Typography for Lawyers
Butterick bends his own rules in the name of typographic eclecticism.
21 Comments on “Typography for Lawyers”
I enjoyed reading Matthew's explanation. Hearing directly from the designer about his type selection process is always interesting to me, particularly when they are actually giving it some thought, rather than relying on standby faces or traditional methods. But I have to say the eclectic result isn’t optimal for a book like this where the various examples are already typographic, adding yet another bundle of ingredients to every page. For reference material — especially typographic reference material — calm clarity is best.
The palette could be reduced from eight to five by using Lyon Display for chapter heads, dropping Amira, and replacing the antiquated Cheltenham with Quadraat Sans Bold Italic or letting Lyon Bold heads simply be smaller. Of course, Matthew and I already disagree about Cheltenham, even on this cut.
Design squabbles aside, the book’s content is excellent.
Oh c'mon. The book looks great. The "use as few typefaces rule" is there for people who don't know what they're doing.
(But I must agree that if the book preaches this it must practice what it preaches)
Right on about most superfamilies being something other than "super." I think a lot of the push behind superfamilies is a desire to make typeface selection easier for font users, use this typeface, it matches the other one that you are already using … it even has the same name. There is no substitute for real testing, and making your own decisions.
Matthew’s explanation is both comprehensible and likable; Nevertheless in practice I would have preferred some reduction.
Anyway, I’ve been admiring Matthew’s work since I first spotted the TFL website.
Not having seen the book in person, I won't comment on the book itself. In general I believe that three typefaces should be enough to work with for most books.
But I do agree with him on his point about superfamilies. If you use them together, it can get really boring, really quickly.
Superfamilies are great feats, and I have huge respect for any designer that finishes this task. But using both together creates boring design, because there is no contrast in the resulting design.
Of course you could create contrast by using the sans only in huge sizes and red, and the serif only tiny and black. But aside from such tricks, superfamilies used as a whole create too little visual contrast on the page, and thus do not offer the range of possible expression that two unrelated type families offer.
Superfamilies are of great help to designers that don't know what they're doing, using them together will not create the ugliest designs possible. It just won't assist you in creating an interesting visual rhythm in your design. And in my opinion, visual design – just like music – is all about rhythm and tone.
Super families may not be super, for sure, but they also provide the typographer greater choice of weights among a particular design - doesn't mean they all need to be used at once. We should not forget their benefits.
And, although super families certainly exasperate the problem, a lack of typographic variety can happen when even a relatively modest 4 weight family's variations are over-used. I don't blame the typeface for this though, I blame a lack of imagination on the designer's part.
Just to be clear: by super family, I mean those type families that contain at least two different type styles. Sans and Serif, Sans and Slab, Sans and Serif and monospaced Slab, etc.
@wolf: “But I must agree that if the book preaches this it must practice what it preaches”
Well, actually the book preaches to lawyers interested in making their own self-crafted documents look easier to read and more professional, not to expert designers typesetting books.
So it only needs to practice what it preaches in the examples given.
btw I agree the book looks great, I for sure wouldn't have dared going so wide with type range but it's clear the designer knows what he's doing.
Thierry - yes, I meant weights, widths, serif styles (?), etc. too.
And of course, I also meant exacerbate ... although I suppose super families could exasperate just as well.
I found myself reading the fonts not to use page, and wondered: What's wrong with Baskerville Old Face? Especially as a body font, I use it for a lot of things! I rather like it. Am I wrong?
I just got it off of Amazon but it hasn't arrived yet. It looks good from a distance at any rate. I would never go so wide with type choices either, but as this is really for lawyers (and other business types that don't know type - ahem) I figured this was a way of showing the different fonts in a real world way. Offering suggestions, so to speak... but like I say, I haven't read it yet.
He puts Mistral, Comic Sans and Brush Stroke in the "Fatal" list! Those are my favourite three type faces!
I had a read of this when I was hanging about in a friend's studio and I have to say as a resource it is really very good. On the other hand I found book layout a bit weak and as this article suggests, its busyness rather contradicts some of the points which the author has very astutely made. Similarly, although I like the pared-back approach to the cover, I think the use of generic stock imagery is disappointing given the typographic prowess of the designer. But once again the content is excellent and this easily makes up for the shortcomings of the design.
@Fatal: Butterick was only commenting on the use of those fonts by attorneys, not on the quality of the font itself. After all, would you want your lawyer to use Comic Sans on the legal brief keeping you out of jai?
Since this item was published, I've been working on the Kindle version of Typography for Lawyers, which was released last week.
For those who haven’t tried it, making a Kindle book is like building a website in HTML circa 1993. While I'm glad that electronic books have taken off so vigorously, it's disheartening that our current tablet devices — with their wireless networking, touch screens, GPS, etc. — still can't handle the rudiments of book typography.
This is not news. Stephen Coles pointed out the iPad's meager typographic capabilities when it was released 18 months ago. But iPad typography hasn't improved much since then. Nor has Kindle typography (if "typography" is even le mot juste for a device with one font). The others aren't any better.
That doesn’t mean I think electronic books should merely simulate the reading experience of a printed book. Every reading format has advantages and disadvantages. For instance, one thing I like about the Kindle version of Typography for Lawyers is that cross references have become clickable links.
But as a writer and a typographer, I care about the written word. I want it to rise to the highest potential of any medium where it appears. There’s no reason electronic books can’t be as visually and typographically rich as printed books.
