Practical Typography (or) Matthew Butterick Puts His Money Where His Mouth Is

From the projekt202 archives

Matthew Butterick, author of book and website Typography for Lawyers and the provocative talk “The Bomb in the Garden” from the 2013 TYPO conference in San Francisco, has written a new book called Practical Typography.

Butterick’s TYPO talk mourned a missing “culture of design excellence on the web.” He stated that “the internet is better at making information free than expensive”, which has, in turn, led to template-driven design that is supported by massive advertising to offset a reluctance to pay for content. As consumers of content (ugh), we have come to expect that everything on the internet is covered by our cable bill; and similar to basic cable, much of what we see is both uninspired and littered with ads that range from sites with a single Cindy Crawford beauty-mark of a Deck ad to the NASCAR-level ad hailstorm on mommy-blogs.

In contrast, as a web-only book, Practical Typography aligns itself closer to an independent movie on an honor system-based pay-per-view, if such a thing exists. There are no ads aside from a few plugs for his other creations in the aptly named “How to pay for this book” chapter and an occasional name check of his own fonts yet these are always in the context of a typographic solution and they never feel crass.

Butterick challenges the popularly held opinion that reader-supported publishing isn’t sustainable if it is to be both excellent and ad-free by making Practical Typography exactly that. This is an impeccably crafted e-book. (Seriously. It’s up there with Frank Chimero’s The Shape of Design.) As mentioned above Butterick has designed a pair of fontfamilies that take advantage of numerous OpenType features and are used throughout the book. The text is light and airy, the hierarchy simple, and the layout clean. Its Kindle-influenced interface is straightforward and essentially invisible allowing the reader to focus on the lessons and principles.

Many volumes about typography skew towards dogma and others towards poetry, but this is not the case with Practical Typography. (Well, maybe a little dogma.) In addition to his career as type designer, Butterick is also a lawyer. Combining skills from both arenas he breaks down the principles to a collection of rules to be understood by both veteran designers as well as folks new to the power of typography. Butterick’s language is pragmatic rather than preachy, his tone conversational yet authoritative, and his strong opinions are supported by practical examples rather than flowery prose. Perhaps of greatest importance are the detailed explanations that give readers the why and how, and not just the what.

In addition to being a perfect distillation of its rules, Practical Typography is a case study in creating a beautiful book and publishing in a way that respects itself and the reader.

There are many lines in the book worth sharing but I’ll just leave you with this quote from Erik Spiekermann’s forward that speaks to the power of typography:

“… one thing us mere designers can learn from a designer who is also a lawyer, like Matthew: if your argument is easy to follow, it will be a winning one.”

Please enjoy and share: Practical Typography.

Other recommended reading: