Butterick’s Practical Typography


Free crash course in typography

A couple years ago, I reviewed typographer-lawyer Matthew Butterick’s book, Typography for Lawyers. It “isn’t just for lawyers,” I said then, “it’s for anyone who cares about how text looks in print or on the Web.”

Now Butterick has web-published a new book on typography for a general audience, Butterick’s Practical Typography. It covers the same subject, but without directives specific to the legal profession.

This time it’s not a print book. It’s not an e-book, either. It was created and coded by Butterick himself specifically for the Web. You can read it through like a book, but it’s set up as an easy reference guide, with links to font basics, font recommendations, text formatting, sample documents, etc. For those in a hurry, there’s a “Typography in Ten Minutes” section.

The book is freeware, but you can kick the author some compensation for his work through the website.

I love type. I’ve read many bookis on the subject. Butterick’s are by far the clearest and most useful of them all.

-- Russ Mitchell 01/7/14



Criticizing Helvetica is one of the fa­vorite pas­times of ty­pog­ra­phers: It’s bland. It’s overused. It’s in­apt for most projects. All true statements.

Yet they sort of miss the point. It’s like criticizing Star Wars be­cause the vi­su­al effects are un­re­al­is­tic. Or be­cause the di­a­logue is wood­en. Or be­cause the plot is pinched from The Hidden Fortress. All true state­ments. But so what? It’s still Star Wars. And like Star Wars, Helvetica will be with us for the fore­see­able future.

Should you use Helvetica? Look, I like Helvetica. Though most­ly in the rear-view mir­ror. Today, we have bet­ter op­tions. For Helvetica diehards, there is neue haas grotesk, a love­ly re­vival of the orig­i­nal Helvetica de­sign. Others can try a font that’s neu­tral with­out be­ing dull, like my own concourse, or the ex­cel­lent new atlas. Even good old frutiger would be an improvement.

And don’t wor­ry—no mat­ter which al­ter­na­tive you choose, Helvetica will still be with us.



The hyphen (-) is the small­est of these marks. It has three uses.

1. A hy­phen ap­pears at the end of a line when a word breaks onto the next line. These hy­phens are added and re­moved au­to­mat­i­cal­ly by the automatic hyphenation in your word proces­sor or web browser.

2. Some mul­ti­part words are spelled with a hyphen (top­sy-turvy, cost-effective, bric-a-brac). But a prefix is not typ­i­cal­ly fol­lowed with a hyphen (nonprofit, not non-profit).

3. A hy­phen is used in phrasal adjectives (view­er-sup­port­ed ra­dio, dog-and-pony show, high-school grades) to en­sure clar­i­ty. Nonprofessional writ­ers of­ten omit these hy­phens. As a pro­fes­sion­al writer, you should not.

For in­stance, con­sid­er the un­hy­phen­at­ed phrase five dol­lar bills. Is five the quan­ti­ty of dol­lar bills, or are the bills each worth five dollars? As writ­ten, it sug­gests the for­mer. If you mean the lat­ter, then you’d write five-dol­lar bills.

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