grids of numbers

Vertical alignment is the key

With grids of num­bers, the typo­graphic logic must fol­low the math­e­mat­i­cal logic. If it doesn’t, your typog­ra­phy is likely to con­fuse or mis­lead your read­ers about the mean­ing of the num­bers.

Unlike let­ters in words, a digit in a num­ber has inde­pen­dent mean­ing based on its posi­tion rel­a­tive to the dec­i­mal point (which may be implied). That’s how we can tell that the dig­its in .49 rep­re­sent a num­ber that’s smaller than 49. Also unlike words, dif­fer­ent types of num­bers have dif­fer­ent rules about how they can be com­bined and com­pared.

Your goal when type­set­ting grids of num­bers is to make sure the typog­ra­phy reflects the under­ly­ing mean­ing of the num­ber. To do this, there is one golden rule: in any col­umn, dig­its with the same mean­ing must be ver­ti­cally aligned with each other. This means that you shouldn’t merely select every­thing and apply the same for­mat­ting. Dif­fer­ent kinds of num­bers need dif­fer­ent typog­ra­phy.