On Type: a few short notes on typography, from a designer

Typography is a fascinating and exciting world with the possibility of manipulating the very way our audience receives our message. It is about personality and readability… inviting or repelling the reader, setting the mood, and delivering the message.

When choosing the font, style, or placement of text, the designer has the opportunity to be a typographer. This places an immense responsibility on the designer—one which I personally relish and look forward to with each new project. As a typographer, it’s important to read the text, else risk missing out on a powerful opportunity to influence the audiences by uniting copy and design strategically through their meaning.

Typography Tips for Designers

Here are some of my type tips to enhance the power of written words.

Avoid cluttering the page, and your reader’s eyes, with too many fonts.

Consider using variants of the font family (roman, bold, italic, condensed, etc.) before selecting a new font to introduce to the layout. When a new font is necessary, choose wisely. Look for contrast in letter forms that still complement each other and reinforce the typographic styling of the layout.

Need a primer on Typeface vs Font and the different styles of fonts available to designers? Check out this article Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Fonts (But Were Afraid to Ask)

Leave breathing space with expanded leading, or force relationship with limited leading.

Leading is the spacing between lines of text. It allows the reader to follow from one line to the next in body copy and can be used to turn captions or article leads into powerful graphical elements.

Unite characters into full words by manipulating kerning and tracking.

Spacing between letters allows the eye to flow across the text and comprehend each word of the message without a struggle.

Be more than expected, and use the full character set when setting type.

  • Ligatures, a character, letter, or type, such as æ, combining two or more letters enhances the legibility of individual words
  • Sub and Superscript, such as with the placement of monetary and ownership marks, are used appropriately
  • The @ (“at the rate of” now simply “at”) is the most recognizable symbol in today’s society, yet the glyph often looks overlarge and does not need to be the most prominent element
  • The ampersand, derived from the ligature of et (Latin for and), looks overpowering and may need to be reduced in size

Become a proofreader.

While proofing lengthy text is often beyond the designer’s responsibilities, there are a few common nuances/errors that a designer should be aware of and correct:

  • Exempli Gratia (“for example” e.g.) and the mighty Id est (“in other words” i.e.)
    These two Latin phrases mean two distinctly different things and are therefore not interchangeable (i.e you cannot use one when you mean the other.)
  • Hyphens, en, and em dashes. A hyphen is a dash intended to hyphenate a word or compound phrase. An en dash (the next largest dash) is a symbol to replace “to or through”, such as in 9 – 5. An em dash is the longest dash and is used to create a pause as you read a passage and—much like a comma or parenthesis—can separate out phrases or words.
  • Omit the double space. While many designers have never used a typewriter, many copy editors have—and they were taught to use two space bands after every period. This was only necessary on a manual typewriter. Modern digital fonts are coded to insert enough space after a full stop period, making the additional space band unnecessary, and even diminishing readability.

Learn how to draw a font.

While it’s not necessary for expert digital typesetting, learning to draw a font by hand will bring the design closer to the art and help develop a respect for typography. Take a stab at modern copperplate with pointed-pen calligraphy, or brush calligraphy with a Crayola marker. It’s a fun experience that will give any designer a new look at the world of type.

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