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« Fonts and Typography for Writers and Non-​Designers

What are some good resources for non-​designers, who perhaps write, edit or publish professional documents? Somebody recently asked this in the comments to my blog. There are quite a lot of resources I could suggest, but given limited time, we should limit the complexity/​depth/​scope of the resources. So given that….

Before getting into the depths of font selection, teach typography. I think Matthew Butterick’s Practical Typography is a great place to start. Short, straightforward, no-​nonsense, useful, and little I could disagree with.

After that, for an intro to selecting and combining fonts, this article from Smashing Magazine is good.

At the next level of complexity, there are plenty of good longer introductions, mostly aimed at designers. Ellen Lupton’s Thinking With Type is a good start here. Nothing wrong with reading Butterick first, before moving on to this, btw!

For more advanced thought, the closest thing to a typography bible remains Robert Bringhurst’s The Elements of Typographic Style. It is better as a reference book or to read a chapter at a time, rather than try to take it all in at once.

The original query from a business writing teacher at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs:

I teach business writing at a university and we have a document design unit. I try to get the students to understand fonts, but don’t have a good exercise, video, material, etc. about effectively using fonts. DO you have any tips, links, etc. that I might be able to use with the students to help them discover fonts beyond Times Roman and Arial and understand how to use them effectively? Thank!

2 commentsto “Fonts and Typography for Writers and Non-​Designers”

  • April 21, 2017
    Tom Bailey wrote

    Good afternoon, I am sitting at a Starbucks in Vancouver, BC. I have been a teacher, security guard, managing editor, learner, and a lover of the english language. Most MAC store employees are younger than my first MAC. I am now 71 years old and my boss wants me to quit but he can’t make me. Before I ask my question I need to give a (short) history. When I was in Grade 5 I received a strap for messy handwriting. It did not improve. A few years ago I decided to improve my pencilmanship. Using a dp “ligature” I formed the alphabet characters in “families: (c, u, i, l) with x and z refusing to fit. My handwriting is quite acceptable–I just received a compliment by a fellow coffee lover/​addict. I have wanted to create a font based on my handwriting for a long time. It has not been urgent but now I have an added problem–while my handwriting has not yet started to deteriorate, I have Parkinson’s and maybe in 10 years or so I may not be able to handwrite up to my satisfaction. I am not interested in creating fancy fonts, just making it so I can continue to use my handwriting on my MAC and maybe create separate fonts for Middle English and Old English. Everything I see spends a great deal of time with various “irrelevant” issues or will not allow me to use the 10-​20 ligatures I use in my usual handwriting. Any suggestions? Thank you for your time and patience. Tom Bailey (By the way, I have misspelled “Didamus–Thomas is Hebrew for “twin” and Didamus is Greek for the same.)

  • April 21, 2017
    Thomas Phinney wrote

    The honest truth is, fonts in general are a lot of work, and connected handwriting fonts in particular are more! To do OpenType features like ligatures in a connecting font would need our higher-​end app, FontLab Studio.

    Here is something you could check out—master script font designer Laura Worthington did a tutorial with us on connecting script fonts in FontLab Studio:

    Making the ligatures work is not too hard, although it requires a tiny bit of “code.” There are many tutorial videos on this topic! See

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