Even though there are endless styles and choices regarding typography, there are rules that should be followed to help your design look its best and convey the message you want to send. These fifteen rules will help hone your skills, and elevate your work so that it stands above the rest.
Learn the Basics
When it comes to any skill or area of study that you want to succeed at, the first step is learning the basics. There is often this idea that newcomers to any field have, which is that they don’t need to learn the rules because they want to break them, and reinvent the wheel, anyway. Breaking the rules is an entirely valid decision to make when you are an expert in your field, but you need to be able to defend why you want to use multiple serif fonts, rather than mix serif and sans-serifs. Learn the difference between the two, what ligatures and descenders are, and everything in between, so that you can design with proficiency.
Kerning is the adjustment of space between two letters in any given font. Kerning is different than tracking, which is the adjustment of the area between all letters at once. With kerning you can move one letter at a time, shifting the T in Typography closer to the Y without moving any other letters. By analyzing the negative space between letters, instead of looking at the word as a whole, you can get a sense of what needs to be shifted and what can remain. Doing this will give words a more uniform and polished look.
Leading is the distance, vertically, between lines of text. It gets its name from the old days of metal typesetting when strips of lead were used to separate lines of type. Having an adequately balanced leading assist dramatically affects readability. A general rule is that the space between lines, also known as white space, should be approximately 125%-150% of the font height.
Alignment is crucial for the readability of documents. Most languages follow a left-to-right reading pattern, and so while centering appears to balance text blocks it only succeeds in making documents challenging to track. Sticking with left-justified is best in most cases, as the reader will have a consistent starting point to return to when reading lines of text.
When something has a high level of readability, that means that it is easy for the reader to process and digest. Readability involves all aspects of font selection: kerning, leading, alignment, and artistic choices. Knowing the basics of typography will help keep your work readable. A good test is to give the work to someone else and see if it is easy for them to read, as it can be hard to judge your work.
All fonts evoke something in a reader. There are countless jokes about Comic Sans and Papyrus and how they induce instant dislike in readers. Avoiding specific texts is not the only part of font psychology. You would use a looping feminine script for a “Spa and Salon” ad, while you would avoid doing so for “Monster Truck Rally”; it makes sense to use for the “Spa and Salon” but can look jarring and comical when associated with a “Monster Truck Rally.” Understand the associations that people have with specific fonts and styles to help succinctly convey your message.
Embrace default fonts
There is an idea that default fonts should be avoided in design because they are somehow dull or have “been done before.” While default fonts like Times New Roman and Calibri have been seen before, they default because they are readable. Utilizing something standard can make the rest of your design stand out, especially if you are pairing it with an artistic or more unusual font.
Secondary fonts should be complementary to the original font. It is not as simple as finding a font that is stylistically different, though this is important. Secondary fonts should be more readable and less ornate than primary texts, as they include more pertinent information. They should also have different stroke weights, with the secondary font having a thinner one than the primary font. Sans serif fonts also pair best with serif fonts. The difference between the fonts does not have to be dramatic, but they should be different enough to allow the primary text to shine.
Limit Your Fonts
When creating work that features typography, using too many fonts can confuse you. It is visually distracting and does not help indicate the most pertinent information. Stick to an insufficient number of fonts: primary, secondary, and maybe tertiary.
Keeping everything the same size in a series of texts indicates that everything within the sentence or saying has the same weight. In the example “you can lose up to twenty pounds a month” it would be smart to highlight, through stylistic variation or font size, the words “lose,” “twenty pounds,” or “month,” as this adds emphasis to the most important parts of a sentence. This leads to the sentence being read similarly to the way an italicized sentence is digested. For example, “you can lose up to twenty pounds a month” has more impact than the same sentence with no emphasis.
White space, or negative space, is the space on a page left unmarked, or that is blank of text and images. It is not just empty space though; it can highlight the text of a document. When used carefully it helps draw the eye of the reader to exactly where you want them to go, and so time should be spent on the appropriate placement of text.
Work with Grids/Measure
Working with a grid is vital to balance a piece of typography properly. Using grids makes it easy to spot where everything is in relation to everything else, and this creates a finished product that looks more cohesive than one made without grids.
Typography as Art
Typography does not have to read like a standard headline. It can be molded into whatever form is necessary. A font can be bent and shaped to look like something else entirely, and graphic designers are not bound by preexisting fonts. Altogether new fonts can be designed, and existing ones can be built upon, flourishes and other elements added to make them look artistic.
Looking outside of yourself for inspiration can be an eye-opening experience. Seeing what other artists are doing not only helps you stay up to date with trends but expands your graphic design repertoire. Seasoned professionals can be collaborative with one another, and gain insight and inspiration from their peers.
Finding the right color palette to convey the message and tone of your piece best around is critical to a design’s success. Use color theory to guide you, so that everything remains in balance. Playing outside of color theory can be tempting, but the results are often undesirable once applied.
Typography is a dynamic form of design where there are countless ways to express ideas and convey messages. Making your typography pop can be challenging, but once you learn the rules that form the basis of good typography, it should be easy to create engaging media. And once you know the rules, you’ll know how to break them in remarkable ways.