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—

I’ve got a question.”

A se­nior part­ner. Right on sched­ule. Stand­ing near the door, of course.

Go ahead,” I said.

It’s great that you’re into ty­pog­ra­phy,” he said,but seriously—

What does it have to do with the prac­tice of law?”

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard some vari­ant of that ques­tion. But ty­pog­ra­phy skep­tics al­ways make the same mis­take. They pay at­ten­tion to the ma­te­r­ial half-heart­edly, and then con­clude that it has some­thing to do with noodling with the Font menu on the com­puter. Wrong. Ormak­ing things pretty.” Also wrong.

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:

And I wanted to pose my own ques­tion to the se­nior partner—

What does any of this have to do with the prac­tice of law?”

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.

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