Publishing: Why Typography Matters

I will admit that I am only a recent convert to typographic concerns. Until the middle of last year, I was content with everything being Times New Roman, size 12, single-spaced in Microsoft Word. It took constant prodding from a good friend of mine, a fellow professional genealogist, who also has a background in design, to make me see the light.

Readers don’t notice design. They don’t notice typography. But if it is bad, they won’t read. And what is the point of spending the time to write a book or an article or a blog or a webpage, if no one wants to read it?

As I have noted before when discussing presentations, design can have a direct effect on learning. People are less likely to learn from a poorly-designed medium. This is no less true for a family history book, society newsletter, or blog than it is for a PowerPoint presentation. It just seems to be discussed less by those of us self-publishing, whether it be a society publication, a family history for a private audience, or a book of abstracts.

The image on this blog post coins an adage: “Good typography is invisible. Bad typography is everywhere.”

Of course, there is also an opposing viewpoint. In a 2010 study Princeton University researchers conclude that learning in a print medium may actually benefit from horrible typography. The theory is that print material set in ugly typefaces force readers to concentrate harder to read the material, and therefore they retain more of the information. Read “Hideous fonts may boost reading comprehension,” for more information.

Regardless of your opinion on the subject, one thing is certain: typography matters. Pay attention the next time you read a book, journal, or newsletter. What do you think of the font, line spacing, character spacing, etc.? Does the typography add to or detract from the readability of the material? Does it add to or detract from your ability to understand the material you are reading?


Adam Christopher, “9th February, 2011: Typography matters,” blog, posted 9 February 2011 ( : accessed 14 January 2012).

C. Diemand-Yauman, et al., “Fortune favors the Bold (and the Italicized): Effects of disfluency on educational outcomes,” Cognition (2010); ( : accessed 14 January 2012).

Laura Miller, “Hideous fonts may boost reading comprehension,” Salon web magazine, posted 18 January 2011, under topic “Readers and Reading” ( : accessed 14 January 2012).

7 thoughts on “Publishing: Why Typography Matters

  1. Hmmmm, definitely something to think about. I recently read an article that used the art of “shadows” on her words quite a bit. It was hard on my eyes. Maybe it was just me, but made an impact on how I felt about the reading.

    So, I guess there is definitely some logic to what you are saying.

  2. The same goes for the balance of text to white space. I feel sorry for the BCG judges who have to wade through pages of text with narrow leading (space between baselines of type) and extra-wide margins. I would think that would be very hard on the eyes.

  3. Rondina Muncy has very definite opinions on the “look” of the printed word. She is very conscious of typeface and other artistic venues for her work. I’ve learned a lot from her. She got me switched from Times New Roman to Garamond. I think it is much easier on the eye, at least mine.

  4. There are several good references for professional types like us. One is Butterick’s _Typography for Lawyers_. Another, more technical is Bringhurst’s _Elements of Typographical Style_. Then, I’ve got a short typography article in queue for a genealogical society bulletin (publication date tba). Not sure I mentioned it, but I plan on writing a bit about typography on the Sea Genes FH & GR blog this year. 🙂

  5. Pingback: The nastiness of e-books. | Say Yeah!

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