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In UI design, one often has to work in the confines of limited space and/or simply try to reduce overly excessive descriptions and such.

Often, this results in using slashes a lot. This/that type of thing.

I've been asked in the past to add spaces to each side of a slash to give it some 'breathing' room and while at first this seemed wrong, I've also grown to prefer it as an option.

An example:

Download/Print PDF

vs.

Download / Print PDF

Some questions:

  • Do you prefer one over the other (and why?)
  • Is the spaced-slash acceptable? Am I committing a typographic faux pas?

Ideally, one would kern/letterspace the slash and not use whole spaces, but in the context of web dev, it's likely that rarely will out content folks and/or developers spend time on that detail, so am proposing the spaced option. It also offers the added benefit of being more likely to wrap properly if need be.

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3 Answers 3

As it often goes with these things, the answer will be subjective. Here are some thoughts, though:

I think I tend to go without a space unless I'm worried about things flowing to multiple lines.

Perhaps context could help you decide. Maybe 'Download/Print PDF' carries a connotation of 'Download PDF and Print PDF' while 'Download / Print PDF' says 'Download and Print PDF'.

Maybe, if possible, you could try using   to use a thin space to strike a better balance:

Download / Print PDF (space)
Download / Print PDF (thin space)
Download/Print PDF (no space)

Hair space ( ) should be in the mix too, but didn't seem to look any different when I tried it here. There are a few other space options in Unicode as well, but I don't think any others are relevant to this discussion.

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Good point on the slight variance in potential meaning. It's subtle, and sometimes not that important, but good to know. I do like the thinspace. Alas, getting content authors and developers to adhere to that kind of detail has been proven hard to police in my experience, so am trying to keep the 'rule' simple as possible. –  DA01 May 10 '13 at 18:44
1  
I've always seen a slash rendered as "or", but I do get a sense that people use the spaces as you've said to group the associations. –  Iain Hallam May 31 '13 at 10:32

I use a full space whenever possible and feasible.

As Brendan states in his answer, it is highly subjective.

I feel the full space simply makes it much clearer and easier to read that it's an either / or situation.

However, when using the slashes in a file or directory path, I don't use the space in order to designate a continuous path. For obvious reasons - users may include a space mistakenly.

I never interpret the slash as "and" as Brendan states. It's always "or" or a directory path in my mind.

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Interesting point about file path and/or URLs. Perhaps that is an argument TO add the space when working in the context of web sites, where you are going to also see a lot of URLs and not want spaces there. –  DA01 May 10 '13 at 18:44

Augh! No, no, no, no, no. No spaces. Kerning is the correct answer. Adding spaces introduces the possibility for error, bad breaks, and misinterpretation. When two items which must be connected are separated by artificial spaces, you are breaking the required connections. If it bothers you visually that much, change the slash to "and" (Download and Print) and have done with it.

I am both a typesetter and editor/proofreader, so there are no instances where I would allow spaces around slashes. Ever.

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1  
Well okay then :) –  Scott May 10 '13 at 19:23
1  
Kerning is the correct answer in print, where I'm the one typesetting. Alas, this is web, where I, for better or worse, rarely am the one actually formatting the HTML content. In fact, being able to kern a particular character is likely impossible in the corporate web dev workflow :( –  DA01 May 10 '13 at 19:59
    
Note that download / print is NOT "ctrl+f and type" searchable unless one a) knows the alt codes; and b) recognizes the space is not a regular space. –  horatio May 10 '13 at 21:44
    
@DA01 I understand that kerning doesn't work for web. But on the web, there's the chance the font/size etc. are going to be overridden anyway. You simply can't control HTML text 100%. The best solution is to have the fewest moving parts. Adding spaces adds moving parts. It adds openings for errors to be introduced. You don't want to make a web dev workflow more complicated unnecessarily. –  Lauren Ipsum May 11 '13 at 1:09
    
I would regard a slash surrounded by spaces as having a different meaning from a non-space-delimited slash. In particular, if there is no space around the slash, I would interpret it as joining only the words immediately to either side; adding spaces would suggest that the slash is "further reaching". Using a slash-with-spaces might be viewed similarly to hyphen-with-spaces where one really should use an em-dash (and no spaces), but I'm not sure there's a widely-recognized variation of the slash for such cases. –  supercat Jun 17 at 17:04

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