With the design process for The State Decoded underway, we’re putting a lot of thought into typography. Helpful to this process has been both Ruth Anne Robbins’ “Painting with print: Incorporating concepts of typographic and layout design into the text of legal writing documents” and Derek H. Kiernan-Johnson’s “Telling Through Type: Typography and Narrative in Legal Briefs.”
Both of those papers are conceptual in nature, so they’re complemented nicely by Errol Morris’ two-part series [1, 2] about the results of a quiz that he ran on the New York Times website, ostensibly measuring readers’ optimism. In fact, he was measuring the impact of different typefaces on readers’ responses. Those who doubt that a typeface could have much of an impact on the credulity of a reader should consider the effect of Comic Sans, which Morris discovered (unsurprisingly) correlated strongly with incredulity on the part of readers. Of the six typefaces that he tested (Baskerville, Comic Sans, Computer Modern, Georgia, Helvetica, and Trebuchet), Baskerville proved the most persuasive. The effect was small, but significant.
This is the sort of consideration that is clearly lacking in the present rendering of laws, both online and in print. (Typographically, LexisNexis’s printed state codes are a train wreck.) It’s also precisely the consideration that will set apart those sites based on The State Decoded, or anybody who cares to employ the project’s stylesheets. There will be more news about this ongoing design work in the weeks ahead.