Typography is for everyone

I just finished reading something that had been sitting in my Instapaper queue for a long time: Matthew Butterick’s Practical typography. The foreword is written by famous german typographer Erik Spiekermann, so you know there is some authority behind this book.

You are a typographer!

Butterick’s primary point is: Everybody who creates text in any way – and be it as simple as an email – is a typographer. Therefore good typography should be common sense. You are a typographer. Act accordingly!

He goes on to explain in plain english what you need to do to make your texts look great. From very simple things (correct use of punctuation) to rather complex issues (line spacing and page margins) everything is covered.

Truly practical

Most importantly he doesn’t just tell you what to do. He also explains why you should do it and why attention to typography matters. You don’t need to know anything about typography to understand this book. It’s practical advice that is easy to get and follow. Most chapters include short instructions for Word, Pages and CSS on how to put good typography into your own documents.

What I also liked a lot are his side notes. The book is full of intruiguing facts about typography and font trivia. For example there is an intriguing chapter on the history of the Times New Roman font.

His writing is off the cuff and not overly didactic. And the book is not even that long. It took me only two sittings to read through and most chapters are short and self-contained so you can read it in small heaps.

What’s missing

Even though Butterick writes mostly about print, he also touches on the Web a lot, albeit in much less detail than I would have liked.1

One thing that I would have loved to read more about are more in-depth explanations of what makes and breaks a font. He lists quite a lot of bad fonts and better alternatives2, but never explains what exactly to look for in a font.

Another thing that was only touched briefly is the question of how to balance text and white-space – How to determine the rythm of a page.

Spreading the word

The author decided to release this book as a website. And – incredibly – it’s free! In the chapter How to pay for this book Butterick writes you could pay by spreading the word.3 So that’s what I’ll do. I heartily recommend it. You are a typographer and should read this book!

  1. Worst part of the book? Butterick telling us to use HTML tables for layout. But I’ll forgive him for that. 

  2. He says that most free fonts are simply badly designed. He lists two exceptions: Charter and Source Sans. I agree with him; these fonts are the ones I now use for this site. 

  3. Although it’s pretty obvious that the book is basically an ad for Butterick’s own professional fonts (which are insanely pretty). The entire Book is set in his fonts Equity and Concourse