I was at a fancy law firm in downtown Los Angeles. A few minutes were left in my lunchtime talk about typography. As a rule, that’s the moment when skeptics step forward to lob their rhetorical challenges. But the voice belonged to a senior partner. I hoped for the best.
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. Or
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 security guard who rode the elevator with me.
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 respond with a question of my own—
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.
But these experiences have also 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.