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Tools for Successful Design: Typography

Updated on March 10, 2016

Typography Class 201

Let me take you back to 2004. I was in my second year of graphic design school in Dayton,Ohio. I loved my design classes and was learning so much about my new trade. I can remember looking on my schedule and seeing TYPOGRAPHY as a class. I thought to myself, "What in the world is typography?" I really was stumped at the need for a class on the use of letters. I thought that maybe this was some kind of advanced English class. But no I was very wrong. Typography turned out to be one of the most challenging classes in my school career and just maybe one of the most important. Its up there with the need to know about color, line, pattern, and shape. There was so much I did not know about Typography and so much to learn. My attitude was quickly humbled as I delved into this new concept. Hopefully in this article I can help enlighten you to the great need and uses of typography.

Examples of Typography ©2014 ©2014 ©2014 ©2014 ©2014 ©2014

What Makes Great Typography?

What Makes Great Typography?

How do you choose what fonts to use in your design? How do you pick the right font when there are so many to choose from. Two arteries of typography arise when thinking about typography and how it is used. Appropriateness is the first and the second is the details. Appropriateness is the most important thing when considering typography. Appropriateness is whether the fonts design fits the message you’re trying to convey. The message is everything. The message of the piece comes through in your size, the shapes involved, the line art, the textures used and the pattern. The colors and use of colors are immensely important. Now you might be able to even get your message across by just using these principals but if you should choose to use type or text content then typography comes into play.

Good English is important first of all. If you really want people to pay attention to your written words then you need to be able to write and to use good grammar. Next is when the use of typography comes into play. What kind of font is good for your message. For example, if you’re doing something formal, or serious, a serifed type like Times New Roman, Palatino, or New Hounds would match the tone. A serif is a extension of a letter. It would be a little stick on the foot or stem of a letter. Serifs are really just a decorative piece of a letter added for the pleasing of the eye.

On the other hand if you’re going for a cleaner or more modern style then you should use san serifs like Gotham, Helvetica, or Century Gothic. Sans Serifs is a French phrase for the lack of serifs. The usage of serifs or not helps add to your design and the content of your message. Something with elegance and decoration to it would not be becoming with clean modern lines of type. Its important to know what your saying and to whom your saying it to. Who is your audience? What are they likely to appreciate and make sense to them? Make sure you evaluate the style of the typography and the tone of your message.

The Details Matter

The second artery of typography are the details. The details that make great typography come from kerning. Do the letters have equal space between them? Are there any letterforms that need extra space, or less space? Kerning is the spacing between letters. This can get very involved and we can look at other terms such as leading and tracking. Leading is the difference between the baselines of successive lines of type. Tracking is a way to gain control over one word. Tracking adjust the space in-between two letters of a word. Kerning is your bread and butter though, its what you will always come back to. Spacing can be used to really lead the eye or help illustrate the point. Good spacing can be very visually appealing. Just the same, bad spacing can make your copy difficult to read and understand. Sometimes though when taking out the spacing between certain characters a new and interesting shape can be created. Therefore it is important to play around with spacing and learn what looks good for you and your project. When doing any typography, be it logos or header titles,when it is spaced appropriately it looks amazing.

I would like to thank designer and good friend Rick Mullenix for his professional input into this article.

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