who is typography for?Readers,
not writers

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

Graphic de­sign­ers have an ad­van­tage here. They work with text they didn’t write. So they can ap­proach a ty­po­graphic 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.

This prin­ci­ple is more dif­fi­cult when you’re a writer han­dling your own ty­pog­ra­phy. Then you have to sur­mount the dif­fer­ence 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 not read­ing it for the same rea­sons as your read­ers will: to learn and pos­si­bly be persuaded.

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

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

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

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 ac­tual read­ers, not ide­al­ized ones. Writ­ers can get at­tached to ide­al­ized read­ers be­cause they’re eas­ier to please. That’s no sur­prise—they don’t exist.

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 none at all.

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