cearta.ie

the Irish for rights

What your font says about you

Adobe Calson lower case a, via Wikipedia.Derek H Kiernan-Johnson has just put his paper “Telling Through Type: Typography and Narrative in Legal Briefs” on SSRN (hat tip Law & Humanities Blog). He notes that Chief Judge Frank Easterbrook has (pdf) deprecated

bad typography, home-brewed by lawyers just because word-processing software allows you to bypass professional printers. Unfortunately, … [lawyers] have not gone to printers’ school. Desktop publishing does not imply a license to use ugly or inappropriate type and formatting — and I assure you that Times New Roman is utterly inappropriate for long documents despite the fact that it is the default in some word-processing programs. It is designed for narrow columns in newspapers, not for briefs.

In my post Typography for Lawyers, I briefly referred to the website of the same name maintained by Matthew Butterick (interviewed here; reviewed here) as a remedy for these ills. Indeed, Dan Michaluk on Slaw expressed his preference for Helvetica the movie as well as the modern, minimalistic and neutral font.

In Kiernan-Johnson’s view, however, typography has the potential to go very much further: the

shapes, the spacing, of letters and of words can reinforce, compliment, and independently create narrative meaning. Or, intentionally or unintentionally, it can cut against it. It can do its work honestly and ethically, or inappropriately and subversively.

I wonder whether the font on this website reinforces or undercuts my posts. Answers in the comments please (but not in Times New Roman).

3 Responses to “What your font says about you”

  1. Undermines, I would say (but only slightly). In my view, if you’re writing an academia-related blog, you need a serif font for the body. Now that there are free and paid services to install custom fonts, one does not have to use TNR to ensure compatibility. At http://conflictoflaws.net, we use Georgia.

    More generally, Butterick’s website, and Easterbrook’s comments, are excellent advice if you are submitting something via PDF. But, again in academia, publishers and journals require .doc or .rtf submission. It is difficult, or impossible, to do much within the constrains of Word or your other chosen word processor, because it has to be readable on the recipient’s computer. I have a (paid for) copy of Garamond Premier Pro, but I am very rarely able to use it. I use the rubbishy version of Garamond that comes with Windows/Office instead.

  2. Eoin says:

    Interesting that you should say “undermines”. I deliberately use sans-serif because it is more accessible. Why should I move to a serif font?

  3. I deliberately use sans-serif because it is more accessible.

    I think you’re going to have to prove that. As far as I am aware, there is no evidence that sans-serif is more accessible than a serif font on the screen. In fact, there is some evidence the other way.

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Welcome

Me in a hatHi there! Thanks for dropping by. I'm Eoin O'Dell, and this is my blog: Cearta.ie - the Irish for rights.

"Cearta" really is the Irish word for rights, so the title provides a good sense of the scope of this blog.

In general, I write here about private law, free speech, and cyber law; and, in particular, I write about Irish law and education policy.

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