who is typography for?

Readers, not writers

Typog­ra­phy is for the ben­e­fit of the reader, not the writer.

Other kinds of pro­fes­sional writ­ers—say, nov­el­ists and jour­nal­ists—don’t have to worry about typog­ra­phy. They can pass their work to pro­fes­sional design­ers who opti­mize the typog­ra­phy for the intended audi­ence.

But you can’t. You have to han­dle your own typog­ra­phy. So you must also nego­ti­ate the con­flict of inter­est between your per­spec­tive as a writer and that of your future reader.

But every writer is also a reader—I end up read­ing the text sev­eral times while I’m edit­ing it.” True, but you don’t have the same goals as your future reader: to learn and pos­si­bly to be per­suaded.

In fact, your reader is quite dif­fer­ent from you:

Atten­tion spanLongShort
Inter­est in topicHighLow
Per­suad­able by other opin­ionsNoYes
Cares about mak­ing your client happyYesNo

Legal writ­ers, unfor­tu­nately, often imag­ine that the com­par­i­son looks like this:

Atten­tion spanLongWhat­ever it takes
Inter­est in topicHighBound­less
Per­suad­able by other opin­ionsNoBarely
Cares about mak­ing your client happyYesOf course

The only reader who might match that descrip­tion is your mother.

Typog­ra­phy has to be ori­ented to actual read­ers, not ide­al­ized ones. Writ­ers often get attached to ide­al­ized read­ers because they’re eas­ier to please. Of course—they don’t exist. Don’t fall into that trap. Set aside the wish­ful think­ing and try to see your doc­u­ment from your reader’s per­spec­tive. You won’t get it per­fectly right. But a rough approx­i­ma­tion is bet­ter than none.