Butterick’s Practical Typography

The picture is a joke by the way. While Matthew Butterick doesn’t quite rail against Times New Roman and Arial, he does feel that they are entirely overused and, much of the time, are used out of context. Let’s just have a quote, shall we?

As a work of design, it’s hard to complain about Times New Roman. It was created for a newspaper, so it’s a bit narrower than most text fonts — especially the bold style. (Newspapers prefer narrow fonts because they fit more text per line.) The italic is mediocre. But those aren’t fatal flaws. Times New Roman is a workhorse font that’s been successful for a reason.

Yet it’s an open question whether its longevity is attributable to its quality or merely to its ubiquity. Helvetica still inspires enough affectation to have been the subject of a 2007 documentary feature. Times New Roman, meanwhile, has not attracted similar acts of homage.

This book is only available for online consumption, as it is Butterick’s presentation of how type and typography should be presented on the web. I found it and read it because I was getting dissatisfied with my layout and wanted to actually learn the skills necessary to do it well. Typography is an integral part of layout: in having the text look well on the page; balancing it with graphic and space elements and in being readable. Whether you’re someone that is active in publishing of any sort or just want to present your word processing documents well, it’s well worth a read.

In his own words, Butterick states that ‘Typography matters because it helps conserve the most valuable resource you have as a writer — reader attention’ (including the correct em dash as opposed to an en). The book deals with all sorts of obscure and not-so-obscure items of typography such as straight and curly quotes, one space between sentences, question marks and exclamation points, semicolons and colons, system fonts, bold or italic, all caps, fonts, line spacing, line length and various other items of page layout.

Interestingly, on my journey to find this book, I found out that typophiles around the world were horrified by the typography in both the movie title and the subtitles of James Cameron’s Avatar. Each to their own I suppose.

Having read the book, I still continue to use Arial and Times New Roman as the main fonts in our quarterly paper newsletter as the familiarity is, I feel, a good thing. I just use them much better now than I used to.

Read the book online at practicaltypography.com. I recommend a 10″ tablet on a cosy couch rather than a computer screen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *