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OCTOBER 13, 2010

Learn typography from a lawyer

Screenshot from Typography for Lawyers websiteWhat could be more obvious? Hasn't every apartment lease and credit card agreement you've ever signed been a model of fine typography?

They would be if Matthew Butterick had his way. Butterick has a Harvard degree in art and worked as a type designer and website developer. Tiring of that, he went to law school and now runs Butterick Law Corporation.

All these interests come together in a marvelous website called typographyforlawyers.com. In November 2010 a book of the same name will be published.

The advice Mr. Butterick is nothing earth-shaking. It's what you'll find in any decent book on typography. His most significant contribution, in my opinion, is his clear explanation of why typography is important. He's talking to lawyers, but his advice applies to any professional:

When you speak to a judge, do you stand at the lectern, eyes cast downward, and read from a script in a monotone? No, of course not. To maintain the judge’s attention during your argument, you change the speed and volume of your delivery; you gesture; you extemporize. You do this because you don’t merely want to be heard—you want to persuade. The text matters, but so does the presentation.

So it is on the printed page. The text matters, but if that’s all that mattered, then everything could be set in 12-point Times New Roman. And that would be the equivalent of staring at the lectern.

Typography is always important because presentation is always important. Just like a gesture can punctuate a point in court, good typography can reinforce the meaning of your text. Good typography helps your reader move beyond your words and into your meaning. Conversely, bad typography can mislead your reader and undermine your meaning.

So while I'm not qualified to give you advice on legal issues, I can tell you that Butterick is a lawyer who's got some chops in the field of typography.


Steven Heller interview with Matthew Butterick

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