“Typography For Lawyers” Gives Basic Type Tips

Sometimes news travels fast, but other times it takes ages for something to reach me. The latter was the case with Matthew Butterick‘s splendid website Typography For Lawyers.

I may or may not have mentioned previously that – besides editing The FontFeed and Unzipped – one of the tasks FontShop hires me for is being the Transatlantic leg of the FSI Research Team. I earned this position through my past work (together with my partner in font-geekery Stephen Coles) for the Typophile Type Identification Board and the See Also cross-references for FontBook. The blurb on the FontShop Help page explains:

FontShop is run by real human beings who really know their stuff.

As a service to their (potential) customers the FontShop team identify fonts and conduct typographic research without charge for registered users of FontShop.com. My personal experiences with the aforementioned Type ID Board has taught me that humans still beat automated recognition in many cases. Plus you can’t trust a machine to offer carefully selected alternatives and give additional information tailored for the customer.

Anyway, once in a while amongst the many requests there’s a peculiar one that stands out. A while ago one of the FontShop sales people told me that once someone asked for a “doctor’s font”. When asked to be more specific, the person explained he/she was looking for “a font that doctors use”. Upon hearing this anecdote we came to the conclusion that this actually wasn’t such a strange request. Although most people now use computer fonts on a daily basis some professions seem to be so far removed from type and typography that it makes sense to dedicate specific typefaces and related products to them. One could consider tagging selected typefaces for use by specific professions. This could be quite helpful for users who are overwhelmed by the sheer amount of digital fonts available on the market and simply don’t know where to start. This could for example help prevent architects from sticking to Microgramma/Eurostile or ITC Avant Garde Gothic for their correspondence. Or lab technicians from setting their reports in Comic Sans.

Apparently Matthew Butterick came upon a similar idea which made him create the website Typography For Lawyers. Butterick started his career in Boston as a digital font designer and engineer, working for type designers David Berlow and Matthew Carter on projects for Apple Computer, Microsoft, Ziff-Davis, and others. British designer Neville Brody featured his work in FUSE, Brody’s journal of experimental typography. Butterick designed amongst others the popular sans serif family Hermes FB. After running a website design and engineering company, in a quite radical career change he became a civil litigation attorney in Los Angeles, and now runs a law office, Butterick Law Corporation. After witnessing one too many typographic atrocities by fellow lawyers Matthew had the brilliant idea to use the typographic knowledge he had gained as a type designer, and combine it with his previous experience at his website design and engineering company to produce Typography For Lawyers.

The website is an excellent and well-designed concise primer on typography. As Butterick himself explains on the About page:

Even though the legal profession depends heavily on writing, legal typography is often poor. Some blame lies with the strict typographic constraints that control certain legal documents (e.g. court rules regarding the format of pleadings).
 
But the rest of the blame lies with lawyers. To be fair, I assume this is for lack of information, not lack of will. This website tries to fill that void. There are numerous guides on typography for generalists available but none specifically aimed at lawyers. So as one of the few typographers-turned-attorneys in America (yes, there are others) I figure that if I don’t do it, nobody will.

The content of the website is very clever, with a build-up from general information to a closer look at the nitty-gritty details of digital typography. The way Matthew Butterick compares typographic concepts to recognisable day-to-day activities in Why is typography important for lawyers? proves he is as good an educator as he is a typographer. Which he is – from the splash page designed with the Subhead optical size of Arno Pro to the navigation and headers set in Optima and the inviting body text. This is set black on white in 18/24pt Matthew Carter‘s seminal text face for screen Georgia – the font you are reading here – in a single column of ample width. The pages look airy and relaxed, and read like a charm. Judging from the comments on various pages the website reaches beyond its intended audience, providing down-to-earth and practical information to type novices.

Like Raymond Pirouz concluded in his blog entry last month:

Here’s to a new age of enlightenment – one designer and one industry at a time.

That’s an exciting perspective. On to the next profession.

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2 Comments:

  1. Way to go, Mr. Butterick. Love the examples on why typography is important—I have a few clients that could benefit from this. What a fantastically relevant website.

    Thanks for this, FontFeed.

    Posted by Charlie Pratt on Aug. 11, 2009
  2. You’re very welcome, Charlie. Sorry it took me a little longer than the other blogs. :)

    Posted by Yves Peters on Aug. 11, 2009

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