Top 10 Typography Tips
Typography is the art and technique of arranging type (letters, numbers and punctuation) to make written language legible and appealing when displayed. To master the arrangement of type, you must first look at the basics. Alan, our Senior Designer and Sophie, our Senior PR and Marketing Executive have shared their 10 top tips on how to make your typography effective.
1 – Learn the basics
Your first step towards more effective typography is to learn about the art. If you’re unfamiliar with its concepts, you might think that typography must be a fairly simple discipline. The anatomy of a typeface involves very specific jargon, our graphic below displays some of the terms that you should familiarise yourself with.
2 – Watch your kerning
Kerning is altering the space between characters or letters in a piece of text to be printed, and is usually specific to headlines and subheads. It is important to note that this is a separate issue to tracking, which adjusts the space between all letters over large areas of text.
Conscious Communications’ top tip: One tip we find particularly useful is to kern upside down, as this allows us to see the letterforms and the spaces between them without actually reading the words.
3 – Tracking
It can be a tempting fix: you’re short of space, and you need to fit in a certain amount of text, so what can you do? You make the tracking (or letter spacing) a little bit tighter. The problem is, when your letters are too close readability is significantly decreased and can make your design look crowded. Edit the copy (where possible) as a solution to this issue. Conversely, headlines can often benefit from a little negative tracking as spaces between characters tend to ‘open up’ at larger point sizes.
4 – Leading
Leading applies to the vertical space between whole lines of text from one baseline to the next between successive lines of text. Leading is usually set (in points) to a greater size than that of the type, preventing ascenders and descenders clashing. The spacing between lines also affects legibility – you don’t want the spacing to be too tight or too loose; both make copy hard to read and a visually ‘off’ design.
5 – Contrast your fonts
Choosing contrasting fonts is the first of two typography ‘combination’ secrets to create interest in your typography. This prevents the design from feeling too heavily weighted in one particular style, creating something that feels modern and balanced.
Conscious Communications’ top tip: Pairing a serif (fonts such as Times New Roman) with a sans serif, meaning a font without a serif (for example Univers) is a fail-safe trick to keep a design looking fresh and relevant. Take a look at our first graphic to remind yourself of what a serif looks like. The graphic below shows how the impact of a traditional headline can be changed with the addition of a contrasting fonts.
6 – Size and weights
This tip goes back to the time when type was set in metal. Each letter was set in a block and the size of the block was the point size, not the character on the block. Type a word, select the font Times New Roman and set the size to 18 point. Type the word again and choose Helvetica in 18 point. You will see that even though they are both set to 18 points they appear different sizes.
Conscious Communications’ top tip: It’s worth noting that type sizes are not fixed so the point size will be different according to the font you are using.
7 – Punctuation marks
Apostrophes (’) and quotation marks (“ ”) are not the same as inch mark straight quotes. Go to the preferences in your desktop publishing application and activate Smart Quotes (also known as typographer’s quotes, curly quotes). This will stop you typing the inch mark. Smart quotes will vary between serif and sans-serif typefaces and will be angled, curly or curvy however they will never point straight up-and-down.
8 – Double spaces
Do not double space between sentences. Even though many of us grew up learning to type placing two spaces after a full stop, that practice is now considered outdated and unnecessary. Double spacing creates visual breaks in a block of text that interrupts a reader’s flow.
9 – Hyphens, en and em dashes
Hyphens (the minus sign on your keyboard) are used when a word breaks into two lines or to join two words, for example family-owned. The width of an ‘em’ dash equals the point size currently in use, while the ‘en’ dash is half that width. ‘En’ dashes usually appear with spaces either side whereas the ‘em’ dash does not.
‘En’ dashes are used to join two numbers together, for examples 22 – 23, or to join words that describe a range, e.g July – October 2017.
‘Em’ dashes tend to work better than commas to set apart the unique idea in the main clause of a sentence: “Sometimes painting for financial return—rather than full creative pleasure—is really fulfilling.”
10 – Webfonts and the rental revolution
If you were designing a website during the early 1990s, there was a limited amount of fonts you could safely use. Theoretically you could use any font you wanted, however in order for that font to display correctly on the user end, the computer would need to have the font installed on it. To address this, Apple and Microsoft incorporated propriety fonts like Arial, Georgia and Verdana into their respective operating systems. Consequently these fonts, along with around 10 others, formed a core set of fonts that were referred to as ‘web-safe’.
To overcome this issue, we suggest using technology such as Typekit, Font Squirrel or Google Fonts which allow commercial fonts to be served to and embedded into websites remotely without the need for them to be present on the end users computer.