’s. From this original Morris evolved the design of his Golden type (so named because it was to be used to compose the Kelmscott edition of The Golden Legend). After thoroughly absorbing the characteristics, virtues, and defects of the Rubeus fount by repeatedly drawing over the enlargements, Morris then drew the designs for his own type in the same large scale as Walker’s enlargements. Next his drawings were photographically reduced by Walker to the scale in which the Golden type was to be cut. At this stage both Morris and Walker criticized them and brooded over them. Finally Morris worked over his drawings yet again until he was thoroughly satisfied with their design in every detail. He was at pains to explain that he did not make a servile copy of the Rubeus fount because he recognized that ‘it is no longer tradition if it be servilely copied, without change, the token of life.’ He set out to make his letter pure in form—‘severe, without needless excrescences: solid without the thickening and thinning of the line, which is the essential fault of the ordinary modern type, and which makes it difficult to read; and not compressed laterally, as all later type has grown to be owing to commercial exigencies.’ He was conscious too that his roman type, especially in the lowercase, tended rather more to the Gothic than did his fifteenth-century Venetian model.