So why aren't they?
For those who would suggest that it’s just a matter of patience — that technology always starts with the basics and then evolves — I’m skeptical. Consider the web. The web is primarily a textual medium. But over its first 20 years of existence, web typography has barely evolved. Meanwhile, the web has given us the ability to do other remarkable things, like broadcast videos of kittens to a global audience.
So I consider typography — or the lack of typography — primarily a matter of expectations, not patience. We get the technology we deserve. Somewhere along the way, we all gave the web a pass: “Nah, we don’t need typography. Let’s get moving on those kitten videos, though.” And maybe that was justifiable because the web, as a medium, was intrinsically different than what had come before.
But unlike the web, electronic books are the next step in a noble and deeply significant 500-year cultural tradition. What we allow to be stripped from them may be difficult to restore. Right now, everyone is giving electronic books a pass on typography. And we're getting what we deserve: nothing.
I don't like to sound curmudgeonly. And it's hard to raise an alarm about typography when, by most objective measures, typography seems to be doing great. Compared to 20 years ago, there are a lot more people making fonts professionally, which means there must be a lot more people buying them and using them. (I know, there's more to typography than that, but it's a useful index.)
Typographers love to talk to other typographers about typography. Talking to non-typographers about typography — a distant second. But if typography's next 20 years are going to be as fruitful as the last 20, it seems to me that more non-typographers need to be brought into the tent. Because whether or not they buy fonts, they'll all be making choices about which electronic newspaper to read, which electronic book app to use, etc. If typography is a matter of expectations, these are people whose expectations matter.
And that is ultimately part of the agenda of Typography for Lawyers: to get readers to raise their expectations. Not just for their own work, but for all the written material they spend time & money on. I frequently get mail from readers along the lines of "now that I have a taste for good typography, I can barely look at all the ugly documents in the world." Great. Demand better. Don't vote for junk with your wallet.
Typography for Lawyers wasn't written for designers, but to those designers who read it: I hope it will spur you to think about how you can bring new recruits into the typography army. If you believe typography matters — visually, historically, culturally — consider it your duty to help make sure it doesn't get washed away by declining expectations.
@Matthew although layout options are still a bit lacking with regards to typography on the web there are great strides being made at last. Font embedding has matured to a point where it very usable as you can see in sites like LBVD, Grain and Gram, or most things in Typekit’s “Sites We Like”.
There’s a move towards to magazine like experiences on the web now which I love. As soon as more people make the leap into designing ebooks a similar push will happen as the best of the bunch will leave others scrambling to catch up.
Having just created a wordpress plugin to generate the Spectator magazine’s kindle editions I can attest to the fact there is a long way to go! We’ll see what the response is like when ask about embedding ITC Fenice…
Matthew, my response to you involves these points. You say, “So I consider typography — or the lack of typography — primarily a matter of expectations, not patience. We get the technology we deserve.” And therein lies the rub. You seem not to have the requisite patience — or, more important, stamina — to contribute to typographic improvement on the web. Web documents are often collaborative. Yet successfully to collaborate on a document composed with your typefaces, all collaborators must be involved in the purchase of what you call “professional” typefaces. (Preferably yours, of course.) A rather pricey proposition. “Don’t vote for junk with your wallet.” Maybe, yet an expensive proposition for new collaborators in terms of time and money. You write here of the iPad’s meager typographic capabilities” yet, when confronted with a suggestion to pursue mobile compatibility for your book, you reply “No!” and refuse to “shoehorn” your material into a mobile arena. You suggest, “What’s in it for me?” You “care about the written word”? At very least, an iPad copy of a (your?) work nearby can serve as a helpful reference while creating a laptop document. There’s a plethora of help for shoehorning, including work by experts such as Ethan Marcotte, Eric Meyer, and Jeffrey Zeldman. Mobile devices are up to the typographic standards you would have us demand. Use them. Learn. Join the typography army.
By the way, did you think to walk the walk, composing your online book with only two or maybe three of your own typefaces?
In your book TFL, page 140–1, I do not understand how to set line spacing, as you say “Exactly is best—enter a fixed measurement,” with specifics. The next line says “Don’t use these—they miss the target …”
Clarification, please? Thank you.
Exactly is best—enter a fixed measurement. Single, 1.5 lines, and Double are equivalent to about 117%, 175%, and 233% line spacing, contrary to what their names suggest. Don’t use these—they miss the target zone of 120–145%.
Not sure which part threw you off. You’ll want to end up with a line spacing that is somewhere between 120% and 145% of the text size. The default options Single, 1.5 lines, and Double won’t bring you there, and hence should be avoided. You need to do the math yourself and enter a fixed measurement.
Looking forward to getting the 2nd edition. Question though. Looks like Baskerville has been relegated to the C list, but it is on the A list in the 1st edition. What changed your mind?
Hi Richard, I can’t speak for the book’s author, but the Baskerville that comes bundled with Mac OS X — a custom extended version by Monotype — has certainly a number of issues. It is largely okay for English, but not really suitable for smaller sizes, and reveals serious bugs as soon as you look beyond the Basic Latin character set. There are better versions of Baskerville available, like Storm’s Baskerville Original, which has the advantage of being offered in optical sizes. Its “Baskerville 10” subfamily is made for text sizes around 10pt. For my taste, Baskerville feels too literary for legal documents, though.