Dr. Mark Ward e-mailed me recently with a link to his newly posted Bible Typography Manifesto. It's "a little tongue-in-cheek," he admits, but it addresses a serious issue: the desire for excellent design when it comes to the Bible. The manifesto is a petition calling on publishers to stop printing double-column text settings in favor of single column ones, and to start providing true reading-optimized editions in constrast to the ubiquitous study-optimized ones.
If you've been reading Bible Design Blog for any length of time, you know that I'm in favor of single column, paragraphed text settings. My rationale is simple. If you want people to read the Bible, it should look like the kind of book people read (for example, novels), not the kind they ony use to look things up in (for example, dictionaries). Personally, I wouldn't go so far as to ban double column settings, but I think the manifesto gets it right in the virtues it affirms — with one exception, which is the shout-out to the Lexicon typeface as "an exceptionally good typeface for Bible publishing."
As Wikipedia notes, "Lexicon has been designed for optimal legibility, specifically when set very small." I'd rather see type set at a comfortable size than have fonts selected which purportedly make uncomfortable sizes less difficult to read. I have the same feelings about Veritas. This description (from the linked page) sums up the designer's dilemma nicely:
Publications such as books, annual reports, magazines and Bibles rely on narrow column widths to fit the most copy in the least amount of space. This forces the typographer to either reduce the point size of the text to an uncomfortable reading size, or to design with column widths that produce less-than-optimal character counts (45 to 65 characters per line) for legibility, or both.
Don't get me wrong, I understand why these typefaces are considered a clever solution.They make the best of a bad situation. I'd just prefer to fix the situation wheverever possible, rather than yielding to its parameters, even if it means fewer words on the line and the page, and hence a thicker book. Singling out these "legible at tiny size" fonts as being particularly appropriate to the task implies that normal fonts aren't. Given the challenges outlined in the quote above, many a designer would argue that double column settings are an exceptionally good format for Bible publishing. See what I'm getting at?
With that minor caveat, though, I think the manifesto makes a lot of sense. So check it out and, if you're so inclined, sign on. If this thing takes off, who knows? It might be time to organize some kind of Occupy Grand Rapids event! In the meantime:
Bible Design Blog is dedicated to the physical form of the Good Book. Here, author J. Mark Bertrand discusses good Bible design with an emphasis on reader-friendly formats, which means elegant layout, opaque paper, and sewn bindings that open flat.