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Good Typography: An Essential Guide

by | Feb 13, 2014 | Articles, Design, Typography | 1 comment

Good Typography Isn’t Hard

If you’ve read my Typography 101 post, then you know that good typography is one the the most essential skills you’ll need as a professional designer. Design is mainly about delivering a message. if your message is unclear, or the message gets lost in a lot of clutter, then your design isn’t effective. If your typography doesn’t follow a few essential rules, then your message won’t be as powerful. Good typography and a powerful headline is a killer combo for any design. Combining these two aspects will get your design noticed and grab tons of attention. Below are the essential tips for good typography.


Good typography: Hierarchy

This is a big one. You have to develop a hierarchy in your design’s typography. Use a hierarchy that makes sense. The headline should always be the biggest, boldest text. The sub-headline should be differentiated somehow. It doesn’t have to be bold, but it should be larger than the other headline sections, if you have different body paragraphs. The body copy should be smaller, while still being legible. Any footnotes should be the smallest and placed at the bottom of the page, below the text. Also any asides should be made to stand out differently as well. You could use a different color, or you could italicize the text.


Good Typography: SIzeBody copy should not be too small. Your text should be large enough to make it easy to read, without being an eyesore. You should stick to (depending on the font) 12pt to 14pt for your font size. Headlines should be bigger, as noted above, but there really isn’t a limit to the size, because headlines are the place to be creative. Since headlines are a small amount of text, they are great areas to play with size and color.

Use Enough Space

There always needs to be enough space around your text. Negative space is your friend. This applies to all aspects of design, but especially typography. It can make things tough to read when there isn’t enough negative space between letters, words, and lines of text. Below are the basic terms that you’ll want to know:

Good Typography: Kerning Tracking Leading

  • Kerning – Kerning is when you adjust the spacing between two letters. If you have too much space between 2 letters, then you stop reading at the space. It is important to read through your text and kern the letters that stand out from the rest of a word. This is especially important in headlines.
  • Tracking – Tracking is the amount of space between a group of letters. It is important to have an even amount of space optically, so each word is easy to read.
  • Leading – Leading is the amount of space between lines of text. When you don’t use enough leading, each line of text is too close to the one above and below it. Where you run into trouble is when you’re trying to read a paragraph with too little leading, your eye can get confused, and you’ll end up re-reading lines of text over again. This is frustrating and can confuse readers.

Contrast in Colors

Good Typography: Color Contrast

I’ve seen this one a lot on the web lately, and it drives me nuts! You have to have a good amount of contrast between your type and the background color. Don’t place words over images unless they are big and bold enough to still stay legible. Also, don’t put text over a color without making sure there is enough contrast between the background and the text. You shouldn’t have to squint or struggle to read any text, ever.

Choosing the Right Font

Good typography the right fontsIf you have a lot of text, use a font that is easy to read. I know that, especially on the web now, we can use all kinds of fonts and embed them in our sites, but don’t use crazy fonts for your body text. No one wants to try to read your blog post in Old English font. Also, no one wants to read your magazine spread written in a handwriting font either. Use good judgement, and use a font that is easy to read, like Open Sans, or something similar.

Stick to 2 Fonts

Good typography: 2 fonts

This is another move that will make you stick out as an amateur. When you design anything, it’s best to stick to 2 main fonts. The best typographic designs use font families with different weights to create variance in a design, while still looking unified. It’s not a contest to see how many fonts you can cram into one design.

Use the Proper Text Alignment

Good typography: Text alignment

Centering a line of text under an image is one thing, but don’t center an entire paragraph of text. Remember earlier when I mentioned leading and your eyes getting confused? Well, the same happens when you center a paragraph of text. It’s tough for your eye to decide where the next line is, and you either end up skipping a line of text, or re-reading the one you just read. Some people like to justify a paragraph of text, too. That is a cheap way to try to make all of your paragraph ends line up. It might look okay at first, but it creates rivers of space between your text, making it tough to read.

 Conclusion: Good Typography is Worth the Effort

It is important to create good typography, so that your message is clear. Clarity will drive your message home easily when it is reinforced with good design and a powerful message. With these tips, you’ll create good typography that will make your design work strong and drive sales for your clients. Good typography isn’t about fancy tricks, it’s usually just common sense. Do you have any good typography tips you want to share? If so, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

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