As a designer, I love typography. It’s one of my favorite tools in my designer’s tool chest. I especially like to experiment with letterforms to create visually interesting ways to communicate with type.
When type is used creatively, it becomes a work of art. Type is beautiful. It symbolizes our language and communication. But it is after all a shape… a graphic symbol… one with meaning.
As we go about our day, we interact with typography in its most basic form. We view typography in letters, advertisements, emails, newsletters, and so on. Knowing a little about good typography use can help position your business as a professional organization rather than a fly-by-night outfit.
We often take type for granted. As we work in today’s fast paced world, we don’t take time to consider good font use in our daily documents. We choose whatever is available to us to get that newsletter out, that letter written, or to slap together that flier your boss wanted done yesterday. Or worse yet, we use ALL the type available to us… ugh. Nothing screams amateur louder than a document full of typefaces.
To help, the following offers a few tips on how to improve your typographical skills:
There are literally thousands of fonts to choose from. As overwhelming as that may seem, type can be grouped in a small handful of categories – serif, san serif, script, ornamental and display. These categories can be broken down even further, but for simplicity, this covers the majority of font styles.
In addition, some fonts are part of font “families” which include several weights of the same font. For example, some fonts may be available in light, book, bold, and ultra bold along with italicized versions of each weight.
Choose the font that best represents the message you are trying to convey. If your text is serious, stay with a basic serif font such as Times Roman. If your project is light and lively, and you want to have a little fun, use some of the many ornamental and decorative fonts to add whimsy to your piece.
To add interest, choose complementary fonts for your documents. Combining a serif font with a sans serif font is like mixing two complementary colors… they work beautifully together.
However, keep font style use to a minimum within each document. Unless you are a professional (don’t try this at home folks), use no more than 3 fonts. (however, you may use the entire font family if available)
To Serif or Not to Serif
When deciding on which type of font to use, consider this rule of thumb; serif type is easier to read in large quantities such as articles, letters and the like. We are used to reading serif type, (think of your daily newspapers or books). This is not to say that san serif should not be used, it’s just a suggestion from someone who has been working with text all of his life, (well not in the womb), but right after that, yes.
When using headlines and sub-heads, try applying a complementary style font for contrast. Obviously, headlines should be bigger and bolder than the rest of your text. I recommend at least three times the size of your body copy. For example, if you have 12-point body copy, make your headline 36-point. A good gauge for sub-heads is about twice the size of body copy. Speaking of type size…
The size of type is determined by the x-height. X-height refers to the height of a lower case “x” of a particular font. Some fonts have higher x-heights than others making them adaptable for use at lower point sizes. “Clearface” and “Cheltenham” are a good example of such a font.
Learn to Kern
Want to set yourself apart as a good type designer? Learn to kern your text. Some software programs allow you to tighten the spacing between letters in various increments, but sometimes, that’s not enough… especially with the letters W, V, & Y. These letterforms, because of their slanted nature, are prone to letter spacing issues. Most programs have a keyboard command to manually tighten the spacing between letters (kerning). On the Mac it’s the Option key and the left arrow key. Applying manual kerning to your headline is subtle, but adds a touch of professionalism to your document.
Choose your type color carefully. Try and keep your palate somewhat limited and not overuse the color options offered in your software. Too many colors in your piece can be distracting and looks like a clown exploded all over it.
I recommend using a single color for headlines and a secondary color for sub-heads. Black works best for body copy, but is not necessarily the rule. Always be thinking contrast… a yellow headline on white paper is a serious no-no.
Readability vs. Legibility
Actually, this is one in the same, I just thought it made for a cool sounding lead-in. However, consider them both when developing your document. A piece needs to be easy to read. Very small type is difficult for people over 40 (hey it’s a fact of life), so unless it’s “legal-eze” keep your point size for body text at least 10-point in height.
White text on black or a dark color can be very elegant. However, a lot of white text can cause eyestrain and fatigue. Use this technique sparingly. In addition, make sure backgrounds don’t interfere with the legibility of your text. Backgrounds with a lot going on can be a real problem.
Hopefully, these tips mentioned above has helped you have a better understanding of how to layout your next flier, newsletter, letter, or website. Remember that typography is an art form. It expresses our ideas and conveys communications. Following a few simple rules propels your documents above others with a professional, polished appearance. It conveys to your customers that you are a professional business.
So whatever type you choose – choose with the intention to communicate the emotion of your message.