Resource for good church typography

I got a book for work — Matthew Butterick’s 2010 Typography for Lawyers — to make some of our printed and PDF publications easier to read and more attractive. I think it would be a good value for a larger church wanting to improve its internal document processes, good for a smaller church wanting to find an another attainable product of excellence and for denominations and associations not wanting to drive their constituents mad with unreadable text. And for those of us on the headier end of the Reformed tradition, good typography — even more than music or architecture — is a natural outlet for artists.

I’ve long loved Richard Bringhurst’s classic Elements of Typographic Style and recommend it both for its titular, outer curriculum, and its inner curriculum of order and the interconnection of information. (Yes, I read it as a meditation manual.) But if Bringhurst is scripture, then Butterick is akin to Quakers’ Faith and Practice: it shapes and informs opinion, and offers solutions. If you own neither, buy Butterick’s first. It is also more useful for the church office by referring to word processing software and 8½ ×11 inch paper, not proper publication software or a variety of print settings. Once you get a taste for better typography, get Bringhurst.

While written for the law office, almost everything is applicable for church use. You can skip quickly over legal citations and court standards. One missing section for churches would be the construction of orders of service, but his section of columns and the overarching principles are applicable. His advice on letterhead, business cards and getting a printer or graphic designer is worth the price of the book by themselves.

Missing, however, are “recipes” for the office suite, but I’m working up a reference sheet, since we use it so much at the office and I use it exclusively at home. And he has no love for free fonts — an attitude I usually share — but Linux Libertine (despite the name, usable on other operating systems) and Gentium Basic are high-quality typefaces appropriate for body test that are liberally licensed and thus freely shared.

The book was born as a website and details and you can test his concepts there, and order the book if you like. The book also acts as a catalog to navigate the site and unlock features. In all, $25 well spent.

By Scott Wells

Scott Wells, 46, is a Universalist Christian minister doing Universalist theology and church administration hacks in Washington, D.C.

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