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Common Typography Mistakes

Typography isn’t just about the words. A lot of the message is sent through the typeface itself. The way your typography is structured, the typefaces you use, and the colors and arrangement of type all come together to create a cohesive message. With this being said, there are a lot of mistakes that designers tend to make with their typography. Let’s take a look at a few common typography mistakes.

Common Typography Mistakes - typefaces-too-many

Too many typefaces

The first, and probably the most common mistake is throwing a bunch of typefaces into one design. If you think of a typeface as a voice, using too many typefaces is like having a group of people shout at you at one time. Chances are, you would have a tough time interpreting the message. I highly doubt you would understand it at all.

The general rule for typefaces is to stick to two or three typefaces. I tried to stick to two, and it’s important that they play well with one another. On the other hand, make sure you have a reason for using each typeface. Don’t use two typefaces that are extremely similar. They should provide a decent amount of contrast to each another.

Common Typography Mistakes - kerning-tracking

Ignoring kerning or tracking

These are two aspects of typography that you just can’t ignore. Kerning refers to the spacing between two letters. When the spacing is off 22 letters, it can appear as though there is too much space between the letters, or not enough. Sometimes, you have to manually adjust kerning between two letters to make it look right.

Tracking is the spacing across all the letters in a word or phrase. It’s important not to use too much space between letters. Your eyes have to be able to associate letters as being grouped together in order to read words properly. When letters are too far apart, your eyes can’t discern where one word ends and another one begins. This interrupts the reading process and hinders the viewer’s ability to understand the message.

Common Typography Mistakes - leading


Leading refers to the amount of space between each line of text. All too often, I’ll see designers try to cram text into a place where it really doesn’t belong. The problem with this is the fact that they will reduce the leading amount to compensate for this. When you do this, especially for a large amount body copy, the reader’s eyes are easily confused. It’s hard to tell where the next line of text is. Anyone reading your text is likely to reread a line of text over again. This is extremely frustrating, which I know from experience, because I read entire books that didn’t have enough leading. Often, I would be immersed in a story, only to be jolted out of my imagination because I reread a line of text, which made the story not make sense.

The general rule for leading is to add 20% to the point size of the text you’re using. That’s how you arrive at the value of the leading that should be applied to your text. For example if your text is 12pt, then your leading should have a value of 14.4pt. This will give your text plenty of breathing room so readers don’t get confused.

Common Typography Mistakes - contrast

Text color

Every time I see this, I almost get myself a forehead slap. If you have a black background, you can’t have charcoal colored text. If your background is gray, you can’t have light gray text. Sometimes I wonder whether designers actually look at this and try to read it before sending it off to print. Contrast is one of the most important things that you can apply to your text. You don’t want to do anything that will hinder someone’s ability to read your copy.

Don’t use colors that cause visual vibration or tension. What I mean by this is that you should use colors like green and red together. Yes they do provide a lot of contrast, but depending on the tones that you use, it can hurt the eyes of your readers. You want to avoid eye strain if at all possible.

Using proper alignment

Common Typography Mistakes alignment

Left or right aligned

If you are creating text for a website or a book, left aligned text should be your choice. You only really ever use right aligned text for asides and pull quotes. We read from left to right, so creating right aligned text in large quantities hinders our ability to read. It makes it difficult for us to figure out visually where the next line of text is.

Centered text

This is only for special uses. You should never put a large amount of text in a centered format. It makes it almost impossible to read. If you are calling attention to one specific sentence or phrase, then it is fine to use centered text for emphasis. Otherwise avoid using centered text.

Justified text

I don’t use justified text. It just doesn’t look good and it creates what are called rivers in bodies of text. This is where there is a stream of space running through a large amount of text. This breaks up your text and makes it difficult to read. The last thing you want to do is have reader’s eyes jumping all over the page. The point of designing anything is to have control over the eyes of your audience when at all possible.

Common Typography Mistakes - display

Improper use of display fonts

This has to be among the most common typography mistakes. Display typefaces are meant to be used in large formats. A big rookie mistake is to use a display typeface in your body copy. A really thick or bold typeface is tough to read in large doses. It’s hard to account for leading and tracking, because that’s not what a display typeface is meant for. Sure, you can handle kerning and tracking for headlines, but that’s just a few words. I would hate to have to try to handle kerning and tracking for an entire paragraph display text. It’s best to use serif typefaces that are meant for large bodies of text.


There are a few common typography mistakes that a lot of designers make without realizing it. If you take a look at the tips above, they all make sense when you really think about. You don’t want to do anything that hinders your message. Your text in your design work is supposed to help spread the message and drive it home for any viewer. High contrast, easy-to-read text will ensure that most people come away with the message that you intended.

Do you know of any other common typography mistakes? I’d love to hear your thoughts on this. If you have any questions about typography and how to make your work better, feel free to leave your questions or thoughts in the comments section below.