I was at a fancy law firm in downtown Los Angeles, giving a lunchtime talk about typography. As I neared the end, there hadn’t been any hecklers or skeptics. But they tend to reserve their complaints till the last possible moment, to more easily scurry away afterward.
As I was wrapping up, I heard a voice—
A senior partner. Right on schedule. Standing near the door, of course.
What does it have to do with the practice of law?”
As I said in the introduction, for the professional writer, typography is another tool for persuasion. My advocacy for typography is really advocacy for readers. Without them, we’re sunk.
And yet. Professional writers easily forget that this is so (as we saw in who is typography for). Lawyers, for example, spend a lot of time and money on things that mostly make them feel comfortable and important. On that day, I considered what I’d already seen on the way to my talk:
The bomb-sniffing dog that inspected my car.
The elaborately decorated offices on the 23rd floor.
The platoon of support staff.
The videoconferencing system linking four offices.
The lavish lunch buffet.
And I wanted to pose my own question to the senior partner—
Clearly nothing! And I’m not singling out this firm in particular, or lawyers in general. Writers consistently misjudge the role of typography.
So let’s make a deal. If you’re a professional writer who thinks you need these irrelevant accessories—a marble bathroom, a special chair, catered vegan lunches, a bomb-sniffing dog—to do your job, I won’t talk you out of it.
But in return, don’t put typography in that category. I started by telling you that typography is the visual component of the written word. That it has a utilitarian function. That’s all still true.
As we’ve learned, however, there’s another dimension. Like the written word itself, typography is a vessel for what you invest. What you get out of it depends on what you put in.
Still, these experiences have taught me that I can’t persuade everyone. And that’s fine too. Over the years, I’ve received hundreds of messages from Practical Typography readers who have put these principles to work and immediately noticed the difference in how others respond. These messages are gratifying. But maybe it’s better if the skeptics persist. Because once everyone adopts good typography, it will no longer be our secret weapon.