4 thoughts on “Sauce For The Lawyer, Sauce For The Priest

  1. most church graphic design, typography, web sites, bulletins, etc., is awful. perfectly wretchedly awful. since i have some experience in actual publication, i’ve become more attuned to it than most.

    i now see horrid pseudo-small-caps showing up in official church publications, now that church publishing has apparently fired all the competent staff in the shakeups of the last N years. in the bcp?! good grief, this should be a model of good design. the 1979 bcp was an extraordinarily well designed book, and now we are slowly sliding back.

    as usual, however, things in church look bad–whether liturgy or publications–because the people in control of the decisions want them to look bad. sample conversation:

    “this looks bad. see, if you move this here, and move that there, and align this over here, it’s much easier to read.”

    “but i like it this way.” or “but we have to print all the lessons out in the leaflet” (why?) or “bold face is easier to read” (um, no, it’s actually not).

    i once met someone who insisted that the congregation’s parts had to be in all caps, because “that was easier to read”, even though he agreed it was ugly. his argument? warranty info is in all caps. lawyers put important things in contracts in all caps. well, guess what: they do that because it’s hard to read, and they hope you won’t read it!

    so then he said, “well, bold.” no, bold is hard to read! what is easy on the eyes and distinctive? italics. the bcp used italics for a reason. his conclusion: the bcp was badly designed.

    and then there are the church web sites with blinking text, five year old photos, servers’ schedules from 1998, etc.

    when things look bad, it’s because the people in charge want them to look bad. you might say, “hey, they just don’t know any better.” ok, you’re a seminary professor. do you teach them typography? do you insist that they get typography right? how about graphic design? have you ever insisted that graphic design may be a crucial skill for a priest in a small congregation? i suspect that clergy don’t know these skills because the people in charge of their training–bishops, seminaries–don’t care about those skills.

    Sorry, i’m off on a tear. 🙂

  2. i had a student once who got typography miserably wrong in all the little details. bad dashes, straight quotes etc. i handed him back his paper, with all the typographic disasters circled, and said to turn it back in with the typography fixed. he moaned, he protested, he was informed that i would not grade the paper as it was.

    a week later i received back a stunningly improved typography. and the philosophy wasn’t bad either. (this after a few times in my office as i showed him pointers and such on typography).

    after he graduated, he saw me one time, and thanked me profusely. he landed in a job where he was the only one who knew how these things worked, and it served him well and impressed the boss and all that, in making formal presentations and all the rest.

    i am now convinced that teaching writing–part of the job of any philosophy professor–includes teaching the mechanics of elementary typography too.

  3. Tom, I have busted at least one body part — be it a hump or some other — trying to engender a modicum of interest in the importance of typography as well as writing. Such efforts run up against several roadblocks.

    First, relatively few authority figures think typography, graphic design, and writing skills matter as much as “small group leadership” (to take one instance from among many). With no reinforcement from authority figures, many students will follow the path of least resistance and replicate the poor writing, design, and typography that they’ve gotten used to.

    Second, even if authority figures were attentive to the problem, few know enough about these topics to offer any constructive guidance.

    Third, the rationale “I like it that way. . . ,” applied to typography, liturgy, theology, biblical interpretation, or whatever, tends to trump actually knowing about a topic and having reasons for advocating some alternatives rather than others.

    Under the circumstances, I’m pleased at the number of my students who bothered to learn a little about writing, typography, and design, but it’s still a smaller pool than would be beneficial for the work of the church. Alas.

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