We pick and choose visual and text-based content to consume every day. The subconscious decisions we make are often influenced by the content’s typography. You might get sucked into a magazine ad because of a bold orange heading, or ignore a billboard on your morning commute because the text almost blends in with the background. These design flaws can be prevented with a better understanding of typography and its importance in general graphic design.
What is typography, and why is it important?
Your path to understanding typography starts with a simple definition: typography is the visual design of text. The process involves stylizing and arranging text for a desired effect, largely dependent upon choices of typeface and much more. (Today in conversation, we typically ignore the difference between a font and a typeface and use the terms interchangeably. For your information, the difference is that a typeface is a specific style of type, and fonts are variations of a typeface’s weight and slope. For example, Georgia is a typeface, and Georgia bold is a font.)
Why typography is important
In successful graphic design, typography should capture the viewer’s attention while expressing a specific message. As in all aspects of digital marketing, good design intends to move the reader’s focus in a certain direction. You should take typography seriously to both engage the audience in your message while simultaneously convincing them to stay concentrated on your brand.
If you’re new to the world of typography, you might have noticed that some people have strong opinions and genuine passion about it. This is because typography is an evocative aspect of graphic design that many non-designers do not know to pay attention to. Messy or cliché uses of typography look bad not only to design-minded people, but also the everyday consumer. Creative typography, and even basic techniques, leads to an attractive message.
Typography is important across all areas of reading, from street signs to product packaging. The goal in typography is to make text beautiful, so your audience will look at your message, and readable, so they will absorb it. Typographic errors are extremely distracting to the average reader—crowded text, spelling errors, and over-stylized fonts are confusing, and a confused reader will not spend time deciphering your design or considering your brand.
Web & Mobile Design
Web design also relies on good typography. Screens present a different way of reading, in terms of how they emit light, and how dimensions can vary across devices. Plus, many web designs marry text with images, so balance is absolutely necessary. Safe font sizes for bodies of text in web design fall between 12 and 16 point, and no less than 16 on mobile. A trick is that the type should mimic the text of a clear book held at a comfortable distance. Remember that your graphic design impacts the user experience, and design includes typography.
Understanding typography is the first step towards making good typography choices. First and foremost, any text needs high readability, meaning that the spacing between the letters feels natural and the words are clear against their background. Secondly, good design will seize the reader’s interest. Altogether, good typography balances arts and function.
The main criteria used by designers when choosing typefaces revolves around their aesthetic tone and their legibility. One of the top typography rules is to select a font that fits the mood of what you are trying to convey.
Creative typography is founded on typography rules. There is even more than typeface and color that needs to be purposefully designed. Here are a few of the most important concepts in typography:
- Some fonts have undesirable associations. Avoid notorious fonts like Comic Sans and Papyrus, as viewers are aware of their baggage. Designers and non-designers hate these fonts because they are outdated and overused, so find something more contemporary and practical.
- Limit yourself to one or two fonts. This is the easiest way to maintain harmony in your design. For contrast, vary the size, weight and style.
- Contrast in typography creates emphasis on important elements, balancing them with less important information. Contrast should be intense: clearly differentiate size, weight, color, or other effective characteristics.
- Hierarchy: the order of information in levels of emphasis. Hierarchy is established through combinations of position, color, weight, and more.
- Tracking is the space between letters throughout an entire word. Kerning is the space between individual sets of characters. Leading is another term for line spacing. The overarching goal of letter spacing, and good typography in general, is to make all text completely comfortable to read.
- Weight means the thickness of characters. Some typefaces offer narrow and heavy fonts which can be useful in creating contrast. Just be mindful of delicate text on overpowering backgrounds.
- Serifs are the small ornaments that cap off letters. Sans serif are more geometric typefaces that don’t have those decorative spurs. Script type imitates cursive, handwritten or brushed writing.
- Orphans and windows are single words or very short lines that appear at the top or bottom of a section of type, abruptly divided from the body. To prevent these awkward breaks, find a better place for a line break or tweak spacing.
How to Start
Starting with typography as a beginner is simple if you follow basic typography rules. Understanding that a unified design involves visually aligned elements that personify a brand means you have developed a fair understanding of typography. Begin by choosing a typeface that reflects your brand values and appeals to your target audience.
A new typographer can go far with a background in graphic design, but take this advice for more creative typography solutions:
- Clearly establish three levels of hierarchy in your design: heading, sub-heading and body text.
- Play around with letter spacing. Condensed or expanded text can result in impressive effects.
- Consider a typeface that signifies the actual language (i.e. a tall and thin font for “Skyscrapers”, an uneven and jagged font for “Fright Night”).
- Scale text proportionally so as not to distort words by stretching or squishing their shape.
- Arrange all text logically and create a strong alignment. Default to left and right alignments, as centered text often creates uneven lines, and justified text spaces words irregularly.
A Few FAQs
When is ALL CAPS a good design decision?
While many rules in graphic design are game to be broken, most typography rules are foolproof. People are trained to read sentence case text, so an onslaught of capital letters is often difficult to read (and makes it seem like they’re being yelled at). With that in mind, all-caps are best for short or secondary headings.
How do I use bold typography and thick fonts?
When you need to draw out a portion of information, you will want to make it stand out from the rest of the text. Bold often works in these situations, as long as you utilize it conscientiously. Overdoing it takes away the importance you were going for, as more and more text is now on the same level.
Thick fonts tend to be attention-grabbing and generally louder. Light fonts have a modern feel, so take into consideration the look that will fit your brand.
In conclusion, well-designed type can elevate graphic design. Creative typography is an important aspect of your brand’s voice. Next time you’re designing, try being more mindful of typography and see how it impacts your results. We hope you enjoyed this crash course on understanding typography! What other areas of graphic design would you like to learn about?