A refutation of bikeshedding linkbait

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A Refutation of The Elements of Typographic Style is another one of those criticisms. Most of it is just bikeshedding; it could be linkbait.

Here is what I read:

  1. Rules are restrictive and you can ignored them if you want
  2. The author would reorder the sections in chapter three
  3. There is some nonstandard advice that you can ignore
  4. The book has a conservative opinion

In other words, every book ever.


It reads as if the next paragraph will be a revelation that it was all a huge conspiracy—the Illuminati is sending secret messages through conservative typography! It disappointed me to find out that there was no conspiracy. For example:

The Elements of Typographic Style is a flawed and misleading book — flawed in its advice on design practice and its coverage of the subject, and misleading on just what the real purpose of the book might be.

What a claim! Why call out a few bad points when you can just throw out the entire book! /sarcasm.


Of course there is some bad advice; of course we can choose whatever font we want; of course it has a conservative bent. I’m guessing that most of the intelligent humans who read that essay take what they read with a grain of salt, add it to their pile of knowledge and try to make the best sense out of it that they can.


“A Refutation”? Hardly. More like fluffing a few valid, but minor, criticisms with 4,000 very serious sounding words. It also doesn’t help that the thing is couched in “Presented by BMW” ads (at least on mobile).

It is also, as best I can estimate, one of those books everyone owns but few have read and fewer still follow closely in practice.

Oh I’m sure it’s been read cover to cover by more than a few.

The takeaway

Potts does make good points:

it’s counterproductive, countercreative, to morally charge the art of working with type.

It’s counterproductive to morally charge almost anything. Usually it devolves the conversation into something unproductive; it closes minds and forces sides.

On the other hand, everything imbues the opinions of its author to some extent. Why fight it? I’d rather pick a side and share some practical advice than waffle around and never give any useful information.

Anyway, design is hard. I’ve done it for 12 years and I still have a hard time picking a font.