who is typography for?Readers, not writers

Ty­pog­ra­phy is for the ben­e­fit of the read­er, not the writer.

This is ob­vi­ous if you’re a de­sign­er who didn’t write the text you’re work­ing with. Then you ap­proach the project as a spe­cial kind of read­er—one whose job it is to cre­ate the vi­su­al com­po­nent of the text so it re­in­forces the meaning.

It’s a more dif­fi­cult prin­ci­ple if you’re a writer who has to han­dle your own ty­pog­ra­phy. Then you have to ne­go­ti­ate the con­flict be­tween your pri­ma­ry per­spec­tive as a writer and a sim­u­lat­ed per­spec­tive as a reader.

“But every writer is also a read­er—I end up read­ing the text sev­er­al times while I’m rewrit­ing it.” In a me­chan­i­cal sense, yes, you’re read­ing the text. But you’re read­ing it only so you can rewrite it. You’re not read­ing it for the same rea­sons as your read­er—to learn and pos­si­bly to be persuaded.

Al­ways be ask­ing your­self: what does my read­er want? Be­cause your read­er is quite dif­fer­ent from you:

writerreader
Attention spanLongShort
Interest in topicHighLow
Persuadable by other opinionsNoYes
Cares about your happinessYesNo

Un­for­tu­nate­ly, pro­fes­sion­al writ­ers some­times imag­ine that the com­par­i­son looks like this:

writerreader
Attention spanLongWhatever it takes
Interest in topicHighBoundless
Persuadable by other opinionsNoBarely
Cares about your happinessYesOf course

The only read­er who might match that de­scrip­tion is your mother.

Ty­pog­ra­phy has to be ori­ent­ed to your ac­tu­al read­ers, not ide­al­ized ones. Writ­ers of­ten get at­tached to ide­al­ized read­ers be­cause those read­ers are eas­i­er to please. Don’t be lazy. Work hard to see your text as an ac­tu­al read­er will. You won’t get it per­fect­ly right. But a rough ap­prox­i­ma­tion is bet­ter than no ap­prox­i­ma­tion at all.