What is often the most critical component of your design but most likely to be treated as an afterthought? The answer is typography. If you don’t know how to use typography—and understand its factors—you’re missing out on an opportunity to make your designs more attractive, compelling, and effective.
Typography is the design and arrangement of text within your design work. While this design element may seem simple, the factors in typography are surprisingly complex.
This article will explain key typography terms, highlight essential typography rules, and provide helpful resources for your typographic design. But, first, we will provide a more detailed explanation of this design discipline and what it entails.
Like many new designers, you may think typography is just the style of text you choose for a particular design. However, effective typographic design goes beyond the text style (font). It also includes all the ways you design that text—the thickness and size, placement and prominence in the design, colors, and spacing between and around the words and letters.
Effectively applying these typography traits requires understanding the key terms that are a part of this design discipline.
The first essential terms to understand are the ones that refer to your design text in general. Often used interchangeably, typeface refers to a set of characters with shared design features such as Arial. In contrast, font refers to a subset of a typeface with a particular weight and size, such as “Arial Bold 10 pt.” Font weight describes the thickness of the font, while font size, or how large the characters are, is measured in points.
Typefaces are often grouped into general typeface categories based on their overall style. For example, Serif typefaces feature decorative marks and lines (serifs) at the end of characters, with examples including Times New Roman and Georgia. San-serif typefaces, such as the popular Helvetica and Calibri, lack these features, giving them a cleaner, more modern look. Monospaced typefaces, such as Courier, are designed so that each character takes up the same width. Script or handwriting typefaces have a more elaborate or decorated style, as the name suggests.
Other important typography terms relate to the spacing of your text. Leading is the vertical space between two separate lines of text, while tracking describes the space between letters in a word or a single line of text. Kerning is a more minute spacing adjustment, increasing or decreasing the distance between two individual letters or characters.
Typeface and font selection are essential for a cohesive design that enhances your message. Some quirky typefaces may be perfect for whimsical content or designs for children, but these font families would be out of place for many business designs. With so many unique options for your text, you’ll want to explore typeface options and carefully select the right type and font (weight and size) for your design.
Hierarchy is a central concept in design and describes how you can use design to point the viewer to the most critical elements. As in your total composition, you can use color, size, position, and proximity to other design elements to prioritize each typographic element. The most important text should be the most prominent so that the viewer reads that content first.
Too many different fonts in a single design can make your design confusing to your audience. More importantly, it distracts them from the message you want to convey. For these reasons, it’s accepted as best practice to use a maximum of three fonts in a single design. Pairing the right fonts is also an important skill to develop as a designer.
Spacing is one of the essential factors in the effectiveness of your typographic design elements. Letters and words that are too close together will be challenging to read, while text with too much space between letters can also present a challenge. The tracking and kerning you use can also add meaning to your design—for example, a little extra space can give your typography a more elite and high-end appearance.
This article covers the basics of defining typography and understanding how to use it effectively in your design. Along with practice, many tools can help you refine your typography and overall design skills as you learn. The right software tools can help you take your designs—typography included—from concept to finished piece.
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2. Making Sense of Typographic Classifications, Google Fonts
3. The Ultimate Guide to Visual Hierarchy, Canva
4. Canva's Ultimate Guide to Font Pairing, Canva
Karis Bronowski - Guest Contributor
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