Sacred Typography

In a world where people are constantly being paraded with information from all angles conceivable, being able to effectively and efficiently present the information is proving to be a valuable skill. This much needed skill is known as information design, and its relevance spans across several domains; print, screen, radio. Successful businesses and professionals apply information design in the work they do. An easily navigable airport, shopping mall or highway can be attributed to information design. Likewise, a really captivating billboard or advertisement. Yet it is most surprising and somewhat ironic, that publishers of the number-one bestselling book, by far- the Bible, seem to neglect the precepts of the information designer. Its traditional two column layout, with verse and chapter markers make it a rather encyclopediaesque text and leave much to be desired.

Growing up, I started off with a Children’s bible, made alive by the stories told within from cover to cover. The masterful use of whimsical colours, scale, balance, grouping, proportion, pictures, etc. in the layout made the Bible story book an immediate favourite. Today, after years trying hard to build a habit of regularly reading my Bible, I think it is clear now- clear that I’m not at fault. Juxtaposing the design of children’s bibles to the mundane and dreary design of regular Bibles, it is rather self-evident that a sacred makeover is long overdue.

The real problem with the bible:

The concentration of efforts with iterations of the printed bible over the centuries have been concerned with language and version revisions, seeing very little changes to it’s layout. Thus even the first printed bible, printed way back in the 1450s- the Gutenberg Bible- could easily be mistaken for any other printed in 2015.

Gutenberg Bible of the New York Public Library.

Most people would be unable to imagine the bible without chapter and verse divisions, but the truth is, if you consider the original written texts, you would realise these markers are relatively new. With the advent of smartphones, tablets and the multiverse of devices and applications, alternatives to reading a paperback Bible are now many. And if publishers do not carefully apply the desirable principles of design to produce pleasing, efficient and effective Bibles, I reckon the digital publishing industry will usurp the traditional Bible publishing industry.

YouVersion Bible App

Bible publishing houses should be concerned with creating clear and organised scriptures that are easy to read, understand and use. The Bible Typography Manifesto is an online movement to push for the production of more reader-friendly Bibles. In the manifesto, they propose publishers start thinking about Bible publishing in a binary manner, editions as reference/study tools and editions for reading. Both editions will serve unique functions and can thus designed accordingly.

Bibles designed for reading could aim to keep the flow of thought, using paragraphs to create pauses as the thought naturally progresses and appropriate modern typographic conventions to give the desired feel. The current system which has fixed intervals breaks a single chapter into several verses, in double columns, give the feel of a reference book. Today, most Bibles cram both functions in one book, and if a product is designed for everyone, it works for no one.

Religious texts need not be too sacred to tamper. As a user, I would like to challenge designers, and publishers alike to create variety in the design of bibles. A user friendly bible, like the Children’s bible, will go a long way to improving my reading habits. A bible designed for me, will work for me.

This post was written by Michael Annor and first shared on the Ashesi Design Lab blog in April 2015. I’d like to do a lot more writing so I’d appreciate critical feedback on this journey of growth. I don’t tweet but if you’d like to engage, follow me @kobbyannor .