Principles Of Good Typography

Metal movable type

Principles Of Good Typography

Choice of typeface is something that we now take for granted, with our computers loaded with many fonts, most of which we never use. But in visual communication, the font you use is critical to your business. It directly reflects your brands tone of voice, aesthetic, and the message that you’re imparting. So what constitutes good typographic practise? These simple steps will help you understand some of the principles of good typography, and help with laying your content out.

The advent of movable type and digitised typefaces means changing font is as simple as a few clicks of a mouse. But historically type had to be set by arranging metal letters of the correct size, with blank pieces of lead to separate the words and lines. I could go on to explain typographic terms and their origins but then we’d be here all day. And while many designers and non-designers love typography, I’m acutely aware that many find it a subject of bitter tedium; so let’s move on.

Focus on hierarchy to create order

Good typographic practice comes down to creating a sense of hierarchy in your content. Whether it’s a newsletter for print, a blog post, or information on your website, you need to be clear in structuring your content. Good typography is about composing text to create a readable, coherent, and visually satisfying piece that functions well, without the awareness of the reader. Even distribution of typeset material, with a minimum of distractions and anomalies, is aimed at producing clarity and transparency.

Titles, subtitles, and main body copy need to be distinctly different. The reader should be able to find their way through the content with the minimum of effort. This makes your content more likely to engage with your reader.

Layout of text should be simple

It can be tempting to get creative with layouts, and whilst you need to try and make things visually interesting, its best to keep layouts simple and rely on images that compliment your content to act as visual stimulus. As visuals are processed 60,000 times faster in the brain than text, you need to prioritise clarity of textual information.

It always helps to remember that in the western world our eyes natural scan a page from the top left hand corner down towards the bottom right hand corner. We struggle with right aligned type en masse, so try to keep in left aligned or occasionally centred.

Poster demonstrating principles of type layout

Consider the tone of your typeface

Fonts should be selected carefully for their tone. Some typefaces are more interpretive while others only have one connotation. Something like Helvetica can have a feel of authority, but when American Apparel uses Helvetica it seems cheeky. Something like Didot imparts a feel of elegance. All of the things reflect your brand values and while is seems obvious, it’s easy to take for granted. Consistency and objectivity is key, choose something that displays information clearly, not just something pretty. At the very most you should use no more than 3 fonts in one piece of work, ideally no more than 2.

If you’re starting up a business, look at your competitors. What about their visual language makes them stand out? Does their font reflect the feel of their product/brand?

Misconceptions about size

Bigger isn’t always better when it comes to type. If you want to make the bulk of your content more legible, instead of just making it bigger, try increasing the space between each line (the leading) and increase the amount of black space around the text. The negative space is vital to increasing readability of your content. As Massimo Vignelli said ‘typography is really white, it’s not even black. It is the space between the blacks that really makes it.’

Consider these 4 simple steps the next time you’re laying out text, and your message will at least be communicated in a clear way. While typography may not be interesting to everyone, understanding the basics are important to making your content work engaging. And no matter how well designed something is, badly written content is still bad content.

Paul Sullivan
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