Fonts: Inventing Equity

Suzanne Labarre has an interesting blog post about a new typeface named “Equity”, designed just for lawyers. “Just for lawyers?” I hear you cry. That’s right, and it’s based on one of my favourite fonts, Ehrhardt, from the 1930s. Here (below) is a comparison between “Equity” (left) and good old Times New Roman (right).

equity-tnr-comparison

On her blog Suzanne Labarre writes:

Only the legal profession would be so anal-retentive as to prescribe typographic rules, and only the legal profession would be so unimaginative as to set the default at Times New Roman. Here to introduce a little flair to the world of court filings, contracts, and legal memos is Matthew Butterick, who has developed Equity, a typeface “inspired by legal typography and the needs of legal writers.”

matthew-butterick-drawing
Matthew Butterick

Butterick is an attorney in Los Angeles. He is also a typographer, having graduated from Harvard with a degree in visual and environmental studies. After college, he worked as a digital font designer and engineer for type legends Matthew Carter and David Berlow on projects for Apple Computer, Microsoft, Ziff-Davis, and others. Last year, Butterick combined his two professional interests in «Typography for Lawyers», a field guide to fonts for legal professionals. Designing a new legal typeface was the next, if not immediately obvious, step. “If you had asked me 12 months ago, I would’ve said ‘lawyers should use one of the many great text faces that already exist,’” Butterick tells Co.Design. “But earlier this year I had the ‘aha’ moment where I figured out how I could make something useful and novel.”

A word on attorneys: They read and write a lot. They are also prolific self-publishers: They design layouts and print and deliver their own work. “Often, these documents are typographically complex and have to come together on short notice,” Butterick says. What’s more, court filings have to adhere to regulations about typography, layout, and page limits. As a result, Times New Roman, a narrow, mousy little font that allows you to squeeze in more words per page than your average font, has become the industry standard. But “TNR has no special magic,” Butterick says. “In fact, there are very few situations where it’s actually required.” (The Supreme Court even forbids it.)

So Butterick designed Equity, a serif typeface, to be every bit as space-efficient as TNR, but eminently more readable — and a tad sexy. “I wanted Equity to be like a navy-blue Armani suit: a classic updated with contemporary virtues,” Butterick says.

He drew inspiration from Monotype Ehrhardt, a once-influential, early 20th-century typeface (created by Stanley Morison, the same guy behind TNR) that all but disappeared by the end of the letterpress-printing era 50 years ago.

stanley-morison-by-rothenstein-1923
Detail of a pencil drawing of Stanley Morison by Sir William Rothenstein, 1923

Plain old Times New Roman is ubiquitous, being installed on almost every computer system ever made. As the name implies the face was designed in 1931 by Monotype (under the guidance of Stanley Morison) for «The Times» newspaper in London, specifically for economy, legibility and wear resistance on high-speed newsprint presses in the 1930s. It wasn’t designed to be beautiful. Even Stanley Morison grew to dislike it, or so he pretended, humourously. In 1953 he joked that William Morris might well have said of the face: “As a new face it should, by the grace of God and the art of man, have been broad and open, generous and ample; instead, by the vice of Mammon and the misery of the machine, it is bigoted and narrow, mean and puritan.”

More from Suzanne Labarre here.

2 Replies to “Fonts: Inventing Equity”

  1. Fascinating, John. I’ll be sharing the link to this post with at least one lawyer who will, I believe, appreciate it.

    I strive to never use TNR. I like Tahoma but it is not very exciting. Lately I’ve been trying out Droid Sans, available from Google fonts. It’s not fancy. Designed for “user interfaces” (I think that means screens on computers and mobile devices) and supposed to be very good for reading on smartphones etc.

  2. [John Tranter:] Thanks for your comments, Des. Yes, I use Droid Sans for the headings on my Journal: it is very readable.

    I’m rather fond of a new font from Switzerland called Fournier New BP: http://swisstypefaces.com/fonts/new-fournier-bp/description/
    See my journal here: http://johntranter.net/2012/02/2723/

    And of the Adobe fonts, I am beginning to like Warnock more and more as a very legible font: but I go through alarming changes of liking one font then another. Warnock: https://typekit.com/fonts/warnock-pro

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