One of the major reasons that I chose Logos over competitors, back before I had any idea I might work for the company that makes Logos, was that it gave careful attention to good design. If I’m going to spend money and years—years reading lots of books and journals and commentaries and dictionaries and Bibles inside a piece of premium software—I want the app and the type to be beautiful. The beauty becomes an important aspect of its function.
I sat down with Eli Evans, a longtime employee of the company and now the Head of Interaction Design at Faithlife, and asked him to tell me what went into the setting of digital type in Logos.
The default Logos font
Eli told me that the default font choice gets a lot of attention. Bob Pritchett, cofounder of Faithlife, wants weighty, scholarly typographic forms that point backwards and forwards in typographic time. Also, the font choice for Logos has to work well on all the screens that Logos is used for. So Garamond—one of Bob’s favorites (says Eli) and a classic font used for books for five hundred years—is out. Its high ascenders, long descenders, and comparatively small “x-height” (a standard term in typography; basically the height of the lower-case x, one of only two letters in serif fonts [the other is z] that has only straight lines on top and bottom and does not pass above or below the lines created by lower-case letters) make Garamond a poor choice for phones and tablets and laptops.
Garamond, fantastic in books, does not work so well on screens (image courtesy Adobe Fonts)
The default font in Logos—a very important choice—has changed over time.
Logos 4: Athelas
In Logos 4, the default font was Athelas. The Athelas page at Adobe Fonts, a major source in computerized type, says that Athelas is “an elegant font family for books, successfully used both on screen and in print.” It was designed by José Scaglione and Veronika Burian of the TypeTogether foundry, which “focuses on text typography for intensive editorial use, both digital and in print.”
Athelas is the default font in Logos (image courtesy Adobe Fonts)
Logos 5–7: Skolar
In Logos 5–7, the default was one of my lifetime favorites, Skolar—a font still used as a default in Lexham Press books. I love Skolar: I feel it is an elegant blend of historic roman letter forms with some angular shapes that point precisely toward the future. There’s also the name, “Skolar,” which fits Logos well, full as it is of the work of biblical scholars and theologians.
Skolar was used in Logos 5–7 and is now used in many Lexham Press books (image courtesy Adobe Fonts)
Logos 8–9: Sirba
The two most recent Logos releases have both featured a custom variant of Sirba, one which includes Latin and Greek characters purposefully designed to match in weight. The effect is noticeable—but see if you can notice it. One of the screenshots below (from Beale’s NIGTC volume on Revelation) is Sirba; the other three are not. Can you tell which one is the default font in Logos? Hint: it will “match” well with the Latin text.
It was not A, D, or B, but C. If you let your eyes blur just a little and look over option C, you will not really notice that some of the characters are different, that some are polytonic Greek. The typographers have done their work well.
Hebrew, Greek, and transliteration
The default font in Logos also has to have all the characters that are needed for scholarly work. While writing this post I glanced over to my Logos window, behind my writing app, and I immediately saw what Eli was talking about. Inside Five Festal Garments, an excellent book by Barry G. Webb that I used as I preached through the book of Ruth at my church, I saw this:
Transliterated Hebrew happens all the time in Logos, so our default font has to include italicized lower-case h with a dot underneath. Somebody had to think of these obscurities in advance; somebody has to go to the trouble of creating hundreds of specific characters.
The default font in Logos also has to harmonize with the default Hebrew and Greek fonts. Their “weight” on the “page” can’t be “different” (okay, got carried away with the scare quotes there…). Look at the default font selections in Logos (here in the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew). The Hebrew and roman characters harmonize well, visually speaking:
Now look at the same text but with the Hebrew font Ezra SIL:
Ezra SIL tends to “shout” in a setting like this. It is SO HEAVY on the page that it doesn’t blend well with the roman characters (in Athelas) around them.
Eli told me that for screens we have to inflate the size of Hebrew characters to match the size of capital roman letters—just so we can be sure all users on all screens will even be able to see the tiny vowel and other markings that usually accompany biblical Hebrew.
Logos was actually instrumental in developing the SBL Hebrew font, the default we use in our software. Typographer John Hudson of Tiro Typeworks drew the font, a font I find to be very elegant and a great fit for Logos. But in order to get the Unicode Hebrew to display well on screen (Unicode is the international standard for mapping font characters), 40,000–50,000 rules had to be created, making the font file huge. These rules determine where all the little markings in biblical Hebrew go when they are placed next to each other. The rules ensure that the markings will be legible and that they will not overlap.
A recent Gallup poll (warning: what I’m about to say is not true) revealed that a majority of Americans agree that some Koine Greek typefaces used in standard editions of the Greek New Testament are bad. One major edition appears to italicize all the Greek; it’s disorienting. Another includes no diacritics and chooses the equivalent of a sans serif Greek font; it doesn’t fit the character of the New Testament. Logos uses Sirba, from TypeTogether, the same foundry that created Athelas. I find Sirba pleasing and appropriate for digital Bible study, and I’m kind of a type stickler who buys the more expensive varieties of canned meat for my pet peeves.
One of cofounder Bob Pritchett’s other requirements is that the default roman font have old-style numerals; in other words, numerals that ascend above and descend below the x-height. Look again at the Dictionary of Classical Hebrew, but now look at the numbers. Notice that the 3, 4, and 9 (also the 7, though it doesn’t appear here) extend below the baseline; notice that the 6 and the 8 ascend above it:
These old-style numerals make for a more harmonious reading experience, because they mimic what letters do—they extend above and below the “x.” These subtleties matter for reading; they create an artful balance in the line as your eyes run across it.
The interface font
Logos uses Source Sans Pro for the User Interface font. The UI/UX team works carefully through the placement of every pixel for each Logos release, and Source Sans Pro communicates contemporaneity without shouting about its existence.
A Bibles story
In Bibles, Logos tries to mimic what Bible publishers do. The NIV in Logos looks like a selected print NIV; the same goes for the ESV and NASB, etc. One major evangelical Bible publisher asked us to mimic their type choices precisely, and we ended up having to explain why that wouldn’t work in a digital Bible.
For example… That same major evangelical Bible publisher sent typesetting files to the typesetter and to us. Instead of using a space between the superscript numbers and the verses, the typesetter used a lower-case “f” and made it white. That worked great for print, but that meant we had to remove 30,000 lower-case f’s.
As one of our Lexham Press editors has said, “Publishers often deal with text not as a stream of characters but as a phenomenon of marks on a page.” Paper Bibles don’t change in width, but not only do computer windows exist in a huge number of possible widths, but users can change them dynamically, forcing the text to reflow. A typesetter working for print can just use a bunch of spaces to indent a line of poetry in the Psalms, and this might even work in a wide computer window. But narrow it down to the size of a phone, and you get a total mess. Logos books, especially Bibles (where mistakes are not allowed), have to be carefully formatted for readability.
They have to be tagged, too, in multiple ways—including distinguishing headings and footnote indicators, so you can turn them off if you want to.
With all thy getting, get Logos
A lot of silent, nerdy, aesthetic, and even expensive stuff goes into putting books into Logos. It isn’t a simple copy-and-paste. I didn’t even get started on all the software development and tagging details I don’t really understand. I just know that I look at screens all day, and it’s a breath of fresh liquid crystals when someone puts some care into how the pixels on those screens are arranged.